Straw Wars Comes to Winter Park

Straw Wars Comes to Winter Park

Let This Be the Last Straw!

Guest Columnists Dr. Leslie Poole and Charley Williams

Think globally, act locally. So, Winter Park, for the moment, Think Locally.

A Garbage Patch the Size of Texas

You may have been reading about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch–an area the size of Texas (or France, your choice). It’s located between California and Hawaii and contains an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. This is the planet’s largest mass of plastic. The crisis is reflected in the photos you see of dying marine life – birds, sea turtles, whales and sharks, trapped in this plastic grip of death. They ingest tiny pieces of plastic that interfere with their digestive systems. Humans are not exempt. Scientists are finding plastic microfibers in the very water we drink.

Plastic Straws – One Culprit

Surprisingly those thin plastic straws in bars and restaurants – through which we sip without giving it a second thought — play a culpable role. And it’s something we can control.

According to the U.S. National Park Service, Americans use 500 million straws a day. Most never make it to the recycling bin.

WP Is Making Progress

Don’t get us wrong — Winter Park is making progress in fighting the plastic plague. Barnies is eliminating styrofoam carryout containers in favor of cardboard. Starbucks has devised a sippy-cup container with a wider mouth for its cold drinks, which negates the need for a straw. Many Winter Park establishments have a policy that if you bring your own reusable container – like a coffee cup — they will give you a discount. That’s progress. Be sure and thank them.

But at countless other establishments, plastic straws come with the territory. It’s a habit.

Just Say No

What to do? Change that habit! We have the power. It’s simple. Just say “No”.

Instruct the bartender or server not to bring you a straw and suggest the establishment abandon the use of plastic straws altogether. You have to do it up front when you sit down or are placing your order. Once that straw goes into the glass or is brought to the table, even if it is wrapped, it goes straight from the table into the trash. Nothing gained.

Leave It to Beaver?

The global good news: This year, scientists are prepared to launch the world’s first machine to clean up this mess. It was designed by a teenager no less. More at www.theoceancleanup.com

All Boats Rise on this Tide

Kudos to those Winter Park businesses which are leading the way. If you have new information or an experience, please share with the Voice. We’d all like to know. Awareness is the brightest path to long-term solutions.

Lead by example, learn by observing. All boats rise on this tide.

Read more:
National Geographic “Straw Wars: The Fight to Rid the Oceans of Discarded Plastic” (April 12, 2017; updated February 23, 2018)
https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/plastic-straws-ocean-trash-environment/

U.K. takes a leadership role: “The Queen Declares War on Plastic….”
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/11/queen-declares-war-plastic-david-attenborough-documentary/amp/

Dr. Leslie Poole is assistant professor of environmental studies at Rollins College

Charley Williams is past president, League of Women Voters, Orange County

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Why, Oh Why?

Why, Oh Why?

On the Branding of the Winter Park Library

Guest Columnist Michael Perelman

On March 26, 2018, the concept of creating a unique brand for the to-be-developed new Library and Events Center was brought to the Winter Park Commission. This concept arose from the Library and Events Center Task Force based on a recommendation by Sam Stark at the January 24, 2018 meeting of that Task Force. The recommendation presented was to use ‘The Canopy’ as the brand; this, is in spite of there being a local business already using that brand – the Canopy Café’.

The Commission made no determination at that meeting, but asked that the item be brought back with some style guides. This occurred on April 9 when a number of visuals were presented. These proposals included:

Winter Park Library at the Canopy 
The Venue at the Canopy
Rollin’s Softball at the Canopy
MLK Jr Park at the Canopy

On April 09, the Commission did not take a position, though Commissioner Seidel did highlight a concern about a ‘potential annexation’ of MLK Park.’ The proposal was tabled for further discussion at the next Commission meeting.

The topic did not appear on the agenda of the April 23 meeting; but, a number of members of the public (including myself) did raise the topic during the Citizen Comments part of the agenda. None spoke in favor of the branding concept; all were opposed.

To my mind, it is unclear why these new structures demand a unique brand. We already have a strong brand – Winter Park! Why must this be undermined? And, to suggest that MLK Park, and everything in it, should be a subset of the Canopy is to add insult to injury!

What we need is a ‘Winter Park Library,’ and a ‘Winter Park Events Center.’ These names are self-explanatory, and reflect our values as a community.

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Lessons from Charleston

Lessons from Charleston

Quality of Life Drives Economic Development

Guest Columnist Bob Bendick

I recently traveled to in Charleston, South Carolina, to attended a gathering of people from around the country who are engaged in the conservation of large landscapes for their benefits to people and nature.

What Charleston Can Teach Us

We had the opportunity to take a field trip and to hear from several of the community leaders who have been involved in land conservation and historic preservation in the South Carolina Low Country over the last 30 years. While Charleston itself is much larger than Winter Park, and the Low Country region is larger than the Orlando Metropolitan Area, there are lessons from the Charleston experience relevant to Winter Park and Central Florida.

Knowles Cottage

Legacy of Structures & Green Space

Charleston has an important history and a legacy of historic structures and green space. The people of Charleston have cared for the historic fabric of the city and have adopted local ordinances to ensure that historic structures are protected and that the scale of new buildings in the downtown area fit in with the traditional scale of the community.

Charleston’s Green Belt

Similarly, both within the city and in surrounding areas, there has been a sustained effort to protect open space for its ecological, cultural, and recreational values. This has been accomplished by cooperation with federal agencies, by bonding to finance land acquisition in Charleston County, by creative development plans, and by private landowners donating the rights to develop their rural lands. As a result, there is now a greenbelt of conservation lands two-thirds of the way around the city, and there are many places where people can access parks, refuges and waterways.

Everyone’s History Matters

Another part of Charleston’s history is important to this story. Charleston was the point of entry into North America for a large number of the African slaves brought to this country prior to the Civil War. Charleston is sensitive to this aspect of its past, and has worked hard to ensure that the African American community and its history are recognized and respected as Charleston moves forward.

Public-Private Partnerships Strengthen City Character

One clear reason for the success of conservation and historic preservation in Charleston has been extraordinary cooperation among non-profit organizations, local government, state and federal agencies and private businesses working together to protect the character of the region. Economic development interests have recognized the value of Charleston’s heritage and have contributed to its protection. For example, Boeing made funds available to purchase a key parcel of forest land for conservation to offset the environmental impacts of the construction of its large new aircraft manufacturing plant at the Charleston Airport.

Southern Charm is Strong Economic Driver

The protection of the historic and environmental character of the Charleston Region has not been an impediment to the economy of the city and the surrounding area. In fact, the quality and character of life in Charleston has been a key stimulus to economic development. It has attracted second home construction, tourism and the location of high-wage manufacturing. All of this has made the Charleston region one of the fastest growing in the country.

Protecting Winter Park’s Character is a Wise Long-term Investment

The lessons for Winter Park and Central Florida seem clear–that protecting the historic and natural character, scale, attractiveness and diversity of Winter Park and the surrounding region should not be thought of as opposed to the economic well-being of the city and central Florida, but as a long-term investment in the assets of our community that will attract quality growth while providing a sense of place, history, and belonging to the people who live and work here.

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Double-Density Cluster Housing

Double-Density Cluster Housing

Coming to a Winter Park Neighborhood Near You


Guest Columnist Jan Hommel

On Monday, April 23, developer Dan Bellows will ask the Commission to grant conditional use and associated variances for a rental apartment complex on the property at 301 W. Comstock – formerly City property known as the Blake Yard.

Each of the four rental units will have its own detached two-car garage with a 420- to 480-square foot “accessory living space” above it. To the casual observer, that would be a garage apartment. So, are there four apartments or eight?

Blake Yard sits between the Grant Chapel, the railroad tracks and the Lyman Avenue Villas. The property is easily accessible to Park Avenue via the new walking path on the tracks. The long promised silent train crossings, now under construction, further enhance the desirability of this lot.

About a year ago, the City saw a chance to cash in on Blake Yard. City reserves were at a low ebb at the time and needed bulking up, so it seemed an opportune time to issue a Notice of Disposal (NOD). According to the NOD, the property would be zoned R-2 and allow a maximum of four units. The property appraised at $450,000.

City-Owned Property Merits Special Consideration

The sale of city-owned property usually goes through a rigorous review process. After all, city staff and the Commission have a responsibility to ensure the City is not negatively impacted and receives full benefit from the sale.

Round One — Monkey Business at City Hall

The disposal of the Blake Yard property came before the April 10, 2017 Commission meeting. Two parties, Dan Bellows as Winter Park Redevelopment Agency Ltd., and Rowland and Co., with architect Phil Kean, submitted competitive bids for the property. Both bids were below the appraised value.

After lengthy discussion, the Commissioners decided not to accept either bid and asked Planning Director Dori Stone to negotiate with the two bidders to see if one or both would agree to meet the appraised value. Stone would then bring the issue back before the Commission at the next meeting on April 24, 2017.

Round Two – Back to the Drawing Board

At the April 24, 2017 meeting, following the second phase of the bidding, Dori Stone recommended that the property be sold to Bellows’ Winter Park Redevelopment Agency, Ltd. because he was the highest bidder by $1,000.

The commission was headed in that direction until Rosemary Hayes, the attorney for Rowland & Co., disclosed some information she had gotten from a public records search. She found that on Friday, April 14, 2017, before close of bidding, Rowland & Co. had bid $455,000. Bellows had submitted a bid that offered “$450,000 OR $1,000 higher than another bid.”

Ms Hayes’ public records request also revealed a communications thread between City staff and Mr. Bellows, which included information about the Rowland bid.

City Manager Randy Knight emphasized that all communications between Bellows and City staff occurred after the bidding was closed. Rowland & Co. and their attorney were not party to any of these communications, however.

On a motion to approve Bellows’. bid of $456,000, Mayor Leary and Commissioner Weldon voted yes. Commissioners Seidel, Sprinkel and Cooper voted no. The motion failed and the project was sent back out for bids.

Three’s a Charm

Finally, at the May 22, 2017 meeting, the Commission voted 3-2 to sell the property to Bellows’ Winter Park Redevelopment Agency Ltd. for $481,000. Cooper and Seidel voted no, but this time Sprinkel joined Weldon and Leary to approve the sale.

The sale received final approval on second reading at the July 24, 2017 Commission meeting.

A New High in High-Density Living

In April 2018, Bellows’ plans for the old Blake Yard sailed through Planning & Zoning on a unanimous vote to approve.

Bellows is seeking to introduce a new model for high density living in Winter Park. In the style of the James Gamble Rogers-designed Barbour House Apartments, Bellows plans to build four rental apartments, each with a detached two-car garage – and each of those two-car garages sports a second-floor “accessory living space.”

Pesky Conditional Use Requirement

According to code, the scale of buildings in R-2 should blend in with the neighborhood, in this case, single family homes and duplexes. Bellows’ proposed four-unit apartment building is hardly in keeping with either the adjacent Lyman Avenue Villas or the single family homes on Comstock.

Staff thinks the apartment building blends right in. Evidently Planning & Zoning did, too.

The Neighbors? Not So Much

Since this project requires a conditional use, neighbors’ concerns should have been addressed. Were they? No.

Despite the fact that the neighbors met with City staff to voice their concerns, hired an attorney and showed up in force at the P&Z meeting, their pleas fell on deaf ears. The neighbors should have kept their money and saved their effort.

Neighbors say the scale of the building is a problem. They worry about the variance Bellows received to place his looming building three feet closer to the new bike path than code allows.

Additionally, Bellows must take two valuable parking spaces from Grant Chapel — now Hudson’s Event Venue — to access the apartments from Lyman. The Chapel didn’t have enough parking in its old use. In its new incarnation, the event center is woefully under-parked.

And Those Garage Apartments?

Remember, 301 W. Comstock is zoned for four units. What code loophole allows four units to morph into eight? Here are staff’s arguments supporting the garage apartments:

  1. The space for the apartments is within the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limits.
  2. The garage apartments won’t have separate utility hook-ups.
  3. The garage apartments don’t have kitchens. According to code, garage apartments are not allowed to have kitchens or cooking facilities. These will not have a 240 volt hook-up, so technically, there is no kitchen. This one got a laugh from those of us who forsake the microwave for the oven only at Thanksgiving.
  4. City code prohibits short-term rentals and subletting of garage apartments.

No Subletting? No AirBnB? Then What’s the Point?

The neighbors weren’t buying it — and you shouldn’t either. Subletting is more than likely. The garage apartments will make the rental price on the main apartments much more palatable if the tenant sublets or runs an AirBnB. Any way you look at it, the density will double.

There is no Enforcer

The City admits it is unable to police the “no subletting” rule, and they are certainly unable to police the rule against short-term rentals – AirBnB, etc. In fact, Dan Bellows prominently advertises a property on AirBnB, complete with photos of “Host Dan.”

If the units were Condos, with a proper Home Owners Association, perhaps the owners would police each other to prevent illegal subletting, but as rental units, there are no controls.

The neighbors are justifiably concerned about the “double density” of this project. Parking is inadequate for eight units. Residents and their guests will be forced to use nearby streets — Lyman and Comstock.

There is Still Time to Show Your Support – Monday, April 23

This project comes before the Commission on Monday, April 23. Please help stop this green-lighting of ill-conceived projects by the City, the Staff and Planning & Zoning.

Beware the Slippery Slope

If this level of density is allowed in one neighborhood, every neighborhood in town is vulnerable. We are all in this together. Let your voice be heard.

Write to MayorandCommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org, to ask them to reconsider their decision, and show up at the meeting on Monday, April 23rd.

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Heaven on Wheels

Heaven on Wheels

Grant Chapel Hijacked Again

Guest Columnist Jan Hommel

Dan Bellows has hijacked Grant Chapel once again.

Hannibal Square developer Dan Bellows has managed to obtain the City’s okay to operate a commercial enterprise in a building zoned O-2 (office). Since the matter has not been before either the Planning & Zoning Board or the City Commission, one can only conclude the approval came through City staff.

Grant Chapel Served West Side Community Since 1935

According to the Friends of Casa Feliz website, Grant Chapel was built on Winter Park’s West Side in 1935 and served as a house of worship for the predominantly African American population for almost 70 years. When the congregation outgrew its location, Bellows recognized the development potential of its prime Hannibal Square location and purchased the building.
https://friendsofcasafeliz.wordpress.com/tag/winter-park-history/

For a few years, Bellows rented the property to Suzanne and Steve Graffham, who operated it as the “Winter Park Wedding Chapel.” They ran a photo studio and used the chapel primarily for destination weddings.

Grant Chapel on the Move

In 2013, Bellows struck a deal with the City to move Grant Chapel from its original home on New England to its present site on Lyman Avenue close to the railroad tracks and across from the Farmer’s Market. At the time, Bellows assured the Commission that if they up-zoned the Lyman Ave. Chapel property from R-1 to O-2 (office), he would place the Chapel on the Historic Register as soon as the move was completed.

Grant Chapel Headed for Historic Preservation?

Delighted, the City Commission approved the Chapel’s R-1 zoning change to O-2. Its use as a wedding chapel and photo studio fit neatly into O-2 zoning. It looked like another historic Winter Park property was saved from the wrecking ball in the “move-it-or-lose-it” historic preservation strategy of those days.

Or Not

A funny thing happened on the way to the Historic Preservation Board, however. After its December 2013 move, the chapel was remodeled to include the addition of a basement with two staircases descending from the front façade. The landscaping on Lyman featured elaborate hardscaping, in stark contrast to the humble leafy lot where the chapel originally stood. By the time Bellows’ application reached the Historic Preservation Board (HBP), the board refused to add Grant Chapel to the Historic Registry.

Another ‘Golden Egg in an Unguarded Nest’

And once a listing in the historic registry was no longer a consideration, Bellows made even more changes to the building. Meanwhile, the historic landmark has been lost.

No More Grant Chapel

Now, Grant Chapel has been rebranded as Hudson’s Chapel & Cellar in Hannibal Square. This facility is prominently advertised in the newspaper and on its website as a “stunning venue for any event.” The website proclaims Hudson’s is suitable for parties of up to 60 guests, with catered food and beverages. While wedding ceremonies are welcome in the Chapel, Hudson’s promotes itself as perfect for all types of events — holiday parties, corporate events, birthday celebrations, etc.

But, wait. Hudson’s Chapel and Cellar, greater than its original size and with no additional parking, is still zoned O-2.

According to the City’s Land Development Code, (Sec. 58-73,) O-2 zoning means offices. There is a very short list of permitted uses. When the Commission approved the O-2 zoning, they were given to understand that the intended use of Grant Chapel was as a Wedding Chapel and photography business – two uses that fit neatly within 0-2 zoning.

Disturbing the Neighbors?

Types of business that are not permitted in buildings zoned O-2, because of the potential to disturb the neighbors, are “private and semi-private clubs, lodges, halls, and/or social centers and restaurants or lounges.”

Comp Plan Conflict – No Commercial on West Lyman

City approval of Mr. Bellows’ use of Grant Chapel as an event and party venue in O-2 zoning clearly requires up-zoning to C-1 (commercial). Hudson’s is now a Commercial Establishment . . . on West Lyman Avenue, which the Comp Plan says is to remain forever residential.

“But Everyone Knew. . .”

City Manager Randy Knight stated the Commission knew they were approving a party and event venue when they gave approval for the then-Winter Park Wedding Chapel to operate from the Lyman Avenue location as part of the O-2 zoning process.

Even Though There Was No Public Notice

Yet, the Winter Park Wedding Chapel did not operate as a party and event venue at either the New England or Lyman Avenue location. There is no evidence of a publicly noticed discussion of Bellows’ intent to turn Grant Chapel into a party and event venue. If the Commission intended for Bellows to operate a party and event center, why was the property not up-zoned to C-1?

Parking Rears Its Ugly Head . . . Again

Hudson’s Chapel already has minimal parking – parking that any city official, elected or otherwise, who has a critical eye might find inadequate for an event venue with a capacity of up to 60 guests. . .parking that will be further eroded by Bellows’ upcoming development of the Blake Yard property.

Bellows has hijacked Grant Chapel once. Shame on him. If we let him hijack it again, shame on us.

mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org
Contact your elected representatives to insist that the use of Grant Chapel remain consistent with its 0-2 zoning.

Jan Hommel is a resident of the West Side neighborhood of Winter Park.

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