Inside Baseball: Winter Park’s Heavy Hitters Negotiate a Stadium and Spoils of the Game

Inside Baseball: Winter Park’s Heavy Hitters Negotiate a Stadium and Spoils of the Game

While Manatees, Rollins College & Developers Pursue Stadium-Related Revenues & Gov’t Subsidies, Citizens’ Group Petitions to Keep the Stadium Out of MLK Park

A little more than a year ago Rollins College and (presumably) other baseball principals invoked a Florida statute that kept Winter Parkers in the dark about stadium negotiations with the city. In February 2014, the news blackout expired.

Winter Park Voice has filed numerous Freedom of Information document requests with the city asking to see baseball-related email and other documents. Last week, the city released documents and email to the Voice showing what appears to be a serious negotiation by baseball principals to secure funding for a stadium at Rollins’ Harper–Shepherd field located near Orange Avenue and Denning.

Rollins Document Blackout Request

If Harper-Shepherd Negotiations Fail, MLK Park is a Favored Alternative. Citizen Petitioners Claim that Stadium in MLK Will Increase Traffic/Noise & Affect Quality of Life

Recent public hearings and the city’s interest in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park as an alternative stadium location have motivated a group of citizens to mount a petition drive to keep the stadium out of the park. This citizen-led effort appears to have grown out of concerns voiced by citizens and neighborhood groups that new and proposed Denning-area development – including the prospect of an extension of Lee Road through to Denning Ave. – will choke northwest Winter Park with large buildings and traffic gridlock. As reported by the website HeartofWinterPark.com

 

“The Petitioners Committee contends that the loss of this park would not only be a loss to the entire city, but that the size and impact of a professional minor league baseball stadium in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park will permanently alter the character of the neighborhood and bring traffic and noise which will affect the quality of life of the residents.”

City Manager Knight Responds to Voice Request for Clarification/Explanation of Stadium Negotiations

The Voice contacted City Manager Randy Knight last week asking for updated information, clarification of numerous points made in city emails and corrections (if any). Mr. Knight did not respond directly to any of our questions or provide any updates. He did, however, respond with a statement indicating that the ongoing negotiations are a “very complicated and fluid process” adding that he does not have “the authority to bind the city to any deal . . .” and that Jeff Eisenbarth of Rollins College “does not have the authority to bind Rollins to any deal.”

Mr. Knight also said that some of the information we gathered from city email (and questioned him about) was “outdated”, but did not offer any correction or update of the information. The full text of Mr. Knight’s response to Voice questions is shown at the end of this story. A key memo referenced by Mr. Knight is shown below.

Will Rollins’ Harper-Shepherd Field Get the Nod?

Documents provided by the city include a “Term Sheet” memo, submitted by the Manatees’ David Freeman on March 28 that spells out terms of a proposed deal “. . . under which City, Rollins, and Manatees will agree to jointly fund construction of a new baseball stadium to be owned by Rollins and a new parking garage to be owned by City, and under which Manatees will agree to relocate Florida State League professional baseball club to Winter Park in Spring 2016.”

On April 1, City Manager Randy Knight added his comments to the “Term Sheet” memo modifying and correcting various aspects of the terms proposed by the principals. Among the original terms put forward by the principals was a request that the city build a parking garage on land next to Harper-Shepherd field owned by Rollins College.

Proposed Deal Term Sheet

The projected cost to build the stadium garage (to be paid mostly by the city) is $6 million, $2 million of which will be paid by the Manatees baseball organization.

The principals indicate that Rollins will contribute Harper-Shepherd Field and adjoining land plus an additional $4.25 million for the stadium project.

The city’s total contribution could go as high as $6.3 million, most of which would be taken from city CRA funds – if Orange County officials agree to extend the life span of the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency).

Baseball Principals Lean Heavily on Gov’t Programs Designed to Help Low-Income Communities

The proposed agreement counts on city CRA money and a $7.5 million federal tax break for the principals. The tax break comes from a program – the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) – set up by the federal government to encourage development in disadvantaged communities.

IRS guidelines describe the reason Congress set up the NMTC program as follows:

“This Code section permits individual and corporate taxpayers to receive a credit against federal income taxes for making Qualified Equity Investments (QEIs) in qualified community development entities (CDEs).

These investments are expected to result in the creation of jobs and material improvement in the lives of residents of low-income communities. Examples of expected projects include financing small businesses, improving community facilities such as daycare centers, and increasing home ownership opportunities . . .”

IRS NMTC Guidelines        Winter Park CRA Info        CRA Basics

Is Stadium Use of Funds Intended for Westside Development an Appropriate Use of CRA Money?

Commissioners who oppose use of city money to build the baseball stadium may find themselves in bind when a final stadium deal goes up for a vote. Those who espouse a “no city money” position may be forced to defend a deeply finessed definition of “city money.”

We asked Randy Knight to explain the justification for possible use of CRA funds for the stadium project. We also requested a clarification as to whether CRA funds are fundamentally the same as any other city tax revenues – except that they are earmarked for community redevelopment. Mr. Knight did not respond to these questions.

History of the Deal: City Didn’t Like Manatees’ Original Offer – Wanted to Avoid Perception that
“. . . the City is giving and everyone else is taking.”

The initial terms proposed by David Freeman in a March phone conversation with Randy Knight apparently did not include any upfront cash contribution by the Manatees. In a follow-up email to Freeman and others on March 17, Knight rejects Freeman’s offer saying “. . . I have given a lot of thought to the proposed deal David described to me on the phone last week and I do not believe I would be able to get the Commission’s vote to support it.”

Initial Terms Negotiation

Knight Outlines Objections to Team Owners’ Initial Offer:

“1) The upfront commitment from the professional team is not adequate to secure the County’s participation in extending the CRA. Based upon my conversations with County staff as well as with Commissioner Edwards and Mayor Jacobs, any commitment to extend the CRA would require “skin in the game” from the team owner. They understand that Rollins money is also private but the reason they would be involved with the deal at all is for MiLB and they want to have confidence that the team is committed. A long-term lease and no upfront commitment will not be enough to get it done. Without the CRA extension, the City’s $5M is not there.

2) The proposal does not adequately address parking in the short term and in the long term commits the City to fund a parking structure. If the City spends its funds on the stadium it will not have a source to fund the parking. Without the parking resolved upfront, I do not believe Planning and Zoning or the City Commission will approve a stadium at that location regardless of who is funding it.

3) Other than having MiLB (Minor League Baseball) and the resulting economic impact for the community, the City gets nothing for its investment. No recurring revenues, no new parkland and no ownership. While I appreciate not being on the hook for future costs or CapX there will be a perception that the City is giving and everyone else is taking.”

Knight then offered a counter-proposal warning “I don’t want to drag this out until August if this [ Freeman’s ] proposed deal is the best we can do. I offer the below proposal that I believe I can in good conscience recommend to the City Commission.”

Knight’s Counter-Proposal Paves Way for Current Deal

Knight Adds Deal-Sweetener. Freeman Responds.

Knight sweetened his proposed terms with an offer to share a projected $3.5 – 4 million funding shortfall, saying he “could support recommending that the City put in 1/3rd of the shortfall (with conditions that the parking garage is available during non-game times for other use) if Rollins and the Team find the other 2/3rds either up front or through shared revenues. Otherwise, I think this site is off the table and we need to focus on one of the two sites with developer participation to make up the shortfall.” The next day, Freeman responded:

“If you recognize the $5 million purchase price of the team, your NMTC increases by $1.25 million……and the guy writing that check doesn’t feel as slighted by the skin-in-the-game analysis.

It appears that the bottom-line is the addition of a $6M city-owned parking garage and the request for the team to contribute $2M of that $6M. Not an unreasonable request if the team can find additional sponsorship revenue to recover that outlay.

Below [ city counter-offer ] does not address a solution for the annual lost revenue that the club suffers as a result of smaller, cheaper stadium. Again, maximizing sponsorship revenue appears to be the most realistic path to recovering this foregone revenue.”

The Voice asked Randy Knight whether the city’s contribution of $1+ million “shortfall” money (additional to the $5 million CRA money) would come from the general fund – and, if not, where the city would find the money? Mr. Knight did not respond to the questions.

Path to Gov’t $$$ for Stadium Leads Principals to Tallahassee and Washington D.C.

Email exchanges among the principals over the past month indicate strong interest in tapping multiple government subsidies to secure the stadium deal. On April 2, team owner Tom Winters forwarded this news item to Mayor Bradley, Randy Knight and others:

“House opens the stadium incentive bill to rodeos, minor-league soccer, baseball . . .

TALLAHASSEE — A proposal to give tax subsidies annually to help finance a handful of professional sports stadiums got considerably more wide-open Tuesday when a House panel expanded eligible teams to include rodeos, minor-league baseball, and semi-professional soccer league with a team in Tampa.”

Stadium Tax Subsidy News Story

Rollins Hopes Congressman John Mica Can Help Rollins Seal Stadium Deal

In a 3/25 email to the principals, Rollins’ VP for Business and Finance Jeffrey Eisenbarth notes that Rollins may be able to tap its Washington connections:

“President Duncan mentioned again yesterday that John Mica would still like to do something for the College but it needs to be “transportation” related. A parking garage is transportation related so we should approach John from a combined City and College perspective and see if he can get us the $6M for the parking garage . . .”

The Voice asked Randy Knight whether principals are still pursuing the Mica “Transportation” funding option. Mr. Knight did not respond to the question.

3/25 Email: Rollins et al Explore Options

Without Mica, Who Will Cover Stadium $$$ Shortfall? Rollins’ VP: “We can do that.”

In the same 3/25 email, Eisenbarth concludes that Rollins can find the funds necessary to close the deal:

“. . . If that does not pan out then we still have your scenario where we can include the cost of the garage in the total project costs which puts us at $30M and 25% NMTC would be $7.5M and we are short $3.5M. David has indicated the value of the team ($5M) should also be included in the NMTC calculations which would get us another $1.25M and you mentioned that the City could cover 1/3 of the $3.5M which would leave about 1/3 for the College to fund. We can do that.”

If Rollins’ Harper-Shepherd Deal Falls Apart, Other Developers Ready to Move Forward

The Harper-Shepherd agreement, if ultimately approved, leaves developer Dan Bellows empty-handed – despite his two-year campaign to have the stadium built in Ravaudage. In Part 2 of this story, we will examine the long, colorful history of stadium negotiations between the city and other developers.

Full Text of Knight Response to Winter Park Voice

Shown below is the full text of City Manager Randy Knight responding to our questions asking for clarification, correction and updating of the information we found in city emails submitted to the Voice last week:

“As you can imagine trying to negotiate a three or more party deal is a very complicated and fluid process. The term sheet dated 4/1 was an attempt by Mr. Freeman to put down points for the purposes of discussion. It was based in part on the many negotiating sessions we have held and also included some new proposals from him. My response was part of the negotiation process. This term sheet has not been agreed to by any of the parties involved. These are working fluid concepts that are constantly changing. You must understand that I do not have the authority to bind the city to any deal. Jeff does not have the authority to bind Rollins to any deal. So we are trying to come to terms that we think we can, in good faith, recommend to our respective boards.

It takes a great deal of trust between negotiating partners that concepts floated to each other aren’t discussed outside of that process until there is some level of agreement. Although they are public records, to have draft term sheets or concepts pulled from emails published in the media that have not been agreed to will be a detriment to the process and our ability to propose ideas to each other for discussion purposes.

So while there are inaccuracies in your conclusions below as well as outdated deal concepts it would be premature for me to comment on them at this stage of the fluid negotiating process. When the parties have a deal in concept that we are ready to bring to our respective boards I will be in a better position to answer your questions regarding the issue.

If, and when there is an agreed upon deal concept amongst the negotiating members there will be several public meetings that include public input where different aspects of the deal are up for approval. Leading up to that process there will be ample time for all of the real deal terms to be shared with the public.”

[ Ed. note: This story has been corrected to reflect baseball principals’ interest in extending the life span of the CRA rather than geographical boundaries as originally reported. ]

 

To comment or read comments from others, click here →

Will Winter Park Play Ball?

Will Winter Park Play Ball?

Possible Stadium Deal Has Potential to Fast-Forward Development of NW Winter Park – including Lee Rd. “Punch-Thru” to Denning Dr.

Minor League Baseball, in the form of the Brevard County Manatees, is being batted around the City Commission Chambers once again.

On January 21, the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) joined Mayor Bradley and city officials in an in-depth discussion of stadium-building and related development in and around Denning Drive and 17-92.

Included in the discussion was the possibility of a developer-driven revival of the Dept. of Transportation’s long-planned “Punch-Thru” of Lee Road to Denning Drive. Click video image below to see the “Punch-Thru” excerpt from the 1/21 EDAB hearing.

Mayor Bradley opened the discussion by characterizing the proposed baseball stadium as a “generational opportunity” for Winter Park. Mr. Bradley, City Manager Knight, Economic Development Director Stone, EDAB Chair Reicher and Chamber CEO Chapin were prominent participants in the discussion. Click the video image above to see the entire baseball discussion (parts 1 & 2).

The Manatees, or the “Tees,” as they are affectionately known, are currently using the 8,100-seat Space Coast Stadium in Viera, which is too large, both for the intimate nature of minor league baseball and for the declining wealth and population in Brevard County brought on by the withdrawal of the NASA space program.

The Manatees are an “Advanced A” or “High A” level team that is part of the 12-team Florida State League. Their major league affiliate is the Milwaukee Brewers.

The ‘Tees are now looking inland to greater Orlando which, according to the Madison Consulting Group, who prepared a Facility Assessment study for the City of Winter Park, “is currently the largest market in the country without regular season-affiliated professional baseball.” While the market area is Central Florida, Winter Park is squarely in the cross-hairs for targeting a stadium location.

Madison Group Stadium Facility Assessment

At the January 13, 2014, City Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight requested and the Commission authorized a 45-day period to further study the feasibility of bringing minor league baseball to Winter Park.

City Staff: Give Us Five Months to Negotiate Best Deal for City.

As the 45-day review period draws to a close, the Commission has scheduled a 4pm workshop meeting for Monday, February 17, to consider a newly-released staff report that recommends moving forward with negotiations. City staff envisions a 5-month evaluation process ending in August, at which time “staff hopes to be in the position to make recommendations that will include whether or not moving forward makes sense and if so, a ranking of the sites, how the stadium project could be funded, proposed deal terms/agreements and who should throw out the first pitch.”

Staff Baseball Stadium Analysis

Rollins’ Harper Shepherd Field Back in Play as Possible Stadium Site.

Earlier this year, Rollins College was negotiating possible equity partnership in the minor league baseball effort, but the Rollins Board of Trustees voted to withdraw because of the expense of reorienting and enlarging Harper Shepherd Field and because they felt unable to meet the Manatees’ schedule requirements of a 2015 opening. Rollins subsequently expressed interest in “becoming a tenant” if a new stadium is built. But now, Rollins has re-emerged as a possible partner to the City and the Manatees. The new city staff report acknowledges that “after discussion with Rollins representatives, the Harper Shepherd Field site was added back as a potential site.”

City “Tree Farm” on Lee Rd. Eliminated as Stadium Site.

While suggesting that “other sites could surface as feasible during the next phase of the study if we proceed,” city staffers reversed course on the tree farm – eliminating the city-owned property “as a potential stadium site at this time” explaining that “lack of good access, visibility and the neighborhood impacts led staff to remove that site from current consideration.”

Stadium Economics 101: What Are Costs/Benefits?

As of now, the current “short list” of sites includes Martin Luther King, Jr., Park on Denning, the Ravaudage development on Lee Road, the current site of the VoTech school on Webster & Denning and Harper Shepherd field.

The city staff report’s cursory financial analysis of each site indicates that the “Funding Gap” in each case – the funds needed to develop a site in addition to the dollars contributed by the principals – ranges from $11 million (Harper Shepherd) to $35.5 million (Ravaudage).

During the 1/21 EDAB workshop, Mayor Bradley commented on possible stadium “income streams” including ticket sales, naming rights, concessions, lease revenue and event revenue among others.

He summed up the project’s net benefit by concluding that “First and foremost, the economic benefit that comes from a place like this is outside the park . . . I think if most municipalities figure out a way to have some return and/or break even for the amenity, they probably are ahead of the game.” Click video image above to see EDAB discussion of potential stadium revenues.

Are MLK Park and Votech at Webster & Denning the Most-Favored Stadium Sites?

The “team” of major players that is beginning to coalesce around the Manatees’ relocation to Winter Park includes Manatees owner and local orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Tom Winters; Scott Fish, principal of Nashville-based UP Development – developer of the Lee Rd./17-92 Corporate Square site which will include the new Whole Foods Market; Tennessee native David S. Freeman, part owner of the Nashville Predators hockey team; Rollins College; and, the city of Winter Park.

In his January 30 email to Scott Fish, City Manager Randy Knight updates the developer on stadium funding progress and negotiations with Orange County concerning acquisition of the VoTech site:

“We have made some additional progress since our last discussion. We have explored a few different ways to plug our funding gap and while we don’t have it all figured out yet we have learned a lot. I have had conversations with the Orange County School board employee in charge of facilities and he has committed to me that he would let me know by the end of next week what the options would be to acquire the property as well as what the process would be.”

Knight/Fish Email

>>Click UP Development image below to see full site plan.

Will Developer Interest in Lee Rd. “Punch-Thru” Influence DOT Plans?

On February 12, Randy Knight responded to questions from the Winter Park Voice, explaining the City’s approach to UP Development and clarifying ownership of the Manatees – including Mr. Freeman’s possible involvement.

In his emailed response, Knight wrote, “I am the one who pitched the idea to Mr. Fish about considering a stadium as part of his development . . . Dr. Tom Winters continues to be the owner. A gentleman by the name of David Freeman has an option to buy a portion of the team from Dr. Winters.”

Dr. Winters and potential owner David S. Freeman appear to favor locating the stadium either in MLK Park or on the present Votech school site. Mr. Freeman wrote in an email to Mayor Bradley and City Manager Knight, “First, Tom is supportive and enthusiastic regarding the “school” site. Thus, as long as the City can acquire title to the site without any strings attached, we would be happy on that site.”

Freeman Email to City

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Predators & UP’s Scott Fish Partnered In Nashville-Area Stadium Project.

David Freeman and Scott Fish may have an opportunity to team up again if Winter Park chooses to build a stadium on the VoTech site next to Fish’s Up Development site. In recent years, Fish and investor David Freeman’s Predators worked together to keep the Franklin, Tennessee A-Game Sportsplex near Nashville afloat. Freeman also poured millions into the Predators hockey franchise. The Predators play at Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville, a few miles from the Grand Ole Opry.

As reported by Tennessean online news in April 2012, David Freeman “spearheaded the purchase of the team in 2007 to prevent it from being sold to a Canadian businessman intent on moving the Predators out of Nashville, [ and ] remains a member of the ownership group. Click to read Tennessean article.

Scott Fish’s WordPress blog describes his arena-saving investment in the A-Game Sportsplex as one of his “most significant accomplishments” explaining that the arena was “was losing around $30,000 per month. The 110,000-square-foot facility was on the verge of closing down, so I purchased it for $6 million . . . My daughter’s hockey team, along with a handful of others, was playing there. With the looming shutdown, all those players would have had to find a different home base. I also saw that the arena could be turned into something that benefited the entire community.”

Click HERE and HERE to read more about Scott Fish $6 Million A-Game Sportsplex investment.

UP Development’s Scott Fish Expands His Orlando-Area Real Estate Holdings.

Mr. Fish specializes in rehabilitating distressed properties and has acquired under-performing Orlando-area properties in recent years, including the Fashion Square Mall, Toys-R-Us and the Robb & Stucky store in Altamonte Springs – a property he recently sold to the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, who will relocate their Winter Park headquarters there.

UP Development’s website describes the company as a “premier retail developer focused predominately in the Southeastern United States. With over 20 years of experience. UP Development has positioned itself as a go to shop for developers, financiers, and owners with troubled assets that require creative and unique workout solutions.”

Click to see UP Development website.

Local Sports Enthusiasts See Minor League Baseball & Venue Events as “Affordable” Family Entertainment.

In an interview with the Voice, Bob King, Head Baseball Coach of Winter Park High School whose son Stephen has been playing in the minor leagues since 2006, observed that the minor league games provide affordable entertainment for families – often drawing crowds by including interactive events such as Bring Your Dog Night, or nights when kids in the audience are invited to come down on the field and run the bases. On off season evenings, minor league fields are often used for other cultural events, Coach King explained, like a symphony playing “Mozart on the Mound.”

Joey DiFrancesco, the Assistant Baseball Coach at Winter Park High, is also a big fan of minor league baseball. “As a teacher,” he told the Voice, “I am priced out of the Magic games for me and my kids . . . but if we had a minor league team, I would be the first in line.”

Winter Park Voice will expand its coverage of the UP development site on 17-92 and other Denning area developments – including the proposed stadium site search & negotiations – in future stories.

To comment or read comments from others, click here →

City Welcomes “Grass Roots” Ordinance Reform–Sometimes

City Welcomes "Grass Roots" Ordinance Reform--Sometimes

A Closer Look at Two Ordinances Reveals That City’s Embrace of Citizen Activism Depends on Ordinance & Which Citizens Are Doing the Reforming

The City’s apparent reluctance to fully partner with citizen advocates for stronger historic preservation – including the Commission’s unwillingness (so far) to grant a hearing to the City’s own consultant – has troubled local preservationists.

The uneasy relationship between the City and an informal Historic Preservation citizens’ advisory panel contrasts strongly with the close working relationship between the City and the citizen advisory panel headed by Patrick Chapin and attorney Frank Hamner that worked closely with the Planning department and the City Commission to craft a new Fine Dining Ordinance. The Fine Dining panel’s recommendations were heard by the City’s Planning and Zoning Board as well as the full City Commission. Their recommendations formed the basis of the City’s new Fine Dining ordinance which was adopted in September, 2013.

There are similarities in the paths taken by each group in their attempts to amend a City ordinance – similarities that include months of meetings, resolution of conflicting views and interaction with City Boards. However, the contrast between the City’s treatment of the Fine Dining and Historic Preservation panels is striking.

Fine Dining Panel Receives Kudos All Around & Full City Cooperation.

By any measure, Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Chapin would be considered a City Hall insider.

Mr. Chapin sits on the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) and also represents the interests of the Park Avenue Merchants’ Association in frequent testimony before the City Commission.

Mr. Chapin’s partner on the Panel was Frank Hamner, a local attorney representing the interests of the Holler family – a prominent Park Avenue landowner. The panel also included other Chamber members.

Mr. Hamner successfully lobbied City Hall to permit two fast food chains, Burger Fi and Firehouse Subs, to occupy Park Avenue retail space owned the Hollers. However, before and after the Firehouse Subs deal was closed, Mr. Hamner continued to work with Mr. Chapin to close the door to all future fast food chains on the Avenue.

City email records obtained by the Voice show that high-level staffers at City Hall – Director of Planning and Community Development Dori Stone and Planning Manager Jeff Briggs – corresponded frequently with Hamner and Chapin on a range of matters, including Fine Dining, during an 8 month period between May and December, 2013. Our count of the emails exchanged among Chapin, Hamner, Briggs and Stone in various combinations shows that more than 100 emails were exchanged.

Various public statements from City officials and their accommodation of the panel’s interest in appearing before key City boards confirmed that the City welcomed the involvement and leadership of Chapin and Hamner in changing the Fine Dining Ordinance. The panel’s draft of proposed ordinance changes was ultimately accepted as the template for the new ordinance that was overwhelmingly approved by the Planning and Zoning Board and the City Commission.

Jeff Briggs applauded the efforts of the Chapin/Hamner panel in his introduction to the panel’s presentation of its proposal to Planning & Zoning on 8/6/13:

 

P&Z Planning Mgr., Jeff Briggs Thanks Fine Dining Panel:

“Fortunately and thankfully, we are in a position now that we have an ordinance that is bottom-up instead of top-down. So there’s much gratitude and thanks from the staff to the Park Avenue Association, the Chamber, Patrick [ Chapin, Chamber of Commerce CEO ] and Frank [ Hamner, Holler family attorney ] and Daniel [ Butts, Battaglia Group CEO & Chamber Board Chair ] and Lambrine [ Macejewski, restaurateur/Chamber member ] . . .

We have a really great ordinance that is going to accomplish the things that we had talked about trying to do in the beginning and now we are finally with the finish line in sight . . . and so, thank you very much from the staff . . .”

After the panel received the unanimous approval of P&Z, they moved on to the City Commission on 8/26/13 and, again, presented their findings and recommendations. Mayor Bradley welcomed the panel:

Mayor Bradley on Fine Dining Panel recommendations:

“I’m going to support this . . . If all laws were made with citizen input and shop owners and everything, we’d be a much better place . . . I want to publicly commend the team that’s been working to do this — and the staff part of that. It’s been a good process.”

Historic Preservation Panel Encounters “Roadblocked” Board & Uncertain Commitment from City. 

Betsy Owens is one of the leaders of the group that is seeking a voice in the City’s revamp of its Historic Preservation ordinance. Ms. Owens is the Executive Director of Casa Feliz, a major historic landmark in the city of Winter Park. Ms. Owens and other preservation-minded citizens are part of a group – the Friends of Casa Feliz Preservation Advocacy Committee – formed to promote ordinance changes that will provide stronger protection of Winter Park’s historic homes and neighborhoods.

The relationship between Winter Park’s citizen preservationists and City government is far more complicated than the relationship between the City and the Fining Dining Panel.

The relationship hit a low point last summer when the City issued a demolition permit for Capen House several months after the City Commission voted unanimously – in a six minute hearing – to strip the historic home of its protected status.

The essence of that decision, which was rendered on behalf of SunTrust bank’s interest in the foreclosed house, was the protection of “property rights” vs. a community’s interest in preserving its cultural heritage.

Since that time, preservationists and City officials have struggled to resolve the “property vs. community rights” issue in numerous Historic Preservation Board hearings. Even though the informal advisory panel has submitted research and recommendations, testified before the HPB on multiple occasions and talked with City officials, including the Mayor, they have never been able to get a commitment from the City that their concerns and recommendations will be considered – and acted on – in any manner resembling the reception afforded the Fine Dining Panel. Click the button below to view the HP Citizen Panel report.

HP Citizen Panel Report

Commission & HP Board Unwilling to Commit to Appearance by HP Expert & Citizen Panel.

Preservationists have been unable to secure a promise from the Commission that either they or the City’s own consultant will be able to present their findings and recommendations directly to the City Commission, as was the case with the Fine Dining Panel. Instead, the Mayor – with the support of Commissioners Steve Leary and Sarah Sprinkel – has insisted that the panel and consultant interact primarily with the HPB, which will consider input from the consultant and the panel, then create a report of its own for presentation to the Commission.

Commissioner Cooper:

“I personally still have faith that we will hear from the experts here . . .”

Mayor Bradley on hearing HP Consultant:

“Whether we hear it or not, there’s dozens of consultants that this City uses in numerous ways – and I don’t believe every report comes to the Commission . . . Our task is clearly to hear from our board . . . That’s what we charge them to do . . . I’m assuming we’re going to hear the whole packet when it’s all said and done . . . “

HPB Chairman, Randall Glidden Rejects Citizen Panel Presentation to Commission:

“The last thing I think anybody wants to do is confuse the Commission . . . with a whole bunch of disconnected conversations . . .”

HPB board member, Genean McKinnon on Confining Citizen Panel Input to HPB:

“This is the clearing house for all of these things, then they will move through us on to the Commission.”

The Commission’s decision not to deal directly with the Historic Preservation citizen panel – and conflicting opinions among HPB members on questions of property rights and whether historic preservation enhances home values, have created discord between the board and citizen preservationists.

Preservationists also question the qualifications of some on the board. However, one opinion that board members and preservationists seem to share is that Lindsey Hayes, the City’s sole preservation-oriented staffer, is a well-qualified, passionate advocate for preservation.

Even though preservationists have had numerous contacts with Lindsey Hayes and a few meetings with Ms. Hayes’ supervisor Dori Stone, our requested search of all email correspondence among Owens and Dori Stone and dept. manager Jeff Briggs between May and December, 2013, showed no evidence of the Historic Preservation Citizen Panel receiving the sort of significant ongoing contact and support these high-level staffers offered the Fine Dining Citizen Panel.

As department Director, Dori Stone is ultimately responsible for working with City Manager Randy Knight to ensure that HPB findings are presented to the City Commission. However, that presentation – originally scheduled for October/November of this year – has now been pushed to the middle of 2014.

Is Preservation Ordinance Reform Imperiled by Board’s Fear of Commission Displeasure?

Lack of support at the highest levels in the City appears to be a factor in the uncertain pace of Historic Preservation review. HPB workload and “careful treading” are also factors. In an HPB workshop on October 9, 2013, HPB Chair Randall Glidden remarked that a set of past recommendations had hit a “roadblock” with the Commission because some Commissioners had objected to recommendations related to creation of Historic Districts in the City.

Does City Historic Preservation Board See Itself as City Commission’s Agent or Its Advisor?

During the workshop, Mr. Glidden suggested that because the board’s work involves policy considerations, it is appropriate for the HPB to “. . . go up the line to the City Commission” to find out from them “. . . what do you want to see? How do you want the historic resources of the City of Winter Park to be protected? What levels do you want to go to?’’

Mr. Glidden’s assertion triggered a question from audience member Pat McDonald seeking clarification of how the HPB sees its relationship with the City Commission:

Pat McDonald:

“So you’re not going to function really as an advisory board – you’re going function more as ‘You [ Commission ] tell us what you want and we’ll make that happen?’”

HPB Chairman Glidden:

“. . . We took the more proactive approach 18 months ago – and as a result, everything stalled. So, at this point in time I think it’s as important – if not more important – to say [ to the Commission ] ‘Here’s what your options are – but you need to tell us what you want to see…’ and then we’ll make it work.”

Mr. Glidden indicated that the HPB had even considered “removing” some recommended changes to make their findings more palatable to the Commission. During the workshop, Chairman Glidden and board member Genean McKinnon balked at suggestions that the work of the citizen panel should be presented directly to the Commission with Ms. McKinnon suggesting that the HPB’s report deadline made presentation of the citizen panel’s report to the Commission problematic. Mr. Glidden added that “I just think multiple recommendations prior to this board making their recommendation may be confusing. And, it kind of jumps the process.”

Who Were the “Back Channel” Influencers Who Caused the HPB to Ditch HP Ordinance Recommendations in 2012?

During the October 9 workshop, in response to intense questioning by preservationist Aimee Spencer, Mr. Glidden admitted that in March 2012, a male Commissioner had communicated to him that board-recommended changes were unacceptable, giving Glidden the impression that the board’s 2012 ordinance changes “wouldn’t fly” with the Commission due to “property rights” objections.

The exchange between the board chair and the Commissioner took place immediately after the P&Z board voted unanimously to accept the board’s recommendations on March 6, 2012.

Chairman Glidden described his encounter with the Commissioner after the P&Z meeting saying, “In talking to him [ the Commissioner ] after, I could see that we were going to have a problem . . .”

It is this input and similar comments apparently passed on to Glidden by Randy Knight and others through “back channels” in 2012 that accounted for the withdrawal of the board’s Historic Preservation ordinance recommendations from consideration at that time.

The Voice asked the City’s two male Commissioners whether either of them had spoken with Mr. Glidden at the March 6 P& Z meeting:

Commissioner Leary on his contact with Chairman of Historic Preservation Board:“It is quite possible that I attended the P&Z meeting almost two years ago that you reference as I try to attend as many board/task force meetings as possible so as to stay informed on issues/projects. It is also possible that I spoke to Mr. Glidden and others during that meeting as I appreciate hearing from members of our community to help inform my perspective.”

Commissioner McMacken responds:

“I checked my appointment calendar for 2012 and it does show a P&Z meeting on March 6th. I have no recollection of any conversation with Mr. Glidden on or about that date.”

As shown in the 10/9 workshop video, preservationists and other citizens are continuing to ask for an opportunity to directly address the City Commission to present their views and suggestions – and those of the City‘s expert consultant. Despite Commission efforts to keep citizen and consultant testimony largely confined to the HPB, even City staffers had assumed that the Commission would – as a first step in consideration of ordinance changes – hear direct testimony from the City’s own Historic Preservation consultant, but a majority of the Commission rejected that option in November.

Video excerpts (included in part one of this story) of Commissioners debating the merits of allowing the City’s Historic Preservation consultant to share his research and recommendations with them illustrates the ideological and procedural fault lines along which the Commission is still divided – fault lines that the Fine Dining Panel somehow managed to straddle, but which have so far proved impassable to advocates in the Historic Preservation community.

Read & Input Comments

Note: We have changed the text of this article to correctly identify Ms. Betsy Owens by her proper surname.


 

You Depend on the Voice for In-Depth News.
We Depend on Readers Like You to Support Our Full Time Reporting.


Please Contribute / Your Support Funds WPV Video & News Research


Winter Park Voice news & video coverage promotes transparency at City Hall. Winter Park Voice readers are able to literally see policy being made and access documents & background reporting that enhance their understanding of the forces that shape our community.

Your Contribution is Applied Where It Matters Most
Virtually all funding received by the Voice is used to support the actual day-to-day cost of reporting on Winter Park policies and issues.

Click Here to Contribute >>

To comment or read comments from others, click here →

Did City Risk Breaking Law to Keep Report from Press?

Did City Risk Breaking Law to Keep Report from Press?

Consultant Says WP Historic Preservation Has “Serious & Fundamental” Problems. Report May Not Be Welcome at Commission

As 2013 comes to a close, a quick review of Winter Park City Hall news stories reveals that there are several key issues that Winter Parkers seem destined to struggle with.

Historic preservation, Park Avenue restaurant zoning, tree canopy / green space preservation and high-density development are prime examples.

Historic preservation has been front and center during the festive month leading up to the City’s Christmas break, making more than one appearance in the headlines over the last thirty days.

Capen House Voyage & Consultant’s Report Puts Historic Preservation Front and Center.

In December, the triumphant voyage(s) of Capen House across Lake Osceola – saved from the wrecking ball by a dedicated group of citizens and non-profit organizations – is likely to be remembered as an enduring symbol of the community’s commitment to historic preservation. However, the very same citizens who saved Capen House also have been working for months to ensure that the City’s Historic Preservation ordinance is strengthened in favor of homes like Capen House that may be threatened in the future.

The focus of these citizens and various preservation-oriented organizations has been a process that is not unfamiliar to city residents who pay attention to City policy: the long, sometimes tedious business of modifying City ordinances.

Even though the process of modifying an ordinance carries with it a fair share of eye-glazing detail – in Winter Park, the process often includes a bit of drama as well. A case in point is the tense stand-off between Columnist Beth Kassab and City officials.

Sentinel Columnist Beth Kassab Requests Consultant Documents. City Stalls.

At issue were documents created by a consultant, Myles Bland, who had been hired by the City to study and suggest changes to the City’s Historic Preservation ordinance. On November 13, Ms. Kassab had requested an advance look at the report/notes/supporting documents that the consultant had submitted to the City prior to his appearance in front of the Historic Preservation Board (HPB).

Kassab Document Request      Consultant First Draft – 11/5/13

On the day of the hearing, Winter Park Voice also requested a digital copy of the presentation document the consultant had sent to the City.

As of 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 14 – the day of the hearing – the City had not fulfilled either request.

Historic Preservation Boss Orders Staff to Stop Talking to Kassab.

A subsequent public records request by the Voice yielded documents showing that the City had received a draft of presentation-related documents from Mr. Bland a week and a half before the November 14 HPB meeting.

We also uncovered an email sent by department director Dori Stone to her staff and Clarissa Howard – on the night before the meeting – shutting down all direct communication with Ms. Kassab:

 

“On behalf of all of the Planning Dept., we will not be communicating directly with Ms. Kassab on this or any other issue in the future. Clarissa, we will attempt to respond to her requests in a timely manner subject to public records rules. As for clarification, I don’t pay consultants to talk to the press on my dime. That’s why we have meetings. If Ms. Kassab has any issues with this, she is welcome to discuss it with [ City Attorney ] Larry Brown.”

Communication Shutdown Email

On Wednesday night, 16 minutes after Dori Stone’s email to her staff, consultant Bland emailed his completed Power Point presentation to Historic Preservation staffer, Lindsey Hayes. The next morning, November 14, at 11:11 a.m., Ms. Hayes forwarded Bland’s Power Point presentation to Dori Stone and Randy Knight, but not to Ms. Kassab.

Consultant Presentation/Report      Hayes Forwards Report to Stone

That evening, at the start of the HPB meeting, Ms. Hayes handed the Voice a hard-copy printout of the consultant’s presentation, stating that she was unable to find a way to send the presentation digitally as requested.

Did City Risk Breaking Law Just to Keep from Being Scooped by the Press?

City documents obtained by the Voice show that the City waited another day – until Nov. 15, the day after the HPB meeting – to post the consultant’s digital Power Point presentation on the City website. On that same day, the City sent the digital Power Point file to the Voice in response to our Nov. 14 request for the “consultant’s report.”

Consultant Presentation Draft – Sent 11/5      Consultant Presentation Final – Sent 11/13

Documents obtained by the Voice – and the sequence of events described above – appear to show that the City understood that press requests for the consultant’s “report” included the Power Point file that Mr. Bland used to illustrate his spoken presentation to the HPB. Email from Ms. Hayes to her supervisor, Dori Stone on Nov. 13, the day before the hearing, appears to confirm that the consultant’s report/presentation was withheld from the press to ensure that the report did not appear in the press before it was presented at the HPB meeting. Here is a key exchange between Ms. Hayes and department head Dori Stone on Nov. 13 referring to Beth Kassab’s request for the consultant’s report:

Hayes to Dori Stone:
“Re emails below – what part of ‘I don’t have a copy’ doesn’t she get and why should the media get an advance copy of a presentation the city paid for?”

Hayes to Clarissa Howard on the same day (also forwarded to Stone):
“…as a matter of process, the HPB should hear the recommendations before they read an edited version in the media.“

Hayes Email to Stone      Hayes Email to Howard

In an effort to clarify the City’s handling of requests for these documents, the Voice interviewed several City staffers, including City Manager Knight. Mr. Knight told the Voice that he was not involved in decisions made by Ms. Stone, Ms. Hayes or others concerning media requests for consultant information prior to the Nov. 15 HPB meeting.

In response to Voice questions about apparent “gaps” in written documentation of certain related matters, more than one City staffer confirmed that business inside the City is often transacted person-to-person/verbally with no written record of some discussions and related decision-making processes.

Legal Expert Believes Public Records Disclosure Law May Have Been Broken.

Soon after the HPB meeting in November, the Voice consulted with experts in Chapter 119 Public Records Disclosure law in an attempt to learn whether City actions may have run afoul of Florida statutes requiring disclosure of public records. According to Barbara Petersen, President of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, the apparent facts of the case seem to support what “appears to be a violation of Florida Public Records Disclosure law.”

Ms. Petersen also confirmed that once a consultant’s draft or related documents are submitted to the City – and/or shared for staff review – the documents become public record and must be released to the press and public “promptly and in good faith” when requested.

Ms. Petersen indicated that ignorance of the law is no defense for City officials and staffers and – if the City is shown to have willfully withheld documents – it could be subject to prosecution by the State Attorney and charged with a 1st Degree Misdemeanor as follows:

119.10 Violation of chapter; penalties.—

(1) Any public officer who:

(a) Violates any provision of this chapter commits a noncriminal infraction, punishable by fine not exceeding $500.

(b) Knowingly violates the provisions of s. 119.07(1) is subject to suspension and removal or impeachment and, in addition, commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(2) Any person who willfully and knowingly violates:

(a) Any of the provisions of this chapter commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(b) Section 119.105 commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

History.—s. 10, ch. 67-125; s. 74, ch. 71-136; s. 5, ch. 85-301; s. 2, ch. 2001-271; s. 11, ch. 2004-335.

Kassab Column Suggests City Motive for Withholding Documents.

In her column published in the Sentinel on November 22, Ms. Kassab accused the City of improperly withholding the documents she had requested in the days leading up to a Historic Preservation Board hearing.

Ms. Kassab’s column, entitled “Winter Park withheld public report on historic preservation,” began with a simple declarative sentence: “Don’t Trust Winter Park City Hall.”

Ms. Kassab’s column included this passage:

“The city’s denial wasn’t a simple oversight. The emails included a message from Hayes that suggests a decision was made to keep the report out of sight until the meeting.

She noted my request in an email to Bland, and wrote to him, ‘….I have let our Communications Director, Clarissa Howard, know that an advance copy is not available. All respect to the paper, the HPB (Historic Preservation Board) should be the first to hear your comments.’

That’s not the way Florida’s public-records law works. It says nothing about giving appointed or elected officials first dibs on information. Or picking and choosing which records you would like to make public and which ones you’d rather not.

Howard said my request was misunderstood. She said Hayes considered the draft by the consultant to be ‘talking points’ and not pertinent to my request for the report. Oh, please.”

City Manager Knight Responds: “There Was No Cover-Up Here.”

Kassab’s assertions appeared to anger City Manager and other high-level City staffers. In the City’s November 25 Commission meeting, three days after the column was published, Mr. Knight refuted Ms. Kassab’s claims, indignantly stating that “At the time she asked for the report, it did not exist . . .We had no draft report . . . We had draft talking points.”

The Voice requested documents that could verify the City’s claim that consultant Bland had provided only “talking points” instead of a draft of his report and/or his Power Point slide presentation. In response, the city provided an email containing the words “speaking points” in the body of an email entitled “Draft 1.”

However, that email also included an attachment entitled “WPK Slides Rough Draft for LH Only.doc

Citizens Voice Dissatisfaction With City’s Historic Preservation Actions and Policies.

During the Commission meeting’s Public Comment segment, Joan Cason reminded the Commission that “Florida law states the public is entitled to review draft reports and not just final products . . . ” Cason criticized the City for refusing to give Kassab documents “to which she was legally entitled . . .” Cason laid the blame squarely on the City, saying “. . . this is clearly unacceptable behavior on the part of the City . . .”

In response to Ms. Cason and to questions from the dais, City Manager Randy Knight mounted a spirited defense of his staffers’ actions, strongly stating “There was no cover-up here . . . [ Kassab’s ] trying to make it look like we’re trying to cover something up . . . that simply wasn’t the case.”

Mr. Knight then added a caveat to his comments, admitting that Kassab had expanded her request in a subsequent email: “In one of her follow-up emails she added the line something like ‘or anything else.’ At that point, we should have given her the talking points – but nobody directed Lindsey Hayes to not provide anything.” (Click “Kassab Document Request” button above.)

Public Commenter Sally Flynn to Commission: “I am ashamed and I hope you are ashamed.”

Sally Flynn followed Ms. Cason, saying from the podium that the City’s Historic Preservation consultant has been kept from delivering his report directly to the Commission, asking, “Why did we pay to have a consultant – an excellent one?”

Ms. Flynn issued a call to Winter Parkers: “I want all the citizens to hear: Mr. Bland said our historic treasures are in peril and that we, Winter Park, have the worst preservation ordinance he has seen of any city in Florida. I am ashamed and I hope you are ashamed.”

Ms. Flynn’s comments laid bare the dissatisfaction that has simmered within the preservation community for a long time – and which has led to criticism of the Historic Preservation Board and the City’s existing Historic Preservation ordinance that – per the City’s own consultant – is considered to be weak and ineffective.

The ongoing dissatisfaction within the preservation community has motivated a citizens’ group to create their own report and recommendations for improving historic preservation in Winter Park. Their interaction with Winter Park’s Historic Preservation Board will be explored in Part Two of this story.

Commissioner Cooper Issues Challenge: Allow Consultant to Speak to Commission.

Ms. Cooper responded to comments from Ms. Cason and Ms. Flynn saying “I actually am embarrassed for the Commission and for the City . . . I believe we should give Mr. Bland an opportunity to present his report to the Commission.” ” Cooper said she anticipated that the consultant’s report “. . . would receive a public vetting at least equal to the vetting that was given to the Economic Development Board with Silvia Vargas. I didn’t know we had made that decision as a Commission not to hear it . . .”

Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Sprinkel jumped into conversation seeming to offer hope that the consultant’s report might be heard by the Commission. However, the Mayor quickly modified his response saying, “Whether we hear it or not, there’s dozens of consultants that this City uses in numerous ways – and I don’t believe every report comes to the Commission . . .” to which Cooper responded: “No, just the ones that are important like the Economic Development and historic preservation.”

Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel followed up Mayor Bradley’s comments, moving beyond whether the consultant would appear before the Commission:

“Let me tell why this is frustrating to me: I didn’t like that article in the paper [ Kassab’s column ] because I thought it was very unfair to the City . . . We have citizens that are accusing us of things that we haven’t – not only have not done . . . but this hasn’t gotten here [ to Commission ] yet . . . I don’t know about you, but I’m not doing any of that stuff . . . I really don’t like the fact that somebody’s trying to create an issue . . . Don’t start thinking that somebody has some ulterior motive – because I know I don’t have one and I know my friends up here don’t have them either. So, please give us an opportunity to let the process work.”

Commissioner Leary Defends Commission/City Actions. Frustrated by Citizen “Lectures.”

Commissioner Leary ended the Commission meeting with the last word on the City’s handling of the HPB consultant’s report. He appeared to reject Commissioner Cooper’s request for an appearance by the consultant, suggesting instead that the HPB is the appropriate venue for input from the consultant and citizen groups who are seeking to upgrade the City’s existing Historic Preservation ordinance.

“Occasionally we are accused of things up here that are just simply not true. We are taking our time with things. We have asked for studies. We inherited the current Historic Preservation ordinance. We are the first ones looking at it to address some of the holes in it . . . I think this Commission’s been pretty activist in trying to make sure that some of the things that we have been handed, we maintain and update for current needs of our community. So it is a bit frustrating to sit up here and be pointed out and lectured and told that people are embarrassed by how we’re handling things when we’re actually acting to address opportunity areas.”

Coming next: Historic Preservation Policy / Part Two

The Voice takes a closer look at the City’s handling of proposed changes to Winter Park’s historic preservation ordinance – and the interaction among the City Commission, the Historic Preservation Board and an advisory panel of citizen preservationists. For purposes of comparison, we also examine the City’s handling of the Fine Dining ordinance change process – which, unlike the historic preservation process, was primarily driven by a citizen task force.

 

To comment or read comments from others, click here →

Bradley/Leary Bid to Pave Meadow Parkland Fails 3 to 2

Bradley/Leary Bid to Pave Meadow Parkland Fails 3 to 2

3 Commissioners Unswayed by Appeals from Merchants & Chamber Theatrics

Story Update
In last week’s City Commission meeting, Mayor Bradley opened the hearing on downtown parking expansion by noting that three Commissioners had requested a review of City parking policy.It appears that those three Commissioners were the same three – Cooper, McMacken and Sprinkel – who, at the end of the two-hour hearing, voted against the “pave the meadow” approach favored by Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Leary.At the top of the hearing, Public Works Director, Troy Attaway stepped forward to explain how the parking expansion plan his department was implementing was put on hold due to “resistance” from citizens who were unhappy with the City’s plans (1:30 / Video, Part 1 — Also see Video, Part 2 below).Mayor Responds to Citizen Input: I Don’t Want City Run by “Email . . . Innuendo or Accusation” Early on, Mayor Bradley interrupted Mr. Attaway’s presentation in an apparent effort to make a point about halting demolition/construction plans in response to citizen complaints:

“I want to be clear on the process that we go through – since the City Commission instructed the staff to do all of this . . . what you’re doing [ halting construction ] is probably appropriate and proper . . . I’m just saying I don’t want to be run by a city of email or a city of innuendo or accusation because somebody doesn’t like something that’s happened” (1:40 / Video, Part 1).

Mr. Attaway continued with his presentation, describing plans to add 36 parking spaces (total) to both sides of Morse Blvd. between Virginia and New York, effectively reducing that segment of Morse to a two-lane road. Attaway also spoke of modifying New York Avenue to gain 5 additional spaces. Also mentioned was a prior attempt by the City to add spaces to Morse Blvd. during the building of the Park Place parking garage. That attempt was abandoned for several reasons, including citizen opposition. (8:00 / Video, Part 1).

In the follow-up to staff explanation of current parking expansion plans, a number of Commissioners, including Mr. Leary and Ms. Sprinkel, expressed opposition to narrowing Morse Blvd., citing concerns about pedestrian safety and traffic flow. Others, including Mayor Bradley, pointed out that pedestrian safety can be enhanced by a parking lane providing a buffer between pedestrians and moving automobiles.

Cooper: “We Have Lots of Angry Residents.” Bradley: “We Have Several Angry Residents.”

Commissioner Cooper noted that the intensity of public opposition to the City’s plan may have been due to the Commission’s failure to use a Commission hearing to publicly discuss the plan (instead of the Sept. 6 Strategic Planning Workshop where the plan was last discussed – a workshop that was attended by few city residents). (19:30 / Video, Part 1).

Ms. Cooper’s characterization of the strong opposition to the parking plan – illustrated by citizen outrage she encountered the weekend before Monday’s Commission meeting – was disputed by Mayor Bradley, who appeared to minimize the scope and importance of the opposition.

Cooper: “We have lots of angry residents . . . Bradley: “We have several angry residents . . . Cooper: “I had people at my house as well as many emails . . . From my personal perspective, until we have at least implemented the recommendations that came from the [ Parking Study ] consultant – which were to move employee parking – [ for us ] to start intruding into our parkland, or creating a bottleneck . . . or disturbing the beauty of a main blvd. unnecessarily – would probably be premature.”

The debate about the intensity and legitimacy of public response to the City’s parking plan quickly morphed into an intense debate questioning the legitimacy of claims and counterclaims made by the Commissioners themselves and the City’s own parking study.

Ms. Cooper and the others on the dais continued their discussion of alternatives including public parking on the site of the soon-to-be-demolished Public Works building, as well as nearby City properties including the Blake storage yard and the Swoope Ave. water plant parking area that is already paved.

Bradley & Leary Stand Alone in Support of West Meadow Parking.

Mayor Bradley introduced motions and amendments seeking to approve additional parking spaces on the Public Works site, New York Avenue and the West Meadow (including an additional “perpetual” no-parking buffer zone). Commissioner Leary seconded the motion. (21:30 / Video, Part 1).

However, in the face of continuing Commission opposition to Meadow parking, Bradley pivoted and offered an amendment denying any parking at all on the West Meadow, which would include elimination of the traditional use of the Meadow for temporary parking over 5 to 10 days for the City’s art festivals. (24:30 / Video, Part 1).

Bradley: “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth is, Folks – Either It’s a Parking Lot or It’s a Meadow.”

This last amendment – seeking to deny any parking on the meadow if the Commission failed to approve Bradley’s bid to pave parking spaces in the meadow – was based on Mr. Bradley’s assertion that since the City currently allows parking/use of the meadow for “6 months out of the year” it should be willing to permanently pave the meadow. Sarah Sprinkel seconded the amendment as Bradley proclaimed, “Put your money where your mouth is, folks – either it’s a parking lot or it’s a meadow.” (25:00 / Video, Part 1).

The Mayor’s rationale drew a rebuke from Commissioner McMacken, who called Bradley’s argument “misleading.” McMacken claimed that parking on the meadow totaled no more than 6 days per year.

Immediately following the Bradley/McMacken exchange, Commissioner Cooper shifted the discussion from meadow parking to the City’s Parking Study that is used to justify the creation of more downtown parking. She questioned the methods used to determine the current supply of parking spaces and the current demand for spaces, remarking that “The devil’s in the details.”

Cooper Disputes City Parking Study: Why Did They Remove 141 “Honest-to-Goodness Parking Spaces from Their Count?” 

According to Cooper, “If you look at this Parking Study, the parking supply that they talk about us having is not the actual number of parking spaces. The first thing they did was remove 141 of real honest-to-goodness parking spaces from their count so they could talk about “effective parking” [ which enabled them to ] . . . reduce the count of the real parking spaces by up to 15%.”

Ms. Cooper asserted that “. . . the study reduced the real supply, then on the other hand the study increased the real demand” by looking at parking demand on the weekend during the Farmers’ Market in December – “at the busiest time of the year.” (29:40 / Video, Part 1).

Sprinkel: “I Don’t Think We Should Ever, Ever Go Over Any Green Space.”

Mayor Bradley countered that 80 spaces taken away from the City’s parking supply when the West Meadow was converted from a parking lot to green space a few years ago, have never been “addressed” by the current or past Commissions. “I’m for parks as much as the next guy, but . . . the heart of our city requires convenient and accessible parking.” (32:45 / Video, Part 1).

“I don’t think we should ever, ever go over any green space” said Commissioner Sprinkel, rebutting the Mayor. “. . . I don’t know that we’ll ever make everybody happy, but I do understand that if we’ve got some green space, I don’t really want to go on top of it with pavement.” (35:20 / Video, Part 1).

Leary: “I Don’t Have a Problem” with Proposed Meadow Parking.
Cooper: “This is Crazy – to Jeopardize Our Parks and Our Boulevards . . .”

After much discussion among the Commissioners, Mr. Leary appeared to vacillate in his support for paving part of the meadow, but reasserted his support after confirming with Troy Attaway how much space would be taken out of the north end of the meadow: “I don’t want to take over the entire West Meadow with parking, obviously, [ but ] this I don’t have a problem with . . .” (38:20 / Video, Part 1).

Commissioner Cooper responded strongly to the underlying assumption of the Mayor and others that merchant-requested parking could only be attained by paving the meadow and narrowing city avenues. Cooper pointed out that the “[ Parking ] Study says City employees and Park Ave. employees should be able to park 10 minutes from their workplace. There’s no place that we’re even talking about that’s more than 5 minutes. This is crazy – to jeopardize our parks and our boulevards because employees believe they are entitled to park outside their doors.” (41:00 / Video, Part 1).

Ms. Cooper noted that other employers (like Florida Hospital) use buses to transport employees to and from parking lots. “We own buses – we own golf carts . . . There’s no reason we can’t free up some of these parking places . . . the Park Avenue merchants are never going to voluntarily do it if they don’t see the City employees stepping up and doing their part.”

In the second half of the hearing, City residents stepped to the podium to offer comments on the City’s Parking Plan.

Public comments were roughly split between support and opposition to the plan. Various residents and merchants, including Vicki Krueger, Dan Bellows, Patrick Chapin, Ken Murrah and Forest Michael expressed a range of views regarding the issue.

Part 2 of the Voice video shows all public commenters, the remainder of the hearing and the final Commission vote.

Public Comment: Park Ave. Merchant Says We Can’t Tell Our Employees Not to Park in Best Spaces.

Brian Wettstein, co-owner of the Doggie Door on Park Avenue, was the evening’s first commenter. Mr. Wettstein responded to Commissioner Cooper’s assertion that merchant employees should park farther from the Avenue by claiming that merchants don’t have the legal right to keep employees from parking in nearby, publicly-available parking spaces (00:30 / Video, Part 2).

Mr. Wettstein was followed by Vicki Krueger, who presented the history of the West Meadow starting with its transition to green space in 2008. Ms. Krueger referenced City memos and other information from that period demonstrating the City’s intent to create park space – and the compromise made at that time to put 12 parking spaces on the West Meadow. According to Ms. Krueger, the spaces were intended to be temporary: “The Compromise was to put 12 temporary parking spaces on the West Meadow. ‘Temporary’ apparently was not defined, because now it’s 2013 and they’re still there.”

When Ms. Krueger’s 3 minutes of speaking time expired, she and the Mayor disagreed over whether Ms. Krueger should be allowed to speak longer. Ms. Krueger asked for more time after showing a handful of yellow “Speaking Requests” given to her by other citizens who had granted their time to Krueger. The Mayor agreed to give her an additional 15 minutes, but only if no one else in the chamber would speak in opposition to meadow parking. Ms. Krueger declined the Mayor’s offer and spoke for an additional minute during which she began a presentation of her own parking study that showed numerous empty parking spaces available during peak times of the day. (02:40 / Video, Part 2).

Citizens Challenge Mayor Amidst Gavel Banging & Chamber Theatrics.

As Ms. Krueger left the podium, others in the audience challenged the Mayor’s limitation of her speaking time. The challenge to the Mayor was answered by Chamber President, Patrick Chapin who sprang to his feet and rushed out the chamber door dramatically proclaiming that he would return with “twenty or thirty” signed speaking forms that would enable him to request additional speaking time, too. (8:00 / Video, Part 2).

A short while later, Mr. Chapin returned to the Commission Chamber and spoke for 3 minutes. He did not offer any additional signed speaking forms. Chapin urged the Commission to accept the Parking Study at face value, saying “If we’re really going to question the validity of that Parking Study tonight, let’s just all go home . . . Can we at least pretend that that study is legitimate? It should be – it’s done by professionals .”

Chamber President Chapin: Merchants “Passionate.” We Need 280 More Parking Spaces.

Chapin alleged a “deficit of 280 parking spots” and implied that the merchants he represents are still upset about parking that was lost when the West Meadow was originally converted to parkland. “Believe me – I’m holding a group of merchants at bay, because they’re passionate about their 80 [ West Meadow ] spots that were taken away . . .” (20:40 / Video, Part 2).

Forest Michael, an urban planner who participated in planning the West Meadow green space, spoke to the Commission and rebutted the view of Mr. Chapin and others who believe that turning the meadow to parkland resulted in the “loss” of downtown parking spaces.

Michael reminded the Commission that the City and associated planners all worked together to “relocate” the parking spaces from the meadow to the Park Place garage next to Panera. (29:45 / Video, Part 2).

After the City residents had their say, the Commission restarted their discussion of creating parking permanently and/or temporarily at various City properties located close to the downtown shopping district. Those properties include “Blake Yard” on Blake St. near City Hall, the Swoope Ave. Water Plant parking area and the Progress Point site on Orange Ave.

McMacken: Let’s Take a “Systematic” Look at Additional Parking Options in Future Hearings.

Ultimately, the Commission was unwilling to entertain any options beyond the originally discussed alternatives on New York Ave., Morse Ave., Public Works parking and the West Meadow. Commissioner McMacken summed it up by pointing out that entertaining so many ideas in a manner that was not “systematic” is “how [ we ] wind up in the mess we’re in . . .” McMacken asked the Commission to vote only on the original motion and amendments and to bring back the other alternatives for discussion and possible vote at a future hearing. (44:15 / Video, Part 2).

Mayor Bradley closed out the discussion by asserting that the City does, in fact, have a parking problem. Mr. Bradley indicated that he was open to many of the parking suggestions made by the Commissioners and twice mentioned the option of building a parking garage. Immediately following the Mayor’s comments the Commission voted on the original motion and amendments. (50:45 / Video, Part 2).

 First Amendment: Eliminate plan to build 12 parking spots in the West Meadow.

Amendment Passed

Commissioners Cooper, Sprinkel & McMacken voted “Yes.”

Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Leary voted “No.”

  Second Amendment: Eliminate all parking at all times in the West Meadow [ would eliminate current practice of parking in meadow during art festivals and special events. ]

Amendment Failed

Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Sprinkel voted “Yes.”

Commissioners Cooper, Leary & McMacken voted “No.”

  Motion: Approve Parking Plan to create additional parking in and around Public Works (after building is demolished) and on New York Avenue — but not on Morse Blvd. or in the West Meadow. Motion also includes a ”buffer” in West Meadow where no parking is allowed.

(Approximate size of buffer is same as area that was originally planned for new parking spaces.)

Motion Passed Unanimously.

To comment or read comments from others, click here →