Anne Mooney

Entries by Anne Mooney

Bowling Alley Gets the NOD

For Sale Sign Goes Up

Bowling Alley Gets the NOD

Pleas of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board and the citizens to move more slowly fell on deaf ears Monday night as Commissioners voted 3 to 2 to put up the For Sale sign on the bowling alley property at 1111 W. Fairbanks.

A 20-foot setback along Fairbanks will be retained to build a turn lane onto 17-92. The property is zoned C-3 commercial. According to Planning Director Dori Stone, the City will exclude proposals for banks, fast-food restaurants and automobile services (gas stations, repair shops, etc.) at this location.

City ‘Pre-Marketing’ the Property

The Notice of Disposal (NOD) will be publicly advertised, and bids are due 30 days from the publication date. The city realtor, Bobby Palta from CBRE, noted there was already considerable interest in the property, and that the City had been doing some “pre-marketing for the past couple of weeks” with various developers.

The property is appraised at $2.96 million, which will be the minimum bid price – $60,000 more than the City paid when they bought it from Rollins in 2016. The Commissioners will, however, maintain flexibility in their choice, giving preference to plans that include less tangible assets like tree planting and additional green space.

Skipping Steps in the Process

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper expressed her discomfort with the process by which the Commission arrived at the decision to sell. She noted the process had gone from the public GAI workshops to the Commission without first going through the advisory boards. During the GAI public meetings, the bowling alley property was not supposed to be part of the discussion, but actually played a prominent role in the discussion that occurred at both meetings. Cooper suggested the decision to sell the land be tabled and returned to the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board so they could bring their recommendations back to the Commission at a later date.

‘There’s Still Much We Don’t Know’

Cooper enumerated new pieces of information which the Commissioners had not had a chance to factor into their decision. As examples, she cited the GAI public workshops and the letter from the Parks & Rec Board requesting the City not move to sell the property. P&R letter

She noted other information the City doesn’t have yet, like an evaluation of the storm water retention requirements that will be created by the new library-event center, and new corridor design standards for West Fairbanks, which have yet to be completed.

Premature Decision

“From my perspective,” said Cooper, “we are premature, we have not utilized our boards and we are not listening to the requests of our citizens.”

Involve DOT

Commissioner Greg Seidel proposed Commissioners delay the sale to give them time to involve the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT). Instead of assuming an extra turn lane is the best solution, FDOT could do an intersection control evaluation at Fairbanks and 17-92 to give the City the benefit of their expertise. Seidel argued that the City could work to persuade DOT to prioritize a determination about what technology would be most appropriate at that location.

Cooper’s motion to table, for no time certain, failed for lack of a second. Greg Seidel then moved to table for a time certain of three months. His motion was seconded by Cooper, but failed on a 3-2 vote.

‘What’s the Rush?

Public comment, with one exception, opposed selling the property before there was a chance to weigh the consequences of this action. Former Mayor Joe Terranova pointed out, “We don’t need that cash money now. You’re going to make payroll the next time it comes around.”

Terranova went on to note, “We still don’t know what the 800-pound gorilla in the northwest section of the park is going to do,” referring to the library-event center for which there are, as yet, no plans. “How can we say what the rest of the park is going to be like, and that we don’t need that piece of land?”

‘Just How Serious Are You?’

Beth Hall argued for the aesthetics of a major City gateway. “I wish I could count the number of times I have heard the Commissioners discuss their desire to improve the Fairbanks corridor and the western gateway to the city,” said Hall. “Your efforts have run the gamut from spending large sums to improve sewer and utilities on the artery to making zoning changes to encourage development. I’d like to ask: just how serious are you?”

Don’t Resign it to Mediocrity’

“Wouldn’t converting this site to parkland further your mission?” she asked. “Adding the land to the park would signal a paradigm shift in the way our City views this gateway. Don’t resign it to mediocrity. Elevate it. Please reverse your decision to sell the land.”

‘Commercial Land — Never Meant to be a Park’

In an email sent the day following the Commission meeting, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel explained the rationale behind the vote to sell the bowling alley property. “The city purchased the property for the turning lanes,” she wrote, “did not use park acquisition dollars and never intended to turn that piece of commercial property into parkland.”

Need to Build Back the Reserves

In answer to the question of why the Commission had not sought the input of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board Sprinkel wrote, “The boards have a charge and since this was commercial property used for traffic alleviation it was not considered part of their [Parks & Rec] charge. The 3 million dollars returned to the fund [the City’s General Fund] will allow wp [sic] to continue their strong 20-25% reserves,” reserves that may play an important role in the next election cycle.

MLK Park Master Planning Still Underway

Bob Bendick pointed out that the City is in the midst of creating a Master Plan for MLK Park, and that the decision to sell land that is contiguous to the park is premature.

“Thinking has also evolved about parks planning,” said Bendick, “including the need to go beyond direct recreation needs and to better integrate parks, open space and pedestrian and bicycle transportation into the fabric of communities.”

Missed Opportunity

Bendick noted a reasonable desire among some Commissioners to recoup funds spent to purchase the bowling alley property, but cautioned that once sold for commercial development, the opportunity to incorporate the land into the park would likely be gone forever.

Parks & Rec Tells City: Land Should Not Be Sold

Rare Opportunity to Add to MLK Park

Parks & Rec Tells City: Land Should Not Be Sold

A May 30 letter from Parks & Recreation Advisory Board Chair Carl E. Creasman, who wrote on behalf of all the board members, makes an eloquent plea to the Mayor and Commissioners not to sell the bowling alley property at 1111 W. Fairbanks.

Parks & Rec Surprised

The letter states that the proposed sale of the property, which is adjacent to Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, came as a surprise to the Parks & Rec Board at their May 24 meeting.

“We write to you now to urge the City Commission to reopen this decision for review,” states the letter. “The MLK Master Planning process provides the perfect opportunity to determine the best usage of that land.”

The letter continued, “Even if the property were merely turned into expanded parking and beautification for the entrance to the city along Fairbanks, that would be a better use of the land than selling the property.”

Click here to read the entire letter.

Weldon Responds

Commissioner Peter Weldon responded to Creasman in a post on his Winter Park Perspective blog. In an apparent effort to reassure Creasman, Weldon wrote, “The vote to put the bowling alley up for sale is not the same as voting to sell the property.”

Weldon went on to explain, “The bowling alley was purchased from Rollins in 2016 based on being able to provide greater right of way on Fairbanks and, potentially, finding a use as incremental park space. In other words, the purchase decision was opportunistic, not strategic.”

To see the entire content of Commissioner Weldon’s response, click here.

Commission Meets June 12

Further discussion of the final disposition of this property will likely occur at the June 12 Commission Meeting. Stay tuned.

Keep the Bowling Alley Property - Expand MLK Park

Yellow Signs are Back

Keep the Bowling Alley Property – Expand MLK Park

Yellow signs are popping up everywhere, urging the City not to sell the bowling alley site at 1111 W. Fairbanks, rather, to use it to expand Martin Luther King, Jr., Park.

Final Decision June 12

The final vote will likely be at the Commission meeting on June 12. The meeting begins at 3:30. Public comment is usually taken around the 5:00 hour. Click here for the meeting agenda.

Bowling Alley Background

The old bowling alley property has a checkered history. In late spring 2013, Rollins purchased the property when it looked like Harper-Shepherd Field would become a Minor League baseball stadium and no longer would be available to Rollins teams. Being contiguous with Martin Luther King, Jr., Park, the property was ideal for Rollins to expand their playing fields.

Editor’s Note:  According to Communications Director Clarissa Howard, Rollins purchased the bowling alley property for use as a lacrosse practice field. She said the purchase was unrelated to Minor League baseball at Harper-Shepherd Field.

When it became clear that baseball would not be coming to Winter Park, however, Rollins no longer needed expansion room and put the property up for sale. UP Developments, LLC, contracted to buy the property from Rollins.

But the City wanted the property, too. At the time, they had their own ideas about expanding MLK Park and mitigating some of the traffic problems on Fairbanks and 17-92. In the fall of 2014, Scott Fish of UP Developments, LLC, agreed to assign his contract with Rollins to the City, so that the City could buy the property from Rollins.

That deal didn’t work out, and Rollins ended up keeping the property until 2016, when the City bought it for $2.9 million.

Editor’s note: Ms. Howard pointed out that the City did not use park acquisition funds, but instead took money from the CRA and general fund reserves, thereby avoiding any requirement that the land be used as a park.

People Want Trees & Grass – They’re Being Ignored

In the meantime, plans for the new library-event center took shape, the City created yet another vision of itself and the Comprehensive Plan underwent its seven-year cycle of massage and manipulation. The City organized plenty of public discussion around each of these activities.

Missing in these discussions was a consideration of the city’s assets as a whole – as a system. This was nowhere more evident than in the discussions about the City’s parks and greenspace — which brings us back to those yellow signs.

MLK Needs a Plan?

While the City was visioning and planning, the turf and facilities at the playing fields on south end of the MLK Park were deteriorating, and the bowling alley property stood vacant. Since the bowling alley was creating something of an eyesore on a major gateway artery, someone decided the City should have a plan — so GAI Consultants were retained to create one.

At the April 10 meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), which is made up of the Commissioners and a representative from Orange County, Hal George, GAI made a presentation about their plans for creating a Master Plan. At that meeting, the Commissioners also decided to sell the bowling alley property, retaining only a right-of-way for a turn lane on Fairbanks.

Well, Part of MLK Needs a Plan

In light of the fact that the City was in the process of retaining an architect and landscape architect for the new library-event center, and they were now planning to dispose of the bowling alley property, GAI was advised that their MLK Park Master Plan should include only those parts of the park that did not include the library-event center or bowling alley areas.

Why Sell the Bowling Alley?

According to Commissioner Peter Weldon at the April 10 meeting, “Selling the bowling alley property now gives us the opportunity to do things that are much more tangible and beneficial to the City,” – like a third story on the new library-event center parking garage, or a parking garage downtown. “For one-third the money we have into [the bowling alley] land today, we could provide 100 parking spaces to expand the parking for MLK Park,” said Weldon.

Property Sale on Consent Agenda

At the next Commission meeting, April 24, the bowling alley property sale appeared on the Consent Agenda as Item C. Items on the Consent Agenda do not require discussion or public comment. Commissioners Seidel and Cooper pulled Item C off the Consent Agenda for discussion.

Commissioner Greg Seidel said the proposed sale needed more public discussion. Commissioner Carolyn Cooper agreed, requesting the item be tabled until there had been opportunity both for public discussion and for consideration by the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, which had not had a voice in the decision to sell.

She pointed out that the City seldom had access to land contiguous with an existing park – and in this case, the City already owns the land. Once the land is gone, we can’t get it back.

Commission Votes to Sell the Bowling Alley

The motion to table, or postpone the sale, failed on a 3-2 vote, with Cooper and Seidel dissenting.

Cooper made a second motion to approve the sale contingent upon completion of the designs for the library and for MLK Park. That motion also failed on a 3-2 vote.

The motion to approve the sale of the property, minus the right-of-way for the turn lane, passed on a 3-2 vote, with Cooper and Seidel dissenting.

MLK Master Plan Rolls Out the Next Day

The next night, April 25, close to 100 people gathered at the Rachel Murrah Civic Center to discuss the Master Plan for part, but not all, of MLK Park. The GAI consultants explained that the bowling alley property and the new library-event center were not part of the discussion. Groups of people gathered around tables and used maps of the park and construction paper cutouts representing different types of public spaces to illustrate their visions of the park.

“Fix the Park and Don’t Sell the Bowling Alley”

As the various tables prepared to report out to the group as a whole, two things became clear. First, each table said they wanted the existing park facilities, especially the playing fields and water features, to be cleaned up and repaired. It would be okay, they said, to leave the rest of the park alone – just fix what’s there. “And don’t fill it up with shiny new stuff,” they said.

Second, participants opposed the sale of the bowling alley property. “Wait,” they said. “We don’t even have a completed design for the new library. What if we need that land? It’s too soon to decide what to do with it.”

Did the Master Plan Take a Wrong Turn?

GAI held a second meeting at the Civic Center on May 2. Only 25 to 30 people came, many of whom had attended the April 25 meeting. Again, the over-arching themes included the desire to repair existing park facilities and opposition to the sale of the bowling alley.

Asked if the outcomes of the two meetings would be reported back to the City, the GAI consultant replied that they “hadn’t heard from everyone yet.”

Additional meetings were to have been held in May, with a final plan due in July. According to Communications Director Clarissa Howard, the schedule for public meetings has been revised, and the next public meeting will be sometime in July.

Howard reported that GAI has, however, held focus group meetings that included “moms, sport coaches, daycare nurseries, realtors, staff and other professions.” These meetings were not public, said Howard, nor was public notice required.

“GAI will compile this input from the public forums and the focus group meetings into preliminary conceptual rendering to be presented at the meeting and on site walk planned in July,” wrote Howard.

Plans Minus Funding = Toothless Tigers

Comments opposing the sale of City land are too numerous to count, but there were some articulate ones on the subject of MLK Park and the bowling alley sale. While commenters were respectful, their comments indicated an underlying disconnect between Winter Park’s citizens and their elected officials.

In a letter to the Mayor and Commissioners dated May 10, Winter Park resident Bob Bendick wrote: “Winter Park has tended to discuss each of its parks in isolation . . . . Far more functional, and a characteristic of communities with the most successful public open spaces, is to think in terms of a system of parks and greenways that meets active and passive recreational needs and forms a green framework for the city’s future.”

Bendick went on to propose “that Winter Park move quickly to integrate its parks, lakes, greenspace, pedestrian and bicycle planning into a single document that describes a connected network . . . .” The plan will only be worthwhile, wrote Bendick, “if there is reliable funding to carry it out. And this is where Winter Park can do better.”

Bring Parks & Rec into the Loop

It is worth noting that at the May 24 meeting of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, Vice Chairman Julio de Arcos asked Parks & Recreation Director John Holland if anyone had sought his input on selling the bowling alley property. Holland replied that no one had. Advisory Board members expressed their opinion that the land should not be sold at this time.

Members of the public attending the Parks & Rec meeting requested the board write to the Mayor and Commissioners to express their concern about the sale of the property. According to an email from John Holland to one of the attendees, “The Parks and Recreation Board Chair has written a draft letter to the City Commission and we are currently getting approvals on format and verbiage.”

Still Time for Action

The sale of public land requires two votes by the Commission. The bowling alley sale will likely come up at the next Commission meeting on June 12. Any one of the Commissioners on the winning side of the vote to sell – Leary, Sprinkel or Weldon – can re-introduce the matter for the purpose of changing their vote. Click the email address to let your elected representatives know how you feel about stewardship of public land. MayorandCommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org

 

City Approves New Comp Plan

Where Is Investment Strategy?

City Approves New Comp Plan

Citizens and Commissioners gathered once again Monday night to hammer out the few remaining bones of contention in the Comp Plan. The long and often tedious evening culminated in the adoption of a Comprehensive Growth Management Plan for the City of Winter Park. Citizens who spoke gave the Commissioners and Staff high marks for their hard work and dedication to the process. They also expressed appreciation that they felt they’d been heard.

Citizens Spoke, Commissioners Listened

Commissioners considered a long list of amendments, most of them brought forward by Commissioner Carolyn Cooper.

Six of the proposed amendments were approved by the Commission, and there was a verbal commitment to bring back for discussion two that were voted down. The revised Comp Plan, in its entirety, will be posted on the City’s website within the next few days.

Highlights of Monday’s Meeting

– The City will create a Medical Arts District in the area surrounding Winter Park Hospital. The Commission deleted language that included workforce housing within that district. (Policy 1-2.4.12)

– The term “Village Character” was reinstated and now reads: “The City shall preserve and enhance the village character of the Central Business District.” (Policy 1-G-23)

– Public/Quasi-Public (PQP) zoning may only be used in Institutional land use. PQP includes such things as public governmental buildings, schools, churches, museums, etc. (Policy 1-2.4.2)

– The motion to prohibit ‘big box’ stores over 65,000 square feet within the City limits failed, but Mayor Leary supported the ban on single-tenant retail over 65,000 square feet and agreed to have City staff come back at a future date with suggestions on how best to include this language.

– Language was added to the policy regarding lot splits: “The City Commission in consideration of lot split requests may limit the floor area ratio as a condition of approval in order to preserve neighborhood scale and character.” (Policy 1-5.2.8)

– The motion to include language about the City’s intent to purchase the Post Office property also failed. The Commissioners all said they supported the City buying the property, but did not agree the language belonged in the Comp Plan.

Recognition for Hannibal Square

Winter Park resident Forest Michael proposed two policies, both of which were incorporated into the new Comp Plan. Michael’s policies are specific to the Hannibal Square neighborhood and are as follows.

– “Encourage the preservation and conservation of historic Hannibal Square Community’s cultural buildings and churches, homes and places along Welbourne Avenue.”

– “Encourage educational and interpretive walking and bicycling tours throughout the Hannibal Square Community for residents’ health.”

Comprehensive Capital Investment Plan

While current Comp Plan provisions deal thoroughly with land use, particularly regarding what developers may and may not do in a given location, little attention is given to policies addressing how the City will invest in land and build infrastructure for the City’s future.

Lip Service

Winter Park resident Bob Bendick, who is Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico Program, spoke about what he called “shortfalls in the investment part of the plan.” The message seemed to be that while the City is willing to pay lip service to greenspace and conservation, there is little actual funding to back it up.

“There are statements of policy in the Comp Plan that don’t have real meaning unless there’s money to implement them.”

Greenspace Investment

While the Comp Plan encourages greenspace in general, said Bendick, there is insufficient commitment to investing adequate City funds to restoring Mead Garden, acquiring remaining open space at the Genius estate and, more broadly, in creating a connected framework of greenspace and waterways for the City’s future.

Bikes and Peds

The Comp Plan encourages pedestrian and bicycle activity, but fails to allocate sufficient funds to construct the facilities necessary to make walking and cycling safe and enjoyable in our City.

MLK Park

“We believe the location of the largest civic investment in the City’s future – the new library/events center – is at a place seemingly at odds with . . .the proposed plan,” said Bendick.

Alternative Energy

“There is a failure in Policy 5-1.19 of the Conservation Element of the plan to propose investment in alternative energy generation,” said Bendick, “which would be an economic and environmental benefit to the City over the long run.”

Investment Strategy

Bendick suggests a re-examination of the City’s investment strategy in the public spaces and facilities that are critical to maintaining Winter Park’s quality and character in the years to come.

Does the Comp Plan Reflect Your Vision of Winter Park?

Fat Lady Sings on Monday

Does the Comp Plan Reflect Your Vision of Winter Park?

After months of visioning, advisory board meetings, focus groups, public input meetings, commission meetings, hundreds of thousands of words written on thousands of reams of paper — the Commission will take a final vote on the City’s Comprehensive Growth Management Plan (Comp Plan).

Monday’s vote will be the culmination of a months-long effort to gaze into the crystal ball of Winter Park’s future.

“History,” “Heritage,” “Village Ambience”

The process began by defining a Vision. When Winter Parkers were asked what was most important to them, two dominant themes emerged. People said they cherished the “History and Heritage” of their City, and they wanted to preserve our “Village Ambience and Small Town Feel.”

Vision — Framework for Comp Plan

The June 2016 Visioning Report issued by the City states: “Our Vision Plan is . . . long-term, aspirational, and flexible, serving as a framework into which other plans can fit, including the Comprehensive Plan.”

As the Visioning process wound down last summer, City staff and elected officials turned their attention to putting the Vision into concrete terms. Months of hard work have produced a lengthy and complicated document. The number of people able to wrap their heads around the whole thing probably can be tabulated on your fingers alone – no need for toes.

Comp Plan Belongs to All of Us

Is it a perfect document? No, but this is Earth – where things aren’t perfect. The level of engagement of City staff, elected officials and citizens has been nothing short of extraordinary. Few documents rise to this level of effort and dedication.

Is it Over? Should You Remain Engaged?

Our Comp Plan is a living document. While it is legally enforceable, it is not written on stone tablets – and, as with everything that happens in this City, there is always room for discussion. So, yes, continuing engagement should be a consideration for all of us.

What’s Missing?

Two features have been eliminated from the revised Comp Plan that may still warrant discussion, even at this late date. One is more abstract, the other quite concrete.

Village Ambiance

The more abstract element that was taken out of this revision is the commitment to maintaining our “village character.” The wording has been changed to “maintaining our traditional scale.”

Semantics? Yes. However, try this.

Close your eyes and try to conjure an image of “traditional scale.”

Now, do the same thing – but this time, evoke in your mind’s eye the image of “village character.” There is a difference.

Big Box Stores

Also missing is the concrete prohibition on single-tenant retail stores of over 65,000 square feet – so-called big box stores – within City limits. To put that in perspective, the Publix at Winter Park Village is 55,922 square feet. For a community the size of Winter Park, that is a large store by any measure, yet it is nearly 10,000 square feet smaller than the ‘big box’ formerly banished from within City limits.

Why eliminate this proscription? Does Winter Park need the equivalent of one Winter Park Village Publix plus a really big McMansion worth of retail space under one roof?

What’s New? Medical Arts District

The biggest reveal is the use of a previously untried planning tool known as the “Mixed Use Overlay” to create a Medical Arts District near the Winter Park Hospital campus. The area will include medical, wellness and associated businesses, as well as residential facilities for assisted living, memory care and dedicated workforce housing for medical service employees.
Click here and scroll down to Line 40 for a description of the planned Medical Arts District.

Mixed Use Overlay – New Planning Tool

The mixed use overlay is a planning tool that has been used by other cities, but has never found its way into Winter Park’s tool kit. According to the Comp Plan revision, “Within one year from the adoption . . . the City will create a mixed use overlay for commercially designated parcels . . . .”
Exactly what this overlay might entail for us would be the end-product of a year-long process of creating Winter Park’s version of the tool. Which is to say, plenty of discussion is likely to occur before this becomes a reality. So stay tuned.

Click here and go to Line 46 for a more thorough explanation of the Mixed Use Overlay.

Should You Attend Monday’s Commission Meeting?

Many have argued that the key to Winter Park’s value as a community is the quality of citizen engagement. Monday’s agenda is a full one. The Agenda Packet is more than 700 pages long. There will be things you won’t want to miss.

Winter Park Sings the Parking Blues

Fuzzy Parking Math Doesn’t Add Up

Winter Park Sings the Parking Blues

The March 27 Commission meeting shows what can happen when a city like Winter Park tries to solve a systemic parking problem one project at a time. Things don’t work out the way everyone thinks they’re going to.

Marathon Meeting

The 133,830 square feet of commercial development sent forth March 7 by the Planning & Zoning Board arrived at the City Commission March 27. The meeting, which began at 3:30 pm, lasted until nearly midnight. By 10:30 or so, many of the people who were still hanging in there were scratching their heads. The remarks in these video clips, which occurred toward the end of the meeting, tell the tale.

Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel, “We Can’t Kick This Can Down the Road Much Longer.”

Rick Frazee, “Nothing’s changed.”

Joe Terranova, “You can’t fit a size 10 foot into a size 6 shoe.”

Pat MacDonald, “This has been a very different evening than we all expected.”

Three Projects All Too Big for Their Parking Lots

Three large commercial construction projects – Orchard Supply Hardware at 2540 Aloma Avenue, Villa Tuscany Memory Care Center at 1298 Howell Branch Road, and the BFC Holdings project at 158 E. New England Avenue – shared the agenda with a presentation of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). All three construction applicants sought variances because of insufficient parking.

Orchard Strikes Out

First up was Lowe’s subsidiary Orchard Hardware Supply, to be built on the current location of the Aloma Bowl. Orchard needed a total of 135 parking spaces. They had 87 spaces on site and could lease 24 additional spaces from neighboring Panera Bread, leaving them 24 spaces short.

Strong opposition came from the bowlers, represented by Winter Park High School bowling team captain Danielle Allison. Ms. Allison and her volunteers had gathered nearly 3,000 signatures of citizens seeking to keep the facility open as a bowling alley. The sale of Aloma Bowl to Orchard was contingent on Commission approval.

Despite the Commissioners’ understanding and their admiration for Ms. Allison’s tenacity, at the end of the day, Orchard’s fortunes rose and fell on parking. After discussion and citizen commentary, the Commission voted to deny the application, pointing out that if the applicant would consider a smaller building, their parking dilemma would go away.

The following day, Ms. Allison told the Voice that she hoped Aloma Bowl would remain open for the community, but she said she did not know the owner’s plans for the building. The owner of Aloma Bowl could not be reached for comment.

Villa Tuscany – Too Big Not to Fail

Next up was the Villa Tuscany Memory Care Center at 1298 Howell Branch Road. This was to be a 41,000-square-foot memory care and assisted living project that would be built on land zoned R-3, high density residential, that sits adjacent to a single-family residential neighborhood. The neighbors had well-organized opposition, not to the proposed use of the facility, but to the size and scale, which they said was incompatible with the surroundings.

Even though residents of the facility would not have cars, plans for the facility did not provide adequate parking on site for staff and visitors. The applicant would be able to lease the missing parking spaces, but those were on the other side of Howell Branch Road.

Commissioner Peter Weldon broached the possibility of tabling the project and allowing the applicant to come back at a later date with revised plans for a smaller project. Weldon failed to receive a second for his motion, however, and the Commission voted 5 – 0 to deny the application, pointing out once again that a smaller project would obviate the need for extra parking.

BFC Holdings New England Ups the Ante

By the time attorney Mickey Grindstaff approached the podium on behalf of the Battaglia family’s 52,000-spare-foot project at 158 E. New England Avenue, tension in the chamber was palpable. While the BFC Holdings project had City staff support, P&Z had sent the project forward with no recommendation.

Staff recommended reducing the parking requirement from the four spaces per 1,000 square feet of office/ retail, called for by City Code, to three per thousand. Planning Director Dori Stone explained that staff was comfortable allowing fewer parking spaces. “In a downtown setting,” she said, “Class A Office, which is a different breed of office than we have in a lot of other places in Winter Park . . . can support three spaces per thousand, because the way they operate is different, the way their customer base is different, the way they function, look and feel is different than a typical office.”

Ms. Stone did not elaborate on what those differences might be. Planning Manager Jeff Briggs acknowledged that no other building in Winter Park enjoyed this reduction in parking requirement.

Winter Park Needs Another Parking Study

Stone recognized the need for further study of how parking functions in downtown Winter Park. “No matter how you count the spaces,” she said, “downtown Winter Park has parking issues.” Staff will embark on the fourth parking study in seven years – which those in the know believe will result in a recommendation for some sort of parking structure in the Central Business District.

Don’t Tie Parking Regulations to a Specific Project

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper admonished staff that if the City’s parking code needs to be reviewed, the discussion should take place outside the context of a specific project to avoid placing both the applicant and the Commissioners in a difficult position. “If staff truly supports a change in code,” she said, “they should bring us an ordinance, supported by data, so that we have the opportunity to evaluate a change in the parking code.”

‘How Much Longer ‘til Everyone Goes to the Mall?’

Grindstaff noted that BFC Holdings is being asked unfairly to shoulder a city-wide problem. But it is not just the BFC project that is suffering. Alan Deaver, a merchant and property owner in downtown Winter Park, collected signatures from 45 Park Avenue merchants who are being squeezed by the parking deficit and who will be severely impacted by the BFC Holdings project. “How much longer until everyone goes to the mall?” he wanted to know.

Not Ready for Prime Time

Using the new math, BFC New England would need 133 spaces for office and retail, and an additional 95 spaces for the two restaurants planned for the ground floor of the new building. The developer plans to put 57 spaces on site and to use 90 spaces in the Bank of America parking garage across the street, which they also own. The 90 B-of-A spaces would be available only by valet, as the garage is closed to the public.

Using the newly contrived formula, BFC is short 81 parking spaces. Compare this with the 24 spaces Orchard was short and the four spaces Villa Tuscany was short. It’s worth pointing out that by existing code, to which the other projects were held, the BFC project is short 121 spaces.

Mayor Steve Leary finally showed mercy on those assembled by moving to table the BFC Holdings application. His motion passed on a 5 – 0 vote. The BFC New England project will now make its way back through City Planning staff. There is no scheduled date for its return to the Commission.

Seidel Keeps Seat #1

Charter Amendment Passes

Seidel Keeps Seat #1

Commissioner Greg Seidel retained his seat on the City Commission by a comfortable 257 vote margin. Orange County Supervisor of Elections results show Seidel garnered 2,514 votes to challenger Wes Naylor’s 2,257.

The amendment to the City Charter, which provides for a runoff election in case of a tie, passed with 70 percent of the vote.

Appreciation to Wes Naylor for his willingness to serve the City, and congratulations to Commissioner Greg Seidel.

Winter Park-Maitland Observer Pulls 'Misleading Mailer' Article

Winter Park-Maitland Observer Pulls ‘Misleading Mailer’ Article

The Winter Park-Maitland Observer has removed from their website an article, published the week of March 6, that was referenced in a Letter to the Editor of the Winter Park Voice yesterday.

In an email to Commission candidate Wes Naylor, the Observer’s new owner, editor and CEO, Matt Walsh, wrote: “After extended discussions with Executive Editor Mike Eng, and given the late hour, I requested the story regarding your mailer be removed from the Winter Park/Maitland Observer website.”

Individual Property Rights vs. the Common Good

Are They Mutually Exclusive?

Individual Property Rights vs. the Common Good

The proponents of property rights went toe-to-toe with the advocates of neighborhood compatibility in a Planning & Zoning (P&Z) Board meeting Tuesday, March 7, which lasted well into the night. An overflow audience packed the Commission Chamber and spilled out into the elevator foyer. Tempers flared and rhetoric grew heated as citizens, applicants and P&Z Board members aired conflicting views.

At the end of the day, P&Z sent forward for Commission approval a total of 133,830 square feet of commercial development, with requests for variances for around 300 parking spaces.

Three Controversial Projects

At issue were three large commercial developments, two of which had been to P&Z before.

1. Villa Tuscany Memory Care Center, 1298 Howell Branch Road — 41,352 square feet, requesting a variance for 4 parking spaces.
2. Orchard Supply Hardware Store, 2540 Aloma Avenue (on the site of Aloma Bowl) — 39,877 square feet, requesting a variance for 45 parking spaces.
3. A Three-Story, mixed use building at 158 E. New England Avenue — 52,601 square feet, needing a parking variance of 200 spaces, more or less. The issue of how many parking spaces is hotly disputed, but everyone, even the applicant, agrees they need more.

Villa Tuscany Memory Care

Winter Park Elderly Services, LLC, first brought this project before P&Z in October 2016. The proposal was for a 50-bed, 34,986-square-foot memory care and assisted living facility at the intersection of Temple Trail and Howell Branch Road. The building site fronts Lake Temple and there is also a sinkhole on the property. The proposed height of the original building was more than 35 feet, requiring an 85-foot setback from Lake Temple. Staff recommended denial.

At the October meeting, P&Z voted to approve the use for a memory care facility, but tabled the request for building variances. They asked the applicant to return with a plan for a smaller facility. Instead, the applicant returned with a request for a larger facility — 6,366 square feet larger, with 51 beds — but it is only 35 feet high.

It’s Still Too Big

The neighbors weren’t buying it. “It is still too big,” they said. “It’s not compatible with the neighborhood.” Residents Barry Render and Nancy Freeman, representing 13 area HOAs, offered petitions with more than 200 signatures of people opposing the project and a Powerpoint presenting 10 reasons why P&Z should vote to deny.

But Not As Big As It Could Be

The incompatibility argument having been heard, attorney Becky Wilson, representing the applicant, returned to the podium with the property rights argument. The applicant was requesting a building about half the size he was actually entitled to under City code, warned Wilson.

P&Z Sides with Developer

Bob Hahn began the board’s discussion of the project by objecting to “accusations of profiteering.”

After a short discussion, the P&Z Board voted unanimously to approve the application and send it forward to the Commission.

Orchard Supply Hardware

Lowe’s subsidiary Orchard Supply Hardware seeks to build a second store within Winter Park City limits. The first slightly smaller store (32,355 square feet) is going up on 17-92. This project will sit on the present site of the Aloma Bowl, which has been sold to developers.

Real Estate Bubble?

Steve Miller of Miller’s Hardware spoke about the impact of commercial development on traffic and the general quality of life in Winter Park. “We may have a real estate bubble going,” he cautioned.

Lamenting the Loss of Aloma Bowl

A large group of citizens dressed in blue “Save Aloma Bowl” t-shirts protested the loss of the bowling alley, which has provided a family-friendly athletic and social outlet for generations of Winter Parkers of all ages. The Winter Park High School Bowling Team Co-captain described its importance in her life.

Once again, individual property rights collided with the interests of the common good. Becky Wilson, attorney for the applicant, explained it this way.

P&Z members sympathized with the residents, but explained that it was not within their purview to save the bowling alley. Shelia De Ciccio asked for understanding from residents in the audience.

After a discussion about signage and parking, the P&Z Board voted unanimously to approve the application and send it forward to the Commission.

158 East New England Avenue

BFC New England LLC first appeared before P&Z in November 2016 requesting approval for a three-story mixed-use development in the downtown core of Winter Park. The second and third floors would be occupied by Class A office space, while plans for the ground floor included retail space and two restaurants.

The Problem?

In a word . . . parking. Especially daytime parking.

The November staff report cites City parking code at 4 parking spaces per 1,000 feet for office and retail, and 1 space for every 4 seats in a restaurant. At the November hearing, BFC Holdings proposed 40,000 square feet of office and retail, requiring 162 spaces. They agreed to a total of 380 restaurant seats — an additional 95 spaces, for a total requirement of 257 spaces. BFC plans to put 57 spaces in the new building and to use another 90 spaces in the Bank of America garage across the street, which they own. Using these rules, they are short 110 parking spaces.

Now, City staff proposes to reduce the parking requirement to 3 spaces per 1,000 feet of retail/office. By those rules, BFC would need 133 spaces for office/retail, plus 95 for restaurant, totaling 228 spaces, leaving them only 81 spaces short. Bear in mind, this building will go up on a parking lot that currently holds 60 to 80 cars. The loss of those spaces will put further pressure on an existing parking deficit.

For daytime office and retail use, the 147 available spaces might be okay, especially since the two restaurants in the Bank of America building, Luma and the Wine Room, are currently open only in the evening – but nothing prevents them from opening for lunch.

Valet Parking in the Loading Zone

What if the two restaurants planned for the new building open for lunch – even with limited seating? Since parking for those restaurants would be in the Bank of America garage, which is closed to the public during the day, how would cars get in? Well, valet parking could get them in, but where on New England Avenue does one put the valet? Daniel Butts, speaking for BFC New England, proposes to put them in the loading zone.

P&Z Kicks the Can Down the Road

Following lengthy discourse on the relative merits of various parking scenarios, presiding P&Z chair Ross Johnston called for a vote. The vote ended up in a 3 – 3 tie, James Johnston having recused himself. As P&Z was unable to reach a decision, City staff will now take the proposal before the Commission, explain the rationale behind the opposing votes, and the decision will be up to the Commissioners.

Now What?

Those present at the meeting left with a number of unanswered questions. Though they are not questions that can or should be answered by P&Z, they are still left hanging.

Where Will the Green Space Go?

With a robust economy, commercial development is surging to satisfy pent up demand. As the favorable economic climate nurtures larger projects, infill developments test their boundaries. Traffic approaches gridlock — and parking? Forget it. Sidewalks, bike paths and especially, green space risk becoming a distant memory.

Is Everyone Playing by the Same Rules?

Conflicts occur at boundaries. In the interests of perpetuating the human race, our forebears found it advantageous to create a set of rules that allow Party A and Party B to preserve the integrity of their territory and still live peacefully side by side. But how well do the rules work if they are not always the same for everyone?

For instance, with Park Avenue merchants already losing business because of a downtown parking deficit, is it wise to create a special set of rules for large commercial projects?

Should We Hit the Pause Button?

Just this past January, Maitland Mayor Dale McDonald hit the Pause Button on high-density residential development in order to take a more global look at where his city is headed and what will be left of it when it gets there.

Might it be time for Winter Park to take a page from that book and pause to examine where we are headed with all this commercial development? After all, no developer comes to the City saying, “I want to build a bad development.” But how many big box stores does it take to make this too much of a good thing?

Are Individual Property Rights & the Common Good Mutually Exclusive?

City Fathers Chase and Chapman had it right when they drew up their plans for Winter Park in the 1880s. We still prosper from their vision. They began with a good plan, they codified it and they wrote it down for everyone to see and to follow. To this day, our Charter and our Comprehensive Plan provide a context within which neighbors can settle boundary disputes.

These documents also give us a way to achieve a balance between individual property rights and the common good.

It’s All Over but the Shouting

Library Hosts Final Candidate Faceoff

It’s All Over but the Shouting

Even though the election is only four days off, and most of those who vote by mail have already done so, every seat was filled at today’s Winter Park Library candidate debate. Former Channel 6 anchor Lauren Rowe moderated the sparring match between Commissioner Greg Seidel and Wes Naylor, Seidel’s opponent for Commission Seat #1.

The questions were substantive and the candidates’ answers were frequently quite direct. If you could not get to the Library today, click the link below to see the entire debate.