Orange Avenue may be in line for a major facelift. There is even a chance we will finally see some progress at Progress Point. What’s going on?
Commissioners met early on the morning of July 10 to discuss Mixed Use zoning on Orange Avenue. The discussion was led by Planning Director Dori Stone. The purpose of the meeting, said Stone, was to “discuss . . . the development of a Mixed Use Future Land Use category and companion zoning district.”
City Codes Already Permit Mixed Use Development.
Mixed Use districts are not new to Winter Park. Successful examples are Park Avenue, Hannibal Square and Winter Park Village. These districts are low intensity, a product of historic development patterns and are of walkable pedestrian scale. All have some form of shared parking. And what draws people to all three areas and persuades them to leave their cars for a while is open, visible, accessible green space with park amenities and plenty of trees.
So, why not stick with what we have?
Presently, Mixed Use zoning is allowed in certain areas — mostly downtown. The Commission’s discussion was about gateway corridors that are not part of the downtown Central Business District. The main gateway corridors — 17-92 from the north and south and Aloma / Fairbanks from the east and west – are crying out for Mixed Use. As they are now, these roads are better suited to fast cars than they are to foot traffic. To accommodate those cars that do occasionally stop, surface parking consumes a large, usually over-heated area – again, not friendly to folks on foot. Would the City be better served to create incentives in these areas for developers who would like to show some love to these unlovely corridors and create some attractive human-scale development that would draw some pedestrian and bicycle traffic?
Why Not Start with West Fairbanks?
After all the millions spent on sewers, lighting, repaving and undergrounding on West Fairbanks, wouldn’t this be the logical place for a Mixed Use pilot program? Instead, the City has chosen to tackle a more manageable corridor – Orange Avenue. According to Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) figures, Orange Avenue carries about 15,600 cars each day. Compare that with Aloma, which carries as many as 46,000 cars a day. FDOT website notes these figures are 10 years old – so today’s counts are possibly higher.
Orange Ave. Property Owners Have Repeatedly Approached the City
When she was asked why the City chose Orange Avenue for what will probably become a Mixed Use pilot project, Planning Director Dori Stone wrote in an email, “Staff has done quite a bit of work on Orange Avenue already and it seems a natural choice with large property owners along the Orange Avenue corridor that are interested in working with the city.”
According to Stone, over the past 18 months or so, the City has been working with property owners like Mary Demetree, Roger Holler, Jewett Orthopaedic, Lumber Yard LLC and, not least, the City of Winter Park to determine what can be done to create a ‘sense of place’ along Orange Avenue that would make it compatible with the rest of Winter Park.
Developers Seek ‘Flexibility’ Beyond Current Limits
In a memorandum prepared for the July 10 Commission work session, Stone wrote, “Many of the larger property owners would like to see the flexibility to move beyond the commercial development limits of an FAR (floor-area ratio) of 45 to 60 percent.” She continued: “. . .several of them are interested in making improvements that would provide infrastructure and open space improvements along the corridor that may not be limited to their property, but would benefit the entire city.”
‘Trickle Down’ Development
The theory is that if the City grants these developers greater density and intensity, in return they would cooperate with one another to create a pedestrian-friendly environment with more open green space and park amenities, improved traffic circulation and shared parking within the zone of the pilot project. In this way, substantial benefit would accrue to all the citizens.
Mixed Use Overlay
Stone is suggesting a Mixed Use zoning category called an ‘Overlay.’ The Overlay zoning would “sit on top of the current zoning.” In essence, this would enable a developer who wants Mixed Use to build it, while a present or future landowner whose property does not conform to Mixed Use and who does not want to redevelop could continue to operate within the existing zoning guidelines.
“The City Needs to Take the Lead”
Stone pointed out that the main reason Hannibal Square is so successful is that at the outset, there was a professionally produced master plan. She urged the City to engage an urban designer to create such a master plan for Orange Avenue – before any code is written or any development is approved.
Stone noted that both Hannibal Square and Winter Park Village had a single developer, so there is a certain homogenous quality to them that would not be present on Orange Avenue, which has several large landowners. Nonetheless, this is an opportunity to create another district within the City that has a distinct identity. Rather than approving projects one-by-one on a piecemeal basis, here is a chance to create a neighborhood with continuity and its own sense of place.
Comfort Zone is 10,000-Sqare-Feet
As the City embarks on formulating standards for Mixed Use, we should not lose sight of the fact that currently, any building over 10,000 square feet requires Conditional Use approval. The City’s comfort level with the size of a building has a well-defined limit – and the body politic has felt strongly enough to articulate it in the Comprehensive Plan and to require a developer to participate in a public hearing process to obtain approval to build anything that exceeds that limit.
How Far are We Willing to Move Out of Our Comfort Zone?
That Conditional Use provision has identified our comfort level. Will we be able to reconcile mixed use standards that allow buildings that large or larger as a matter of entitlement — without public hearing or input? Depending on how it is written, Winter Park’s Mixed Use overlay can end up looking like Winter Park Village – or it could look like Mills 50, both of which are successful Mixed Use developments.
From the Winter Park Comprehensive Plan:
Sec. 58-61, Establishment of Districts, article (a) (5)
“The city has developed over the years as a city with a unique character and environment. Since a primary goal of the city is to retain this environment as much as possible, this article must impose certain extraordinary restrictions on the use of land within the corporate limits of the city to insure that future development is in keeping with the existing development.“