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:
- The space for the apartments is within the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limits.
- The garage apartments won’t have separate utility hook-ups.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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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Those Yellow Signs – They’re Back!
Neighbors Protest Aloma Townhome Development
Guest Columnist Beth Hall
The city Commission is now all that stands between a group of Osceola/Lakeview Planning District residents and a development proposal which threatens to destroy the single family character of their neighborhood, as well as that of a block on the north side of Aloma between Phelps and Lakemont Avenues.
No Density Signs are Back
City Planning staff and the Planning and Zoning Board have given the high-density, 18 town home project a big thumbs up, despite the fact that it will strip four of the five lots of their single family R-1A status. Residents adjacent to and directly behind the project are up in arms.
Planning Staff Recommends PURD
City Planning staff has worked with the applicant, Ansaka LLC, on the project for close to 18 months and are now recommending approval. The project takes the maximum conceivable density under the Planned Unit Residential Development (PURD) and R-3 zoning classifications, then adds four additional housing units.
Comp Plan Provides for Preservation of Single Family Zoning
The Comprehensive Plan provides that single family homes in this district are to be “preserved.” City planning staff maintains that this is true of 98 percent of the planning district, but not on this part of Aloma. The growing number of yellow “No Density” signs sprouting along Aloma suggests that prospective neighbors beg to differ.
Ironically, during the same 18-month period the Planning Staff was working with the applicant, the City’s Comprehensive Plan was undergoing its periodic revision process. Despite countless staff hours and numerous community meetings, including Commission meetings, the Comp Plan still calls for the single-family R-1A designation of these parcels west of the corner of Lakemont and Aloma to remain undisturbed.
P&Z Grants Approval December 2017
Planning and Zoning took up Ansaka’s application on December 5, 2017. They approved it over the objections of the residents who appeared and spoke in opposition.
P&Z recommended the applicant hold a community meeting to discuss an appropriate “buffer” between the project and the adjacent single family homes to the north and west of the micro-community before the project went to public hearing at the January 6, 2018, Commission meeting.
Ansaka Slows Down Application Process
Ansaka skipped the January 6 Commission meeting, and finally held a community meeting on March 1, 2018. It is unclear how attendees were notified of the meeting. The applicant chose to postpone the public hearing until March 26, 2018.
City Staff Hits Speed Bump
Then, a glitch in the City’s public notification process necessitated a delay for two more weeks, until Monday, April 9, because of the City’s inability to verify that it had provided adequate public notice in all its required forms, including publication.
Speed Bump Slows Ansaka
The Applicant made clear his intention to proceed on March 26, but was unsuccessful. The project was pulled from the March 26 agenda and rescheduled to April 9. The intervening two weeks have seen a surge in awareness of the project throughout the neighborhood and throughout the City.
Neighbors Ask Commission to Step into the Breach
At this moment, residents of the neighborhood near the project are holding out hope that the city Commission will give their already established property rights priority over those of a developer who bought land speculating that he could rezone it, change the future land use map, and amend our Comprehensive Plan.
Who will prevail?
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What to do about Winter Park’s Infestation of Carpetbaggers?
Open Letter to the Mayor, Commissioners and my Winter Park Neighbors
Guest Columnist Todd C. Weaver
Population Threshold is a topic that rarely comes up in conversations about public policy, but it should, and particularly with regard to the proposed 18-unit Planned Urban Residential Development (PURD) on Aloma between Lakemont and Phelps.
What is Population Threshold?
A Population Threshold is the point at which the rate of increase of the per capita cost of public services is more rapid than the rate of increase in population. You’ve likely heard the false narrative that increasing the size of our tax base is good for Winter Park.
In the long run, nothing could be further from the truth.
Taxes Go Up as Thresholds Are Crossed
As population density increases, the cost per capita for public services increases at a faster rate than the population, and any increase in housing density never pays for itself. It gets paid for by increasing taxes on the entire population. Likewise, chances that an increase in the commercial tax base pays for itself are slim to none.
Winter Park boasts a fine staff of experts that oversees the functionality of our city services. These people can tell you that at certain thresholds, city service costs, which are funded by taxpayer dollars, must accommodate increases in development at certain trigger points or “thresholds.”
Hundreds of Miles of Buried Pipe and Conduit
Staff responsible for public works and utilities can tell you that we have hundreds of miles of piping and conduits buried under the City to handle sewage transfer, storm water and potable water. We also have a plan in place to use recycled water for irrigation, requiring more miles of underground piping. The same is true for the electric undergrounding effort, currently underway.
At some population threshold, the carrying capacity (size) of these pipes and conduits must be increased, at a substantial cost to present and future residents and businesses. Streets must be dug up, traffic rerouted, expensive horizontal drilling where traffic cannot be practically diverted, temporary diversions of flows during construction, additional pumping and lift stations, water treatment facilities, increased electric substation equipment . . . and the list goes on.
Public Safety Costs Increase
The cost of Public Safety rises commensurately. The frequency of police calls from high-density, multifamily developments is far greater than those from single family homes and most businesses. This requires increased patrols, call answering and staff. We need more manpower and more sophisticated firefighting and EMT equipment to handle high-density structures as development and population increase.
Increased density brings increased automobile traffic, adding to the nutrient loads draining into our lakes. We must compensate for the increased nutrient load in our waterways with expensive herbicides, increased labor and expensive aquatic equipment to handle tussocks, algae blooms and dredging exacerbated by development. Every time additional pavement or impervious surface is laid, storm water runoff increases, putting us closer to another threshold.
High Density = Variances
The development at Aloma and Lakemont is all too common a scenario. Despite having a Comprehensive Plan and zoning codes in place, a small number of players, who are well aware of the limitations of land use imposed by City regulations, now expect the Planning & Zoning Board and the Commission to roll over and grant their claims for significant variances, zoning changes and other non-compliant requests.
The developer, ANSAKA, LLC, bought four single family lots and one office lot. At the April 9 Commission meeting, the City will be asked to rezone them all — on the primary east-west corridor through the City. When combined, the lots do not meet the 2-acre minimum required by code to build such a development.
Profit Is Not Dependent on Zoning Changes
I’ve developed multiple commercial and residential properties in several Florida counties over the past 20 years. Never once did my company believe it had the right to ask for any variance to local or State codes. We were happy to have the assistance of municipal and county staff to guide us through the maze, and were content with a reasonable profit in every case.
Developers have a right to make a profit — that’s not the argument. What we have now in Winter Park, however, are a few developers who think it’s their right to maximize profits at the expense of Winter Park residents and businesses, and at the expense of our standard of living. These firms are like the carpetbaggers of the Reconstruction South, arriving with an empty bag, staying long enough to fill the bag with money, then leaving the townsfolk to deal with the resulting mess.
Asking Everyone to Use the Same Playbook
All we ask is that everyone play by the same rules — the rules we all agreed to in our Comprehensive Plan and zoning codes.
I respectfully ask the Commission to consider the above facts and logic and do the right thing by holding the line on our Comp Plan and zoning codes in the interest of your current and future constituents.
Todd Weaver is a 22-year resident of Winter Park, and a 45-year resident of central Florida.
After graduating from UCF’s College of Engineering, Weaver spent much of 30 years as an aerospace & mechanical design engineer. He also attended UF Gainesville, taking graduate courses in biochemistry, veterinary medicine and other life sciences. He holds a Florida General Contractor license and has developed several residential and commercial properties.
Three years ago, Weaver and two partners founded a Winter Park-based company, TruGrit Traction, which has designed and patented a new type of wheel for underground pipe-inspection robots. Weaver’s company supplies Winter Park’s Water & Wastewater Utilities Department with wheels for their camera robots, at no charge to the city. TruGrit Traction proudly engineers, manufactures and assembles all products in the USA, with sales in 50 states, Canada and the European Union.
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Lurline Fletcher - October 4, 1943 – March 24, 2018
Winter Park Has Lost a Treasure
Winter Park lost one of its own when Lurline Daniels Fletcher passed away the night of Saturday, March 24, 2018. Ms. Fletcher, who died of natural causes, was surrounded by her family. She was 74.
Born October 4, 1943, to Hurley Daniels and Hattie Magee Daniels in Foxworth, Mississippi, Lurline moved with her family to Winter Park at the age of five. She was married to Robert Lloyd Fletcher, who died in 1978. She is survived by two sisters, Arzolia MacDonald and Hurley Mae Donaldson and a brother-in-law, James Donaldson. A step brother, Arthur Hall, predeceased her.
Lurline is also survived by three children, Kem Fletcher Jones, Nanette Walthour and Vanallen Berry. She also had nine grandchildren, 26 great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
Lurline worked for many years at the Welbourne Avenue Nursery and Kindergarten as a teacher’s aide. She then attended nursing school, which she completed in the late 1970s, and subsequently went to work the Central Florida Kidney Center as a transporter.
Lurline was an active member of Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church for more than 50 years. She loved to travel and particularly enjoyed cruises. She traveled to Hawaii and the Caribbean, among many other places. Lurline’s daughter Nanette said, “After her children were grown, her life consisted of helping others and traveling.”
Her children describe her as a wicked, exacting card player. “She loved to play cards,” said daughter Kem. “She always knew every card that had been played, and she never let us get away with anything.”
Most Winter Parkers will remember Lurline as a strong voice at City Hall, speaking out for the preservation of the character of Winter Park’s West Side. “Commission meetings will never be the same,” said Sally Flynn. “There never will be another Lurline Fletcher.”
Charley Williams observed that when Lurline was asked to quiet down, she just spoke louder. “I hope Winter Parkers will honor Lurline’s memory by always showing up, like she did,” said Williams, “wearing shades and their very best hat.”
Services will be held Monday, April 2, at 11:00 a.m. at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church at the corner of Pennsylvania and Lyman. The service will be conducted by Pastor Weaver Blondin. There will be a viewing at the church from 9:00 until 10:30 a.m. Lurline will be laid to rest at Washington Park Cemetery on Brewton Blvd. in Orlando. Tillman Funeral Home, 620 E. York St., Monticello FL 32344, is handling arrangements.
When asked for a word that described Lurline’s life, her children responded.
Vanallen: “Loving and caring”
Lurline’s legacy of civic engagement is as much a hallmark of Winter Park as are the live oaks that shelter the city she loved.
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