Historic Preservation: Are We Getting Serious?

Historic Preservation: Are We Getting Serious?

Hearings Begin. Lawsuit Threatened. New Home for Capen House – Maybe

On Friday, the Sentinel broke the news that the Capen House will be cut into two pieces and floated across Lake Osceola to the grounds of the Polasek Museum – if Winter Parkers are willing to pony up $650,000. It’ll have to be a fast pony, too.In an interview with the Voice, Debbie Komanski, Executive Director of the Polasek Museum, confirmed that all the money will have to be raised and the house moved within the next seven to eight months. Komanski stressed that for Winter Parkers, “Now is the time to commit, to step forward” with funds to move Capen House.

The Voice will feature more of Ms. Komanski’s interview and more in-depth Capen House coverage in an upcoming story.

Historic Preservation Board Tackles City Ordinance

On Wednesday of last week, the city’s Historic Preservation Board held the first of several hearings to review Winter Park’s preservation policies. Mayor Bradley has asked the board to lead the review and consult with the P&Z Board and the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB). Mayor Bradley, with the strong support of Commissioner Leary, chose this approach instead of appointing a Task Force – the approach recommended by Commissioner McMacken and members of the preservation community.

A second Historic Preservation Board (HPB) meeting will be held today at 6:00pm in City Commission chambers.

Board Must “Move Along Briskly” to Meet October 15 Deadline.

Board members expressed concern that reviewing city preservation policies, coordinating input from other city boards and giving Winter Park residents adequate opportunity to participate in city hearings over two to three months could present a stiff challenge.

HPB member, Candace Chemtob noted “I think we’re really going to have our work cut out to go back through the ordinance and really re-write those codes so that they’re extremely clear. That doesn’t give us much time . . .” Ms. Chemtob reminded the board that it took the board “a year or two” to review the original preservation ordinance. Ms. Chemtob’s remarks can be viewed at 16:55 on the WPV video of the HPB hearing (click video image above).

Board Chair, Randall Glidden and board member Christi Underwood, an attorney specializing in construction law, stressed that the board needs to communicate to citizens the voluntary nature of historical designation – a process that does not conflict with the property rights of homeowners. Ms. Underwood explained that “This board does not have the authority, nor does it seek the authority, to take away the private property rights of owners.” (22:10)

In response to Ms. Underwood’s point, City Preservation staffer, Lindsey Hayes took the opportunity to debunk what she called mythical “horror tales” she encounters from time to time. “There are certainly a lot of myths out there . . . the devaluing of [ historic ] property is another myth that there’s just no evidence about.” (23:00)

Ghost of Capen House Controversy Still Haunts Board/Commission Members.

Comments by HPB member Genean McKinnon, demonstrate that the intensity of community response to the handling of the Capen House Historic Designation has had a lasting impact inside City Hall.

Ms. McKinnon mentioned more than once that she was “shocked” by “unacceptable” comments from Winter Park residents and by details that came to light after the HPB voted to grant Historic status to Capen House in 2011. (15:15). McKinnon called for a review of the Capen House affair so that “the full facts can be known.”

Commissioner Leary Scolds Preservation Community.

Commissioner Steve Leary (and/or the city residents he talks to) also appeared to feel the sting of preservation-minded sentiment more than most. In his response to the conciliatory letter sent to the Commission by Betsy Owens and other city preservationists on June 20 – a letter that was well-received by Mayor Bradley and others on the Commission – Mr. Leary scolded the preservation community on behalf of some of his constituents.

In an email obtained from the city by the Voice last week (excerpted below), Mr. Leary highlighted the “many” comments he has received that “harshly criticized the Friends group and the Historical Society” for “instigating this divide” within the community:

“In light of our present community dialogue and your letter, not only is the most recent vitriol not helpful, it is actually hurtful to the causes you lead. Over the course of the past few weeks I have received many e-mails critical of the City Commission, most a cut-and-paste version of an e-mail begun by the previous owner of the home. However, I have also received many more comments from others in our community disgusted by what they see as an infringement on property rights and an attempt to once again divide our community for political purposes. Unfortunately in spite of what I believe are all of our good intentions there are some with the perceptions that the Friends group and Historical Society are driving some of this negative divide. Several individuals have personally conveyed that they will not be applying for a historic designation on their home. As well, some have harshly criticized the Friends group and the Historical Society for what they believe to be their (your) role in instigating this divide, for they detest the negative media coverage of our quite, quant, private City.

“We will figure this out. Some will be unhappy with our collective work. Some will say we overreached. Some will complain we didn’t go far enough. We are not locked in time. I am sure some of the farmers that were here when Chapman and Chase arrived were none too pleased with their grand development.

“Thank you again for taking the time to write and for your willingness to be a part of the solution. I also respect the hours and efforts you expend against your missions. I offer that it could be more effective to share your thoughts on the ugliness with those launching the bombs, not those receiving them. I appreciate your sentiments but only wish more of the community were able to hear them.”

Click button below to view the full text of Mr. Leary’s email.

Leary Email to Owens

Who are Mr. Leary’s “Bomb Launchers”?

The strongest proponents of re-establishing the Historic Designation of Capen House – and NOT moving it from its original setting – are among those who have most sharply criticized the actions of the City Commission. It is this criticism, expressed in letters and in city hearings that has outraged some Commissioners and HPB members. Some in this group are undoubtedly among Mr. Leary’s “bomb launchers.” These citizens have not, however, limited their criticism to City Hall insiders – they also disagree with others in the preservation community who have worked with the Pokorny family to facilitate moving Capen House to another location. The feelings of this group are freely expressed on a popular Facebook page: SaveWinterPark.

Winter Park Group Hires Attorney, Threatens Lawsuit to Force Reversal of Commission’s Capen House Decision.

On Sunday, SaveWinterPark posted a July 12 letter from attorney Howard Marks, representing unnamed Winter Parkers, demanding that the City Commission “set aside” their rescission of the Historic Designation of Capen House. In his letter Mr. Marks informs City Attorney, Larry Brown that

“numerous citizens of Winter Park have contacted my office and retained me to look into the issue of the repeal of Resolution 2091-11 which was the historic designation on the above-referenced property . . . We have reviewed the City Code and historic preservation provisions and there is no mechanism for the Winter Park City Commission to remove a property from the City’s historic designation without the historic preservation board’s consent. Accordingly, the rescission of the historic designation of the Capen House on September 24, 2012 is void as the Winter Park City Commission had no authority under its own code to rescind a historic designation in that manner. If the rescission vote is not set aside by the City Commission, my clients have authorized me to proceed with a declaratory and injunctive relief action in the Circuit Court in and for Orange County, Florida.”

This is an excerpt of the Marks letter. To view the full text of the letter, click the button below.

Lawsuit Threat

Minutes after receiving Marks’ letter, City Attorney Brown responded as follows:

“You are correct that the Code has no procedure for removing the designation, which is precisely the reason why the Commission could rescind the prior Resolution by Resolution. This authority is inherent in the definition of a “resolution” under law, and the statutory and constitutional Home Rule authority of this Chartered municipal commission . . . At this time, the home is owned by folks who purchased from the bank, and I don’t see what more the City could do without creating significant risk of liability for damages.”

This is an excerpt of the City Attorney’s reply. To view the full text of the email, click the button below.

City Attorney Reply to Threat

Winter Park Voice will update this story and provide continuing coverage of the city’s hearings on Historic Preservation ordinance revisions.


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Commissioners & Preservationists Make Nice

Commissioners & Preservationists Make Nice

Task Force and/or City Boards to Study Preservation Solutions

At last Monday’s City Commission meeting it was clear that the key players in the Winter Park’s historic preservation drama had decided to moderate the tone of the debate.

Mayor Bradley singled out Casa Feliz as a “wonderful example of private preservation” and complimented Casa Feliz and the WP Historical Association for “releasing a beautiful letter to the Commission last Thursday . . . [ confirming ] that we all share like goals. This doesn’t need to be a vilified process in our city. This is something that we all need to be working together on . . .” The email “letter” can be viewed by clicking the button below.

Letter to City

The Mayor suggested that the Commission meet as necessary to examine Winter Park’s Historic Preservation policies – and “to look from 2001 to the present and [ determine ] what has and hasn’t worked.” Bradley called for an inventory of all historic places in Winter Park and a study of why some city residents do not place their properties on a historic registry. He also called for involvement by the city’s Historic Preservation Board, Economic Development Advisory Board and Planning & Zoning Board to look at preservation standards, the economic value of preservation and the city’s building demolition policy.

McMacken & Blydenburgh: Let’s Create Task Force to Look at Preservation Policy Changes.

Commissioner McMacken followed Mr. Bradley’s opening statement with an acknowledgement of another email received just prior to the Commission meeting. That email, sent by former Historic Preservation Board member, Jeffrey Blydenburgh, proposed a “Task Force [ that ] will listen to the broad community regarding heritage and preservation and make recommendations to achieve the desired outcome (ordinance, code, planning guidelines, etc) to present to the commission.”

The emailed proposal was signed by Betsy Owens, the Chamber’s Patrick Chapin and others. Blydenburgh also addressed the Commission during the Public Comment period. His testimony can be viewed by clicking the video image above. Blydenburgh’s email can be viewed by clicking the button below.

Task Force Email

Commissioner McMacken supported the idea of creating a Task Force stating that “This really needs to be a community conversation that perhaps this Task Force . . . would come back to us and say ‘Here’s what we value in our city’.” McMacken expressed some misgivings about the Mayor’s idea to examine and shape policy depending largely on the city’s advisory boards, saying “I’m a little hesitant of putting it out to four or five different boards.” McMacken suggested that the Task Force may be better suited to make recommendations “in a more coherent form.”

Mayor Bradley countered that a Task Force may inadvertently recommend actions that could create “legal liabilities” for the city, implying that city boards – with responsibility for, and understanding of, code enforcement – are less likely to create ordinances that create liabilities for the city.

Bradley & Leary: Historic Preservation and Economic Development Boards Well-Suited to Study Ordinances.

Commissioner Leary supported the Mayor’s position saying that appointment of a Task Force would be “a slap in the face” of the Historic Preservation Board. Leary also agreed with the Mayor that the Economic Development Advisory Board and city staff were well-suited to the task. Mayor Bradley added that the city’s ordinances may not need to be changed, speculating that they may be “up to muster and up to speed – and what we have is an implementation issue.” Commission Commissioner Cooper agreed with the Mayor on implementation being an issue, saying “I think that’s exactly what we have . . .”

Ms. Cooper also indicated her support of Mr. McMacken’s Task Force suggestion and recounted her experience on the Planning & Zoning Board working with a Task Force that brought needed expertise to the board rather than seeking to replace the board’s function. “They were helping us and advising us . . . Our boards are wonderful, but they’re not all experts in the field – and we can get people who are [ experts ] . . .”

Sprinkel: Preservation Policy Should “be owned by this entire community – one little board can’t own this.”

Commissioner Sprinkel reminded the Commission of the documentation and recommendations generated by past studies and quipped that “They made recommendations that perhaps we wouldn’t be here today if we’d followed those recommendations.” Sprinkel suggested that the Commission should start the process with a city board and utilize a “Task Force concept” by inviting community input. Sprinkel added that “This is something that needs to be owned by this entire community – one little board can’t own this.”

Later in the hearing, Commissioner Cooper brought the discussion back to the issue that has generated so much community passion and scrutiny of the city’s policies and actions – the threatened demolition of Capen House. Cooper pointed out a city code provision that, had it been implemented, might have resulted in a closer look at what would be lost and what would be gained by granting SunTrust Bank’s request to rescind the Historic Registry status of Capen House: “One of the functions that our code allows is that the Historic Preservation Board is to recommend for or against demolitions on properties that are on the Florida Master Site File Plan. Well the Capen House was there – but somehow . . . it fell off the radar.”

The code provision Cooper referred to appears to be Sec. 58-446, “Functions, powers and duties of the historic preservation board.” The first power that is enumerated in this section of Winter Park’s Code of Ordinances is as follows:

“The historic preservation board shall be responsible for the development and administration of a comprehensive historic preservation program, and shall identify and maintain the city’s historic resources for the benefit of both present and future residents. It shall be the responsibility of the HPB to:

(1) Provide or recommend incentives for historic preservation, and to recommend for or against rezonings, demolitions, developments, lot splits, lot consolidations, or conditional uses that could impact historic resources identified in the Florida Master Site File survey of the City of Winter Park.”

Bradley: “Capen House is obviously a rallying cry and a call. It’s being dealt with – I hope . . . “

Mayor Bradley closed the hearing by noting efforts by city residents to deal with the preservation of Capen House by using private, rather than public, resources: “Capen House is obviously a rallying cry and a call. It’s being dealt with – I hope . . . and if the city needs to be involved, we’ll figure out a way to be involved if we have to, but there’s a private solution. Those frankly are normally the best solutions . . .”

In the “Public Comments” section of the meeting that followed the hearing, Casa Feliz Director, Betsy Owens spoke about the effect the Capen House controversy has had on the city:

“With all due respect, I feel that the events in recent weeks have caused our community to lose faith in our government’s ability to protect our historic resources in Winter Park . . . I believe that by establishing a bottom-up approach, reaching wide to bring in members from the community at large – from the Chamber of Commerce, from Casa Feliz, from the realtors, from a bunch of different designated groups – it will go a long way to instill the confidence of our citizenry in the government’s ability to protect our culture and heritage in Winter Park, and also promote the healing that is so sorely needed.”

Ms. Owens’ testimony can be viewed by clicking the video image at the top of the page. Earlier this week, in her Preservation Winter Park blog, Owens explained the efforts by private parties – spearheaded by Owens and her group – to work with the Pokorny family, “We want to assure the public that the Friends organization is working diligently, in cooperation with the attorneys for the property owners, to explore viable options for the Capen House. We are grateful that the owners have entrusted the Friends with developing a plan for their consideration.”

6/14/13 Story Update

If Winter Park’s Commissioners were a bit wary on Monday as they watched Capen House supporters file into the chamber, their business-as-usual demeanor did not betray them.

The Commission meeting started out as usual, with the audience patiently waiting through plaques & proclamations. This time, city business included a plea from Commissioner Cooper to halt new restaurant permits until the city’s fast food policy can be worked out. Shortly after Cooper’s request fizzled with her fellow Commissioners, Mayor Bradley announced that the Commission was ready to consider the question the audience was waiting for: Deciding the city’s position on the impending demolition of Capen House.

Once the Capen House discussion got under way, occasional rumblings from the audience notched up the tension on the dais sending a strong message that the Commissioners were in for a bumpy night.

A couple of hours into the meeting, the Commissioners sent their own message to Capen House preservationists: We did nothing wrong in rescinding the home’s Historic Designation and will leave it to the Pokorny family – the current owners of Capen House – to decide its fate.

Pokorny Attorney: Give Us Demo Permit – We’ll Give Capen House 30 days to Find New Home.

The Commission reached this decision after Pokorny lawyer, Trippe Cheek, offered preservationists a month to submit an acceptable plan to move Capen House while still insisting on the right of his clients to tear down the historic home 30 days after the demolition permit is issued – if they decide not to accept any proposed plan.

As noted by the city Building Director George Wiggins, the permit won’t be issued for another couple of weeks – the time he estimated it will take the Pokornys to properly terminate all utilities at the property. Wiggins explained that the Pokornys had not yet requested the utility disconnects, commenting that “The ball’s in their court.”

Attorney Cheek went on to propose that “I don’t think you ought to take any action, to tell you the truth. I’m not sure what action you could take considering it [demolition permit hearing] wasn’t agenda’d anyway.”

Cheek’s assertion created a question of whether any Capen House action in Monday’s Commission meeting was legally appropriate and binding, suggesting that the item had not been placed on the agenda in a timely and proper manner.

After subtly questioning the legitimacy of any Commission action in Monday’s meeting, attorney Cheek repeated his 30 day offer which was applauded by Mayor Bradley who volunteered that “For me this is certainly good news.”

Bradley: 30 Day Offer is “Good News.” 

Commissioner Sprinkel immediately echoed Bradley’s sentiment, adding that the 30 day concession was “Very good news.”

Prior to the testimony of Pokorny’s attorney, debate among the Commissioners was earnest, occasionally spirited and sometimes defensive. The Mayor and Commissioners focused significantly on questions of legal procedure, application timelines and property rights.

Tom McMackin recounted his memory of handling the initial 2006 Historical Designation of Capen House, which was endorsed in a unanimous vote of the Historical Preservation Board that he chaired at the time.

McMackin summed up the feeling of some in the preservation community that Capen House “may not be the greatest of historical structures, but it’s one of ours and that may be as historic as we get in this community.”

Commissioner Leary argued most passionately for the interests of Pokornys and SunTrust Bank, claiming “I know the property owners [the Porkornys]. They are great people. They do more for charity. They did not buy this house with the intent to demolish it . . . having, again, residents of our city maligned for just doing what’s in their best interests and what they are entitled to do is a little disconcerting to me.”

Leary admitted his fear of litigation by the Pokornys stating that “I don’t need a $40 million lawsuit/judgment against the city.”

Speaking in support of SunTrust’s actions in the case, Commissioner Leary asserted that “The bank, they chose the best offer . . . the best offer may not have been the highest offer, the best offer also includes terms – they chose that and now we’re sitting here discussing legislating against a private property matter and it’s a little disturbing . . . we made the right decisions for the property owners that were presenting their case.”

City Attorney Offers Commission a Way to Delay Demolition. No Takers.

During a discussion of alternatives the city could pursue, City Attorney Larry Brown revealed that the Commission did, in fact, have a legally defensible way to delay the demolition of Capen House for 30 to 60 days. Brown commented that, if challenged in court, a delay by the city in defense of community interests probably would be ruled appropriate – with a likely worst case awarding minimal damages to the Pokornys. However, Brown warned that a longer delay would put the city in jeopardy.

As the Commission eased itself into the position that doing nothing, for now, might be their best approach, talk on the dais turned to what might be done when and if a private deal was put together to move the house. Commissioner Cooper asked whether the city was willing to consider using city land as a final resting place for Capen House. Mayor Bradley mentioned the possibility that the historic home could sit next to the city’s clubhouse at the golf course.

Sprinkel: Citizen Email/News Coverage Hurtful. Bradley: I’m “Grossly Disappointed” in Some Citizens.

Sarah Sprinkel, clearly relieved that the city would not be fighting this particular battle, commented “I think this went very well.” She then revealed the strain of dealing with the onslaught of email and negative community sentiment this issue has generated: “It has been very hard to read – not just the paper – but all the emails that have been very blaming. It’s been a very hurtful thing for us and for everybody . . . I hope that everybody out there can move forward with this and stop the blaming.”

Mayor Bradley added to Commissioner Sprinkel’s comments later in the meeting with a final comment of his own on the Capen House affair. The Mayor complimented the actions of his fellow Commissioners, then characterized “many” of the Capen House advocates who had sent email to the Commission as writing email that was “accusatory” and “nasty.” Bradley also laid blame on “a lot of organizations” as having “contributed” to the expression of opinions that had “grossly disappointed” him.  Video of the Mayor’s comments can be viewed by clicking the “Capen Hearing – Part 3” video at the end of this story.

Cooper: Finds Pokorny Offer to be “Encouraging.” Calls on City to Help Re-Locate Capen House.

Sprinkel’s expression of relief and hope for reconciliation were followed by Commissioner Cooper’s call for a re-examination of the city’s Historic Preservation ordinance and a request that the city study ordinances in cities renowned for their preservation efforts – cities like Coral Gables and St. Augustine. Mayor Bradley agreed that the Commission should set aside time at the next Commission meeting to discuss preservation rules and procedures.

A palpable sense of relief seemed to wash over the dais as Commissioners looked to future actions that might defuse community angst and lead to more effective preservation efforts. Commissioner Cooper looked out over the audience as she applauded the concessions made by the Pokorny family, saying “I’m glad that the owners are really trying to help . . . that’s very encouraging . . .” Cooper then alluded to possible help the city could offer in finding a piece of land for Capen House and spoke of her hope that “it might be a great way to bring the community together to try and do something, and certainly it helps us learn lessons about what we have to do to fix this ordinance.”

Public Comment: Audience Not So Encouraged by Commission’s Capen House/Preservation Performance.

Unfortunately for the Commission, public comment during the meeting showed that many in the audience did not think that the Capen House matter was handled well – and were not ready to move on before letting the Commission know it. The Commissioners sat for most of the next hour as advocates for Capen House preservation spoke about the failure of the Mayor and Commissioners to protect Winter Park’s heritage and historic landmarks. Blame was laid and the Mayor and Commissioners were – not so gently – put back on the hook.

The Public Comment portion of the Capen House hearing can be viewed in Part Two of the Capen House Hearing Video, starting at the nineteen minute point in the video (19:00). Each of the commenters featured below can be viewed starting at the point indicated at the end of each paragraph.

Comments by audience members – most of whom appeared to agree that the city must strengthen its commitment to historic preservation – included reminders of past demolitions, including demolition of the historic Annie Russell home (19:00). Winter Park resident Peggy Evans read a letter from Amy Jennings Evans, who grew up in Capen House, recalling Capen House social events attended by local luminaries including the founders of the Winderweedle Law Firm – the firm that employs the attorneys representing the Pokorny family. (21:10)

Betsy Owens, Executive Director of Casa Feliz, reminded the Commission that in the last two decades, “One out of every eight houses in Winter Park have been demolished – more than twice the national average.” Owens also pointed out – in answer to Commission fears about historic protections running afoul of state laws protecting property rights – that cities like St. Augustine and Jacksonville with stronger protective ordinances “are subject to the same state laws governing property rights that Winter Park is.” (30:30)

Kern: “Why are the Historic Preservation laws second class zoning laws?”

John Kern mentioned a Sentinel article quoting Mayor Bradley’s concern about the conflict between Historic Preservation laws and private property rights. Kern asked why preservation laws aren’t seen as just another type of zoning ordinance, commenting that “All of our zoning laws affect property rights . . . Why are the Historic Preservation laws second class zoning laws?” Kern reminded the Commissioners that “Zoning laws define the type of community we want to live in” adding that many Winter Parkers chose to live in the city “because of the history that this town has.”

Kern’s comments were interrupted with applause when he criticized SunTrust Bank’s role in rescinding the historic protection of Capen House – claiming that the bank had “used up a lot of goodwill in this community because of their actions.” (33:40)

Rogers:  “I think we ought to tear this house down . . . we as a town, need a lesson.”

The most ferocious commentary of the evening – second only to former Capen House owner Clardy Malugen’s incendiary remarks (44:20) – was John Rogers’ sharply pointed jab at city governance of Winter Park’s cultural and historic treasures. Rogers, the grandson of Casa Feliz architect James Gamble Rogers, facetiously suggested to the commission that “I think we ought to tear this house down soon – and be done with it.” Rogers was clearly in an Old Testament frame of mind when he declared that “. . . we need a trumpet call to arms . . . a sacrificial lamb. I think we as a town, need a lesson.” Rogers’ fervor drew applause from the audience when he castigated city approval of fast food on the avenue and the boom in “McMansion” development as emblematic of values that “crappify this city’s brand.”

Rogers ended his presentation with a question and a suggestion to the Commission: “My Question is: Is the function of a government to work for the good of the majority of the citizens, or for the financial benefit of a small influential minority?” Rogers called for “Mandatory Historic Preservation ordinances complete with not only sticks, but significant carrots . . . We need creative, out-of-the-box thinking – and we need it now.” (35:55)


6/10/13 Story Update

Winter Park’s City Commission meets today at 3:30pm and, with the fate of Capen House still undecided amidst citizen indignation and rumored negotiations, the hearing promises to be lively – and possibly even productive.

Last night, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper got out in front of the pack by issuing the Commission’s first public mea culpa in her emailed Cooper’s Perspective, “I believe the City Commission (myself included) made a mistake regarding our decision to remove the Capen House from Winter Park’s Register of Historic Places.”

In her newsletter, Cooper vowed to make amends: “At [Monday’s] Commission meeting I will seek the support of my fellow commissioners to empower the City Manager to explore all reasonable options to work with the property owners to delay the demolition and hopefully save this significant historic asset. Without the City’s intervention to delay the demolition, there may be little opportunity to formulate a plan to save this important piece of Winter Park’s history.”

Cooper & Bradley Declare Support for Delaying Demolition

Cooper was not alone in her quest to find some sort of alternative to the impending demolition of Capen House.

On the same day that P&Z Director Jeff Briggs warned that “I met with the builder this morning and they are definitely moving ahead with demolition,” Mayor Bradley issued an urgent call to action in a May 30 email to city staffers, “While I would not advocate any specific course of action, as all the facts are not known or evident . . . I would suggest an administrative hold on the demolition permit for 30 days until all the facts could be sorted out. This is a decision I cannot take unilaterally and I also want to protect property rights. But something needs to happen soon.”

May: Bradley Considers City Purchase of Capen House. June: City Should Not Purchase

In one of a series of city emails obtained by the Voice, Mayor Bradley appears to have been searching for alternatives even before Jeff Briggs affirmed the Pokorny’s determination to demolish their recently purchased 128-year-old home. On May 29, Bradley floated an idea to City Manager Randy Knight: “If this property is lakefront, I would be very interested from a city’s perspective in purchasing it for Park land.” However, Bradley’s staff quickly reminded him that neighbors are often opposed to parks placed in the middle of residential neighborhoods.

By early June, Mayor Bradley’s position on a city rescue of Capen House appeared to have evolved. In a Sentinel article published on June 8, Bradley told reporter David Breen that, “I think that individuals need to band together and come up with a plan . . . I don’t believe it’s the city’s place to do that. … While I personally might wish for a different outcome [than demolition], it’s really not my decision.”

While it appears that the city’s politicians may be deciding that now is the time to stake out their public positions on Capen House and the city’s historic preservation policies, private discussions inside the city have been ongoing for weeks. Winter Park’s elected officials and top staffers have worked hard to understand how a simple Commission vote to rescue a bank’s collateral from a “significant loss in value” could create such an explosion of public response and media scrutiny.

Public & Media Response Rattles Commissioners

On May 30, as the Capen House story began to break rapidly across multiple news outlets, Commissioner Sprinkel asked City Manager Randy Knight for help: “We are getting lots of heat from this and need the facts provided to us — provided to the public.” On the same day, Mayor Bradley complained to Randy Knight that “I’m getting lots of pings on this one–as if the Commission itself is out there demolishing the building.” In the same email Bradley asked for the second time in two days: “Would the City intervene to buy the property?”

It was during this period of the city’s own examination of the facts of the case that Winter Park Voice requested and obtained a significant number of city documents. The Voice requested email documents generated during the period surrounding the 2011 granting of the Capen House Historic Designation and the 2012 period when the Designation was rescinded. Our request parameters were expected to also yield citizen email to the Mayor and Commissioners. After receiving requested documents from the city, we discovered that there were virtually no documents included from the 2011 period and no citizen email to the Mayor and Commissioners. The city explained that these gaps in their email search were likely the result of a technical problem with city servers.

City Staffer:  Not Much Evidence to Support SunTrust’s Claims in Capen Case

Our examination of the city email we received, combined with our review of the entire SunTrust file did not reveal any proof submitted to the city by SunTrust supporting their claims that (a) Historic Designation reduces property values, or (b) that the homeowner, Clardy Malugen, engaged in “bad faith” tactical negotiations linked to the Historic Designation. These claims were made in SunTrust’s 8/17/12 letter to the city that summarized their case.

SunTrust’s claims were discussed at length among senior city staffers and elected officials – as shown in the following email excerpt discussing possible city response to press questions about the case:

“The circumstances surrounding the Capen House (520 N. Interlachen Ave.) makes this situation unique and unprecedented. In August 2011, when the application was approved by the City Commission to place the house on the Winter Park Historic Register, the city was not made aware the home was already under a foreclosure process by SunTrust. SunTrust was also not aware of the application for historic designation.

In September 2012, the request by SunTrust to rescind the historic designation on the Capen House was brought forward and the City Commission agreed with SunTrust’s position that:

  • the owner was already in default on the mortgage when she asked the city to put the historic designation on the property
  • the designation might hinder their options to recoup what was owed to them
  • ‘the application was not made in good faith, that it was done for tactical negotiation reasons and the owner sought to use the designation as a basis for claiming a 50%+ discount to satisfy her debt to SunTrust’

The rescinding of the historic designation was unanimously approved by the Commission on September 24, 2012 based on the information presented above.”

Email conversation among staffers discussing this proposal includes this conclusion presented by a senior staffer close to the case:

“The first point was the only one evidence was presented to support . . . The only evidence presented was that Ms. Melugen was in default on the mortgage and that her counter claims against SunTrust’s lending practices had not been upheld. There wasn’t any evidence presented to support the 2nd and 3rd points . . .”

Proposed City Policy: Let’s Include Lenders When Deciding on Homeowner Requests

The same staff email that laid out SunTrust’s claims also suggests future policy option regarding Historical Designations:

“Moving forward, the City Commission could revise their policy to:

  • direct staff to research whether there are any pending foreclosure lawsuits in the public record when an owner petitions for historic designation
  • deny the request for such designation if under foreclosure proceedings

These actions would only apply to future requests and would help prevent this unusual situation from occurring again.”


In a separate email (excerpt) to Randy Knight, Commissioner Steve Leary weighs in on the question of lender involvement in the city’s Historical Designation process:

“I also think it may be appropriate to notice any mortgager on future designations as they have a financial interest in the properties valuation, even prior to foreclosure proceedings.”

SunTrust, in their 8/17/12 letter to the city, also expressed a similar opinion:

“Where the property owner’s equity in the real property is minimal, as was the case here, the mortgage lender is, in economic reality, the equitable owner of the property whose rights will be substantially affected by the contemplated historic designation actions of the applicant. If all adjacent property owners are worthy of receiving a notice of the contemplated historic designation actions of the applicant under the City Code, wouldn’t the applicant’s lender also be worthy of receiving such a notice from the City?”

Did Fear of Lawsuit Spur Commission?

A closer look at the interests of SunTrust reveals that the City of Winter Park is a customer of the bank. This fact was confirmed by the city in response to questions from the Voice about the city’s relationship and interaction with the bank. We attempted to confirm reports that one factor motivating the Commission vote in SunTrust’s favor was the city’s fear that they might be sued by their own bank.

We were unable to find any evidence that SunTrust threatened to sue the city if the Capen House Historic Designation was not rescinded. However, in response to our questions, city staff did reveal that despite the absence of any lawsuit threat by SunTrust, City Attorney Brown “did give advice to the Commission that SunTrust had a reasonable argument that might prevail in court.”

Historic Designation No Guarantee of Immunity From Demolition

An analysis by the city’s lead Historic Preservation staffer, Lindsey Hayes, indicates that even Historic Registry status does not automatically confer total immunity from demolition. In a recent email explaining how demolition is treated in the Historic Preservation context, Ms. Hayes points out that “The ordinance does not include a direct prohibition against demolition. It describes the process and the issues for the board to consider. A total prohibition in the ordinance might result in a takings claim so a defensible process is the important key . . . Each case would have to stand on its own merit . . .”

Comments by others at the city indicate that while the process may contemplate the possibility of allowing an owner to demolish a Historically Protected home, the owner would have to convince a city board that the home was essentially unsalvageable.

City Attorney Assures City: We Had “Legal Right” to Remove Historic Designation.

On May 31, City Attorney Larry Brown submitted to city staff this concise recap of the legal rationale for the city’s handling of the Historical Designation of the Capen House:

“The former owner had already lost the property at the time Sun Trust requested the resolution revoking historical designation. Sun Trust had a foreclosure judgment and took title at the foreclosure sale. The former owner had appealed the judgment BUT had not posted a bond to stay the sale nor had she taken the legal action needed to stop Sun Trust from acquiring title. Moreover, she has since lost that appeal. Therefore, we were dealing with the legal owner of the property, and that owner, (Sun Trust), requested the removal of the historic designation.Under the City’s Code, the designation is granted by Commission resolution. There are no prohibitions against a Commission resolution removing the designation at the request of the owner, and that is what occurred here. The owner, Sun Trust, requested and received a resolution removing the designation. The Commission could do that because there was no federal, state or local law prohibiting that action. (This property was not on a federal or state historic designation register).

George may delay demolition if allowed by Code to see if a group of citizens can implement a “Casa Feliz solution”. That is a policy decision for you and the Commission. But, I can assure you that the Commission was dealing with the legal owner, and that owner, (Sun Trust), requested the action, and the Commission had the legal right in its discretion to resolve that the property would have its historic designation removed.”

City Attorney: City Code May Allow Our Delay of Demolition Permit.

Despite Attorney Brown’s assurance that city Building Director George Wiggins may delay demolition of Capen House “if allowed by Code”, the city had not moved in that direction as of early last week. As reported on June 4 by City Communications Director, Clarissa Howard, the city had “Nothing new to report on the Capen House…demo has not been put on hold…no word on our end on other plans for the house…”

Rumors abound that some sort of deal or decisive city action is imminent. Today’s Commission meeting may give city residents a clue as to whether Capen House will live on.

5/28/13 Story


In mid-May, as word got out that a Demolition Notice had been posted at the Historic Capen House Residence, a small group of Winter Parkers took notice.

Within days, Betsy Owens, Director of the city’s beloved Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum, broke the Capen House story in her Preservation Winter Park blog and issued a call to the wider Winter Park community:

“There are precious few houses in the city of Winter Park as old as the Capen House, located at 520 North Interlachen Avenue. Built in 1885 for James S. Capen, one of the city’s early settlers, the house was initially constructed in a Folk Victorian style, and celebrated by the local community . . . Last week a demolition permit was granted by the City of Winter Park, allowing the 128-year-old home to be razed after June 13. Preservation-minded people are scratching their heads to connect the dots. How did we get from there to here?”

Preservation Winter Park Article

Ms. Owens has been “here” before. She’s seen what Winter Parkers can do when a historic Winter Park home is threatened with demolition. This time, the journey from preservation to demolition was started with a single step taken by Winter Park’s own City Commission a unanimous decision to rescind the Historic Registry listing of Capen House in September, 2012.

The Commission’s 5 – 0 vote granted a request by SunTrust bank asking the city to rescind the listing  a request motivated by the bank’s fear that historic status might reduce their proceeds from their foreclosure sale of the property.

When Capen House was sold for $2 million six months later, the new owner, John Pokorny, filed an application to demolish the historic home. More about this later.

Last week, the Voice contacted the WP Building Department and learned that the Capen House Demolition Permit is still in process — moving among city departments who must sign their approval before the permit is actually issued.

Demolition Permit Application

Narrow Escape Last Time Bulldozers Threatened Interlachen Avenue Landmark.

In 2000, Casa Feliz narrowly escaped destruction when it was slated for demolition by the new property owner, Wayne Heller.

Mr. Heller was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel as saying “If it’s [Casa Feliz] left sitting on the property, I’ll bulldoze it.”

The December, 2000 Sentinel story entitled “Owner Of Casa Feliz Gets Tired Of Waiting” paints a picture of a wealthy, frustrated property owner who misunderstood the values of his neighbors:

“Heller, who bought Casa Feliz for $3.4 million, had originally thought he would be well under way by April in building a 12,000-square-foot Mediterranean-style home.

‘Knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have done it,’ Heller said of buying the property.

What he discovered, after starting demolition of Casa Feliz in September, was a potent force of Winter Park residents angered by a loss of older homes and by the unexpected assault on Casa Feliz. Responding to protests, the city halted demolition, outraging Heller but allowing for the hatching of a rescue plan.”

Click the button below to read the full Sentinel article.

Sentinel Article: “Owner of Casa”

In July, 2011 the Sentinel featured a follow-up story on the Heller property entitled “Mega-Mansion Emerges where Historic Casa Feliz Once Stood” detailing Heller’s decade-long building schedule and his decision to double the originally-planned size of the mansion,

“Despite the rush to demolish Casa Feliz, the Hellers didn’t build their new, larger house once the historic structure was moved across Interlachen Avenue to city-owned property. Instead of the two-year timetable they had envisioned, it has taken more than 10 years for them to even start the construction of their dream home — a 27,000-square-foot mansion they now hope to finish as soon as next year.”

Sentinel Article: “Mega-Mansion Emerges”

Will Winter Parkers Mount a “Potent Force” This Time Around?

Betsy Owens recently posted a note in her blog that she has been “surprised by the level of interest” in her original Capen House blog post, noting that “In the last 32 hours, more than 1800 people have visited this site. It shows that overwhelmingly, people still care about Winter Park’s retaining its unique historic value.”

Other Winter Parkers who have added their voices to the discussion include Arthur Blumenthal, Director Emeritus, Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College (click here to read his column) and Linda Kulmann, President of the Winter Park Historical Association (click here to read her column).

The consensus among the official and unofficial “preservation-minded people” who spoke with the Voice is that historic preservation enriches its citizens’ quality of life and economic well-being. They point to studies of Heritage Tourism and rising home values in historic neighborhoods as proof that preservation “pays” – and argue that it is the duty of city staff and elected officials to strongly promote historic preservation.

This argument, however implicit, was also on trial at Winter Park’s City Commission on September 24, 2012 (see video below). However, the issue explicitly brought forward by SunTrust Bank was far more narrow.

SunTrust Letter to City: We Can Sell Capen House for More if You Rescind Historic Status.

SunTrust Letter

According to a case summary submitted to the city by SunTrust Bank, the bank’s sole concern was its ability to fully recoup its $2.1 million loan in a foreclosure sale of the historic Capen House property – which had been placed on the city’s Historic Register in 2011 by homeowner Clardy Malugen. Jason Searl, the bank’s attorney summed it up this way:

“SunTrust’s ability to market and sell the Property to a third party purchaser and recoup its original loan amount is severely inhibited by this series of events set in motion by Malugen during the midst of intense litigation with her lender.” Mr. Searl claimed that Ms. Malugen “submitted the application for bad faith, tactical reasons and sought to use the designation as a basis for claiming a 50%+ discount to satisfy her debt to SunTrust.” —Excerpted from SunTrust case summary submitted to city on 8/17/12.


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For some, if not all the commissioners, it was Mr. Searls’ claims about Ms. Malugen’s motivation for listing Capen House in the Historic Register, and the bank’s pursuit of its collateral that appeared to carry the day.

Six Minute Commission Hearing: Two Questions. No Capen House Discussion.

In a six minute hearing that yielded two questions, no public comment and a 5 – 0 vote to strip the Capen house of its registry listing, there was no discussion of whether the home had sufficient historic value to merit its inclusion on the city’s Historic Register – regardless of the perceived intentions of its owner.

One revealing footnote in the SunTrust summary was their admission that Ms. Malugen, had, in fact, first applied to list Capen House in the Winter Park Historic Registry of Homes in 2006, shortly after she purchased the property. Ms. Malugen told the Voice that this earlier application was put on hold by her during an extended period when she sought and was ultimately granted permits to add a garage and other extensive improvements to the property. According to Malugen, the improvements totaled approximately $700,000 in addition to the $2.6 million purchase price of the property.

2011 Capen Registry Documents

Malugen: “I was not notified” of City Hearing. “Foreclosure Appeal Still Pending.”

Ms. Malugen’s original 2006 Registry application was not discussed at the hearing. Malugen says that she did not receive notice of the hearing and did not know that the hearing was being held. Another wrinkle in the case that did not come out at the hearing was the fact that Malugen had filed an appeal of the Suntrust foreclosure which was still pending in Circuit Court – an action that conceivably could have resulted in a reversal of the SunTrust foreclosure. (Ms. Malugen’s appeal failed several months later.)

Did Commission Revoke Historic Status for the Wrong Reason?

Voice interviews with city residents who are familiar with the case indicate that some observers – and possibly some commissioners – believe that SunTrust’s rescission request was based primarily on their assertion that Ms. Malugen was not entitled to apply for Historic Registry status for Capen House. Court records show that SunTrust had filed a Lis Pendens document with the court and started a foreclosure action against Ms. Malugen in 2010, the year before she applied for Registry status.

However, a review of SunTrust’s case summary submitted to the city on 8/17/12 does not reveal any explicit argument that Ms. Malugen was not entitled to file for Registry status. Instead, SunTrust appeared to be arguing three key points:

1. SunTrust faulted the city for not informing them that Malugen was applying to place Capen House on the Historic Register – giving them the same advance notice that neighbors surrounding the property at 520 N. Interlachen Avenue received. The bank conceded that city regulations do not require notice to lenders, but argued that SunTrust was, as they put it, “in economic reality, the equitable owner” of the property. The bank’s support for this argument appears to be that Ms. Malugen had not yet paid off, or significantly paid down, her home loan.

2. SunTrust questioned Ms. Malugen’s motives, claiming that she was insincere in her application for Historic Status – and was doing so for “tactical” reasons to gain leverage in her foreclosure negotiations with SunTrust.

3. SunTrust asserted that by allowing Capen House to remain on the Winter Park Register of Historic Homes the city would “severely” limit SunTrust’s ability to recoup its $2.1 million loan on the property. This assertion appears to be based on SunTrust’s belief that a home with Historic Registry Status is de-valued by the protections and oversight that are afforded to Historic Registry properties.

Capen Registry Rescission

How Realistic Was SunTrust’s Assertion That Historic Register Home on Prime Lakefront Lot Would Lose Money?

Winter Park Voice researched real estate sales data for Interlachen Avenue for a ten-year period starting in 2003. We found only one case – a $1,990,000 home sale in 2004 – where the sales price of a lakefront residence on Interlachen Avenue fell below the $2 million mark. The two Interlachen lakefront homes sold after 2010 – not including the $2,000,000 foreclosure sale of Ms. Malugen’s home (in March, 2013) – were purchased for $3.2 and $4.9 million respectively.

Kelly Price, the realtor who represented both the buyer and seller in the Capen House foreclosure sale, originally listed the home for $3.2 million in August, 2012. By February, 2013, the listing price had dropped to $2,450,000. In March, the home sold to the Pokorny family for $2,000,000.

The Voice obtained a recent appraisal on Capen House performed by Meridian Residential Appraisal on behalf of SunTrust Bank. The appraisal, dated June 17, 2011, values Capen House at $2.7 million.

2011 Capen House Appraisal

New Owner Says Capen House Has Serious Problems. Plans to Demolish Home, Replace It With “Contemporary Farmhouse.”

The Voice attempted to contact John Pokorny through a company he owns to ask about his plans for Capen House. Multiple attempts were made to reach Mr. Pokorny. By press time, Mr. Pokorny had not responded to our request for an interview. He did, however, speak with the author of Preservation Winter Park who reports:

“The new owners, John and Betsy Pokorny, intend to raze the house and build a new one in its place. The house, John told me, has serious mold and foundation problems, and the layout is untenable for his family’s needs. He has contracted with a celebrated local architect and intends to build a ‘contemporary farmhouse,’ actually smaller than the Capen House.”

According to Preservation Winter Park, Pokorny has “offered to donate the house to any group willing to move it, and contribute $10,000 toward the move.”

Click here, here and here to learn more about Capen House history from Rollins College Historical Archives. Click to read Historic Preservation Economic Impact Study here.

Winter Park Voice spoke with construction and design professionals familiar with Capen House. None of these sources has knowledge of mold or foundation problems other than “some settling” that is considered typical for well-maintained 100+ year-old homes.

2008 Capen Appraisal Reports No Problems With “Livability” or “Structural Integrity” of Property.

An appraisal of Capen House done in 2008 for Regions Bank notes that the home was “in overall good/excellent condition with no deferred maintenance noted. There was no functional or external obsolescence noted.” The report also verifies that there were no apparent physical deficiencies or adverse conditions that affect the “livability, soundness, or structural integrity of the property.” The 2011 Appraisal does note that the owner reported possible structural issues with the carriage house.

2008 Capen House Appraisal

Significant structural problems, mold or other issues that can seriously impact a home are required to be disclosed in a Seller’s Property Disclosure statement. These statements are submitted to buyers prior to the closing of each sale. The Voice contacted the sales agent, Kelly Price asking for a copy of the Disclosure. Ms. Price did not respond to our request by press time.

Unanswered Questions

Winter Park Voice has contacted many city government insiders, including members of the city Historic Preservation Board, the Mayor & Commissioners, City Manager and City Attorney. With one or two (staff) exceptions, none have responded to questions regarding Capen House and City Historical Preservation Policy.

The Voice also contacted SunTrust attorney Jason Searl, who declined comment.

During the 9/24/12 hearing, City Attorney Brown noted that there is no specific procedure in city code for rescinding Historic Landmark designation. The Voice submitted questions to city staff, officials and board members attempting to ascertain whether the rescission process the Commission followed on 9/24/12 is the process by which future rescissions will be accomplished.

We also asked whether the City Commission is empowered to rescind any Historic Landmark designation in response to a property owner request.

Clarissa Howard, Director of City Communications, has indicated that some answers may be forthcoming. Winter Park Voice will include city responses in future updates.

To comment or read comments from others, click here →

Proposed Fine Dining Ordinance “Dangerous & Hypocritical”? Ordinance Tabled (Again)

Proposed Fine Dining Ordinance “Dangerous & Hypocritical”? Ordinance Tabled (Again)

5/19/13 Story Update: Last Monday’s Commission discussion of fast food and fine dining standards generated plenty of dire predictions and hypotheticals, but no ultimate resolution.

In an effort to keep fast food restaurants from overrunning Park Avenue, the Commission ran over the City’s proposed ordinance time and again trying to make sense of it. After a long, exhaustive discussion, the ordinance was tabled – on life support once again – awaiting an infusion of new ideas from city staff, attorneys, concerned citizens and merchants.

P&Z Director Jeff Briggs opened the hearing on the proposed Fine Dining ordinance with a brave gesture – a summary of the Firehouse Subs “Fine Dining” policy created just for Park Avenue: “There is a Firehouse Subs business that’s going in next to BurgerFi and they are going to be – have committed to be – the only Firehouse Subs franchise in America that is going to offer table service . . .” Then, Briggs got to the point of the new ordinance language, admitting that “we never thought that any of the fast food franchises such as McDonalds, Burger King, etc. would ever try to fit under the definition of fine dining.”

Mr. Briggs indicated that fast food/fast casual restaurants are treated differently because the city believes that they are not significant contributors to the Avenue’s economic development and cautioned that “just . . . having a waiter or waitress or two working [at these fast casual restaurants] doesn’t change that.” He explained that the city encourages fining dining restaurants because the city and Park Avenue merchants believe that these upscale restaurants are “key to the continued economic development of Park Avenue.”

Bradley & Commission Wrestle With How to Include High-End Franchises While Excluding Others.

Time and again, Mayor Bradley noted that franchise restaurants like Ruth’s Chris and Olive Garden would face barriers to entry to Park Avenue if the new regulations were passed as proposed.  Mr. Briggs conceded that – under the proposed rules – an upscale restaurant like Ruth’s Chris, which is franchised nationwide, would not be permitted to locate on Park Avenue unless they were granted a Conditional Approval by the City Commission. Mayor Bradley wondered aloud whether it was the Commission’s role to pass judgment on which restaurants should be on the Avenue. He expressed his concern that favoring one restaurant brand over another is “a very dangerous place to be.”

Both Commissioner Leary and Commissioner McMacken were less reluctant than Mayor Bradley in their willingness to rule on Conditional Use applications by restaurants. Commissioner Cooper argued for banning all non-fine dining restaurants from Park Avenue.

Even though there were points of agreement among the Commissioners, patience in the chamber wore thin at times. Shortly before the Fine Dining ordinance discussion began, Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Cooper had a brief dust-up in a prior discussion concerning Ravaudage that triggered a momentary walkout by Ms. Cooper. Both Cooper and Bradley recovered quickly, however.

Leary: “Quality Establishment Like a BurgerFi” Needs Opportunity to Request Entry to Park Avenue.

Monday’s Fine Dining discussion remained civil, but spirited. Mayor Bradley continued to characterize parts of the new ordinance as “dangerous.” Sarah Sprinkel was exasperated by mistakes and ambiguities in the ordinance language. Tom McMacken recalled his displeasure when he first learned that BurgerFi was flouting its table service pledge and Commissioner Cooper lobbied hard for banning fast food from Park Avenue altogether. In response to Cooper’s advocacy of a complete ban on fast food, Commissioner Leary commented that “the problem with that is that a quality establishment like a BurgerFi does not even have the opportunity to come forward through a Conditional Use process . . .You need to have the opportunity to allow these things . . .”

City Policies Designed to Discourage the “Food Courting” of Park Avenue.

Jeff Briggs recalled that, in the past, there have been concerns about non-food retail franchises on the Avenue – concerns about the “Malling” of Park Avenue. Briggs noted that, despite these misgivings, some merchants believe that franchise retailers like the Gap increase shopping on the Avenue overall. However, Briggs noted that too much fast casual dining could lead to the “Food Courting” of Park Avenue which is “not our character.”

By the end of the discussion, the Commission had not moved significantly closer to consensus. Any sense that they were edging in that direction was strongly challenged by Frank Hamner, attorney for the Holler family, whose retail tenants include both BurgerFi and Firehouse Subs.

Holler Attorney: You Can Take This “Hypocritical” Ordinance and . . . Re-do It.

Hamner spared no feelings and few words in his characterization of the city’s new ordinance as poorly written, confused and “hypocritical.” He criticized city staff for “rushing” the rewriting of the ordinance and urged the city to “start over.”

After Hamner’s passionate critique of the city’s proposal, Mayor Bradley interrupted the Public Comment period and asked City Attorney Brown whether there were problems with the ordinance as written. Brown confirmed that there were errors and began to describe how the errors could be rectified. At that point, City Manager Knight interrupted and suggested to Mayor Bradley that the ordinance be tabled in order for staff “to get it right before it comes back to you.”

Mayor Bradley immediately moved to table the ordinance; Commissioner Leary seconded the motion and the Commission voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

Chapin: “Heartburn Happens” When Fine Dining Rules Not Enforced at Restaurants Like BurgerFi.

After the vote, Mayor Bradley allowed other citizens to continue the Public Comment portion of the hearing. Patrick Chapin from the Chamber of Commerce and Lambrine Macejewski, President of the Park Avenue Merchants Association were among the commenters. Neither supported the proposed ordinance as written.

Once the meeting adjourned, a small group gathered in the back of the chamber to discuss the ordinance. Included in the group were Frank Hamner, Patrick Chapin, Lambrine Macejewski, Jeff Briggs and Commissioner Leary. After a short discussion, the group left the public area and walked together back toward Jeff Briggs’ office in the Planning and Zoning Dept.

Cooper: Let’s Stop All Restaurant Approvals Until We Vote on New Restaurant Rules.

In the days following the hearing, Commission Carolyn Cooper asked City Manager Knight to convene a meeting of Commissioners to discuss enacting a moratorium on issuing permits for future restaurants on the Avenue. The point of the moratorium would be to give the city time to work out its new policy without risking another application by a fast food restaurant attempting to come onto the Avenue by promising Firehouse Subs-style “Fine Dining” table service.

Documents obtained by the Voice lead to the conclusion that no one other than Commissioner McMacken was willing to meet with Commission Cooper to discuss the issue. Cooper and McMacken will meet in the Chapman Room (Room 200) next to the Commission chambers this Wednesday, May 22, immediately following the Commission’s 3:00pm Ravaudage work session. Click the button below to view documents pertaining to Commissioner Cooper’s meeting request.

Cooper Meeting Request

Read & Input Comments


5/13/13 Story:

It took ten months, but the city has resurrected last year’s debate about what kind of businesses – specifically restaurants – are welcome on Park Avenue. On Monday, May 13, the City Commission will consider modifying the ordinance that defines which types of restaurants are acceptable.

Last July, City Hall was abuzz with concern about the half-empty block on Park Avenue between Comstock and Fairbanks. The Holler family owned most, if not all, of the vacant space on that block. That same month, the Holler’s attorney, Frank Hamner, testified in support of an effort by city staff to provide relief in the form of special zoning concessions for these properties. The concessions would have enabled a broader range of businesses to occupy first floor retail space.

BurgerFi & City Face Off Over Table Service Agreement.

Within days of last year’s Commission hearings on Park Avenue zoning changes, BurgerFi opened on the Avenue just north of Fairbanks. Earlier that year, BurgerFi persuaded the city to approve its building application by promising to provide table service as required by the city’s “Fine Dining” ordinance language. However, less than one year later, relations between the restaurant and the city have soured. City’s staffers confirm that the city believes that BurgerFi is not keeping its “Fine Dining” promise. More about that later.

During last summer’s Commission hearings, some Commissioners worried that long-vacant store fronts on the block spelled danger for the Avenue. There appeared to be support on the Commission for zoning modifications and creative interpretations of existing regulations. However, many Park Avenue merchants were skeptical, suggesting that property owners on the block could revitalize the area without special concessions and fast food restaurants. Ultimately, community and merchant opposition forced the tabling of the special concessions.

Today, the block is flush with new businesses bracketed by a new Viking appliances showroom on one end and by BurgerFi on the other.

Firehouse Subs Gains Foothold on Avenue with Promise of Full “Fine Dining” Table Service.

Despite the block’s newfound prosperity, new zoning language has once again come before the Commission – at the same time that a new fast food restaurant, Firehouse Subs, is making plans to occupy another Holler-owned store front. And, once again, the Park Avenue Merchants Association appears to be highly antagonistic to any move that will encourage franchise-style, fast food eateries on Park Avenue.

The city’s acceptance of Firehouse Subs’ February 26 building permit application seems to validate merchant concerns that allowing BurgerFi to gain a foothold on the Avenue would open the door to more fast food in downtown Winter Park. However, new “Fine Dining” language being proposed by the city actually appears to be an attempt to discourage future applications from these restaurants.

City Ordinance Changes Make Future Fast Food Openings More Difficult, but Gives Commission Right to Override New Standards for Benefit of City “Economy.”

In an interview with the Voice last week, Planning and Zoning Director, Jeff Briggs revealed that the city looked to an historic shopping district in south Florida as inspiration for the city’s new “Fine Dining” guidelines: “The new ordinance language being proposed for the city’s definition of permitted fine dining and fast casual restaurants is modeled on the standards established for the historic Worth Avenue district in Palm Beach, Florida.

The new language, if approved, includes a clause that prohibits future fast food, fast casual formula, franchise-style restaurants from opening on Park Avenue, unless a restaurant of that type applies for and is approved on a Conditional Use basis by the City Commission.”

This is the staff summary of the city’s rationale for making the change:

“The City’s C-2 zoning code, in effect along Park Avenue and New England Avenue, makes “fine dining” restaurants a permitted use. Other restaurants (not meeting that definition) are conditional uses which require the provision of parking in order to create a new restaurant location. In effect, “fine dining” restaurants are given a ‘free pass’ or parking variance if they meet that definition. The intent was to allow, as has occurred, for new restaurants such as Luma, Prato, Paris Bistro, Cucina 214 and Nelore Steakhouse to start up on Park Avenue without having to provide parking.

Unfortunately the only differentiator for “fine dining” versus other restaurants is table service versus counter service. Burger King or McDonald’s could come to Park Avenue if they offered table service.

The proposed definition change tightens the rules to accomplish the original intent as well as clarify what meant by table service. Not the option for table service to be available but the requirement for it in all instances. The proposed definition change is also patterned after Worth Avenue in Palm Beach that prohibits “formula restaurants” with more than three locations in the nation, which in our case will be more than three in the Orlando Metro area.”

Proposed ordinance language includes this clause:

“Fine dining restaurants may provide for ordering and payment at a counter/cashier only and exclusively to accommodate take-out orders but if such food or meals is intended for on-site consumption then such food or meals orders, service and payment must be done for customers at their tables by waiter/waitresses and full table service by waiter/waitresses must be available at all times. Fine Dining does not include any restaurant with a fast casual operational format or any formula restaurant of name or brand or franchise with more than three (3) locations in the greater Orlando metropolitan area or whose most common business model for their restaurants includes a majority of locations with drive-thru or predominately take-out food service, unless approved by the City Commission as providing an economic enhancement to the city’s central business district or hannibal square commercial district.”

Coffee shops and other non-destination establishments that do not generate high parking demand are exempted from the proposed restrictions. For more details on the proposed modifications, click the button below to see the Commission Agenda document that lays out the changes.

Fine Dining Ordinance Changes

Will the Proposed Changes Calm Merchant Fears that a New Fast Food Era is Beginning on the Avenue?

The Merchants Association won’t officially speak on the matter until their meeting this Monday, the day of the Commission meeting. However, last week the Voice interviewed Merchants Association President Lambrine Macejewski and VP Steven McElveen. Ms. Macejewski and Mr. McElveen, speaking for themselves, expressed opposition to fast food franchises on the Avenue – whether or not these businesses conform to the “Fine Dining” model that includes servers taking orders at tables and delivering food and drink as traditional restaurants do.

Ms. Macejewski, who owns a Tex-Mex restaurant on East Welbourne Avenue, commented that the city’s approval of Firehouse Subs to open on the Avenue “has upset a lot of merchants . . . they’re concerned about the integrity of the Avenue.” Ms. Macejewski promised that merchants will attend the Commission meeting to learn more about – and possibly comment on – the city’s intentions.

Mr. McElveen, whose business is directly across from City Hall, told the Voice that merchants are worried about “the gates opening” for more fast food businesses on the Avenue – and are hoping that the Commission “will write the code in such a way that that doesn’t happen.”

Whether or not the city Commission approves the new regulations, the city must depend on BurgerFi and Firehouse Subs (who are governed by the current ordinance) to keep their promises to provide fine dining-style table service. Firehouse Subs has submitted a letter to the city pledging to “Provide full table service to everyone who wishes to be seated . . . A dedicated and sufficient wait staff will be hired to greet and serve guests in the dining room.” Firehouse will also post prominent signage that will “. . . invite the restaurant guest to be seated for table service.”

Click the Button below to read the Firehouse Subs letter.

Firehouse Subs “Fine Dining” Pledge

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The language in the Firehouse letter appears to satisfy city staff that Firehouse will provide fine dining table service as currently defined in the city ordinance. However, because the letter specifies that customers may order at the counter if they wish, Firehouse’s promise does not conform to the new fine dining standards being proposed by Planning and Zoning.

The new city rules would prohibit restaurants from offering counter service to customers who choose to dine on the premises. Nevertheless, it appears that Firehouse has been approved to open on the Avenue. City staff tells the Voice that the Firehouse table service agreement passes muster because they applied for their building permit under current rules several months ago.

If Current Zoning Rules Prohibit “Sub Shops” from Opening on the Avenue, How Did Firehouse Subs Get Approved?

In his response to the Voice, Mr. Briggs explained that “That sentence in the fine dining definition uses ‘sandwich shops’, ‘sub shops’ and ‘fast food business’ as illustrative examples of ‘restaurants where ordering and payment is done at a counter/cashier’. Every fine dining restaurant on Park Avenue serves sandwiches but they are not a sandwich shop because the ordering and payment is not done at the counter/cashier.“

Briggs was less charitable toward BurgerFi, which appears to be ignoring assurances they gave the city. According to Briggs, BurgerFi has responded to city concerns about their table service policy by offering to submit a written guarantee to the city that full table service is available to customers who request it – and to prominently post signage informing customers of the policy. Mr. Briggs sees that offer as an attempt to get the city to bless BurgerFi’s current policy, which, so far, has resulted in very few diners taking advantage of full table service.

BurgerFi May Face Code Enforcement Crackdown if Table Service is Not Upgraded.

Briggs is clearly unhappy with BurgerFi’s response, and the long lines of customers waiting to place orders at the counter day-after-day: “That was their offer to get us to deem them in compliance. To me that is insufficient.” It appears that nothing less than a dedicated wait staff and a stronger commitment to making table service a reality will satisfy the city. Barring that, city staffers in Code Enforcement may soon be visiting the restaurant to issue citations that could result in daily fines.

The Voice asked Code Enforcement officials how this process would play out if fines are assessed and are not paid by the restaurant. We were told that standard procedure at the city is to ultimately foreclose on property where fines have remained unpaid.

How Fine is BurgerFi’s “Fine Dining” Table Service? Here’s What We Found:

This past week, the Voice dined at BurgerFi during lunch hour. I stood in line like everybody else and, before ordering, asked the cashier whether table service was available. I was informed that table service was available, but “not during BurgerFi’s busy times.” During lunch I did not see any table service other than meals being delivered to tables after diners had ordered at the counter. Also, just like any at fast food franchise, diners were getting themselves soft drinks out of self-serve machines, pumping their own condiments, dumping food wrappers into waste receptacles and depositing dirty trays into a rack. I did not observe any signage that offered a full table service option.

The next morning I visited the restaurant again at 11:00AM and sat down at a table on the patio waiting for a server to take my order. No other customers were in the restaurant, which appeared to be fully staffed in anticipation of the upcoming lunch rush. BurgerFi’s general manager, Don Clemence, kneeled down at a table nearby making some sort of repair. After five minutes I was approached by an employee who offered to take my order. Instead, I asked to interview the manager. Mr. Clemence, who’s been with the franchise for two months, confirmed that BurgerFi does have a policy of offering table service to anyone who asks, but was unaware of any discussion of providing signage to let customers know that a table service policy exists. Mr. Clemence acknowledged that only a small percentage of customers take advantage of BurgerFi’s full table service option.

Winter Park Voice requested comment from all City Commissioners and the Mayor. As of press time, the Voice received no reply except for this statement submitted by Commissioner Carolyn Cooper:

“Thank you for an opportunity to comment on the proposed change to this important ordinance governing what uses are and are not permitted on Park Avenue. I believe we all understand the economic importance of protecting the character of Park Avenue and appreciate the staff’s effort to tighten up the definition of ‘fine dining.’

Unfortunately, while the ordinance requires ‘non-fine dining restaurants’ to obtain conditional use approval, it stops short of restricting ‘non-fine dining restaurants’ from Park Avenue. I believe this ordinance, as proposed, does not provide the Park Avenue brand the protection it deserves.

There are lots of locations in Winter Park where we can grab fast food. The question is, should those locations include Park Avenue? It is time for us to have a conversation regarding this critical topic. Hope you will join the discussion.”


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Mica on P.O./Central Park Deal: Last Time, “All Hell Broke Loose.” This Time, Citizens Must Be United.

Mica on P.O./Central Park Deal: Last Time, “All Hell Broke Loose.” This Time, Citizens Must Be United.

On Monday, April 15, during a commission-sponsored work session, Congressman John Mica shared his views on how the city might finally convince the US Postal Service (USPS) to move the Winter Park Post Office farther north on New York Avenue – thereby freeing up land that could be used to expand Central Park. The USPS has, so far, shown no interest in moving the WP post office or reducing its footprint.

The USPS has rebuffed the city’s recent requests to obtain Right of First Refusal if the property is put up for sale, stating in a 8/6/12 letter to City Manager, Randy Knight, that, “At this time, the property is not available for sale, nor do we anticipate that the property will become available in the foreseeable future.” (Click button below to see letter.)

P.O. Says “No Right of First Refusal.” Insists on Getting True Market Value for Its Property.

In his letter to the city, Tom Samra, USPS Vice President, Facilities, justifies USPS unwillingness to grant the city Right of First Refusal due the Postal Service’s duty to “generate adequate market exposure of the property and competition among all interested parties, to meet our obligation to secure best value to the Postal Service . . . A Right of First Refusal to the City of Winter Park would impair our ability to assure the Postal Service has maximized the property’s overall value . . .”

City Manager, Randy Knight started Monday’s meeting with a summary of the city’s efforts to buy – or obtain the Right of First Refusal to buy – the WP Post Office site when and if the site is put up for sale by USPS. Despite the city’s failure to raise enough money to buy the site when it was available for sale several years ago – and varying opinions among commissioners as to how to develop the PO site – Mr. Knight said there is unanimity on this point: “One opinion that everybody agrees with is we would like for this to ultimately be in the City Commission’s hands to control what happens on that property, versus in private development hands.” (Click button below to see city resolution to develop site as parkland.)

Bradley/Knight: City Wants “Perpetual Right of First Refusal.” Keep P.O. Out of Developers’ Hands.

Knight admitted that, at this time, the city has no “right to purchase under any kind of agreement.” He later acknowledged of USPS that “they want to be in the core . . . they didn’t want to be more than a mile away from the existing site, and they really didn’t want to separate distribution from retail [walk-in PO facilities]. Though they did finally agree that that could happen, it was not their preference.”

Mayor Bradley questioned whether the city was ever in a position financially to pay the cost of acquiring the PO property, “I don’t know that we were ever in a place to be able to spend 6, 10, 12 million dollars – even in spite of public fund raising – to acquire that . . .” Mr. Bradley did point out, however, that “First and foremost, having a perpetual Right of First Refusal . . . I think is certainly our first goal.”

After Randy Knight’s summary, Congressman Mica pulled his microphone closer. Then, like the seasoned politician he is, Mica drew a laugh from the audience by comparing the city’s USPS dealings with a root canal. Rep. Mica then got down to business – presenting his view of how federal, local and political realities have shaped – and will continue to shape – negotiations on the post office property.

Congressman Mica Remembers When “All Hell Broke Loose” During Carlisle Debate.

Rep. Mica recalled an early re-development proposal for the site where “some people from the city and some developers came to Washington some years back” with a plan to re-do the post office area, expand the park and add a parking garage “across the tracks.” Mica said that he found the plan “attractive” then noted that sometime later – after the city took over the project – the city “came up with a quite different plan – which was pretty extensive – all hell broke loose. When something like that happens, you know, I run like a scalded dog . . . the community was pretty divided on the issue – and I wasn’t touching it with a 10 foot pole.”

Mica: Postal Service is Broke. May Be Ready to Deal Now.

Mr. Mica acknowledged the Postal Service’s rejection of the city’s proposal, but noted that the USPS may be more open to negotiating now, “. . . a lot of things have changed . . . since their rejection [of the city’s proposal]. They’re in dire, dire straits . . . they are taking proposals that can save money . . . they’re not going to entertain anything that will cost them money . . . it’s got to be cost neutral.”

Mr. Mica then reminded the commission a second time that lack of community consensus could undermine any negotiation with USPS: “. . . you can’t have a divided community. If you have a divided community, they’ll run away from it, too.”

Mica Claims USPS “Devoid of Brain Power . . . An Embarrassment . . . Lipstick on a Pig.”

Mica did not hesitate to criticize USPS management at the federal and local level, charging that upper management is “. . . devoid of any brain power and creativity” and revealing that the poor upkeep of Winter Park’s own post office has, in the past, been an “embarrassment.”

Despite efforts by commissioners to credit a post office landscaping makeover sponsored by local residents, Mica characterized P.O. revitalization efforts as “Lipstick on a pig . . . I don’t see any hope – it is not the architectural highlight of Winter Park . . . But we’ve got to have a good plan if we’re going to do it. Everybody’s got to be on board.”

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The congressman ended on a note of cooperation, telling the commissioners ,“You set the priorities and I will follow up as best I can” – leading to the conclusion that Winter Park’s best approach to dealing with the post office property might be to rely on Congressman Mica to persuade Post Office authorities to move their distribution operation out of the city center – then build a new walk-in “retail” post office north of its current location within the same large parcel of land it now shares with city park land.

Bradley on P.O. Site: “Time to Start New Chapter.” Let’s “Brainstorm” New Library, Other Options.

Mayor Bradley closed the meeting with a suggestion: “I think that the congressman has brought us a new page. I think we ought to embrace that new page. . .this has a lot of history. I think it’s probably time to start a new chapter – a new fresh chapter that really attacks this in a very positive and upbeat way . . . We’ve brainstormed around park – maybe we should brainstorm again around library. Maybe we should brainstorm again around some other regional good. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to kind of re-look at this.”

Congressman Mica also briefly touched on SunRail and other projects. His comments can be viewed by clicking WPV video image above.

Winter Park Voice requested comment from all City Commissioners, Randy Knight and Rep. Mica. No comments were received as of press time.

Work Session Documents    Letters & Resolutions    8/6/12 USPS Letter

To comment or read comments from others, click here →

Ravaudage CDD Final Vote Set for Monday

Ravaudage CDD Final Vote Set for Monday

Revenue-Sharing Dead For Now. Can Developer Succeed Without It?

4/8/13 Story Update:
This afternoon, after a long discussion of the property rights of landowners and businesses that reside within the Ravaudage development, the City Commission voted unanimously to approve the Ravaudage CDD. WP Chamber of Commerce CEO, Patrick Chapin spoke on behalf of the CDD.

4/7/13 Story Update:
Chances are good that on Monday, April 8, Winter Park’s City Commission will vote “yes” for the second and final time to approve Dan Bellows’ Ravaudage CDD.

Monday’s likely “yes” vote will give the go-ahead to the creation of a Commercial Development District that will enable Bellows and his partners to elect themselves as the first Board of Supervisors in a brand new governmental entity.

Commissioners who question granting such broad powers to Mr. Bellows have learned that they have little choice in the matter. In response to questions from the Commission during a recent hearing, City Attorney Larry Brown advised that the city must approve a CDD application unless it has reasonable, legally compelling reasons not to. Learn more about CDD “General Powers” here, “Special Powers” here and overview here.

City Debate Not About Whether to Approve CDD, But How to Approve It

On March 25, in the first of two votes required on the matter, the Commission voted to amend and approve the CDD, but raised numerous concerns during the meeting. Despite their unanimous “yes” vote on the CDD, the commission insisted on a modification to the CDD that removed any linkage between the CDD and the “Interlocal Agreement” that would have granted the CDD millions of dollars in city subsidies. Another sticking point for Mayor Bradley, Commissioner Cooper and others was the CDDs power of eminent domain. The Mayor appeared to favor stripping the CDD of all eminent domain powers, but attorney Brown advised the panel that doing so would conflict with state law.

Good News, Bad News

By blessing the CDD, the city will enable the new entity to start raising money using tax-exempt bonds. The bad news for Bellows and company is that the Interlocal Agreement (ILA) has been pulled off the city commission agenda. It appears that the ILA has been tabled for now.

Part of the allure of the revenue-sharing deal with the city was the leverage the 35 year ILA payout would provide in the bond market. The Interlocal Agreement appears to have been an important element in Mr. Bellows overall plan to financially launch his 50+ acre development – important enough to create a CDD/ILA link that was, in the words of his own attorney, “unprecedented.”

During the March 25 Commission hearing on Ravaudage, City Attorney Brown characterized the linkage as “innovative . . . something I’ve never seen before.” Minutes later, Dori Stone, the city’s Development Director, informed the commission that it was actually the city’s own “Special Counsel”, Ken Artin, who formally requested the linkage. The commission was unable to directly question the counsel regarding his rationale for such an action because, as Mayor Bradley pointedly noted, the special counsel did not attend the hearing. Nevertheless, as reported by the Voice on March 25, the Commission’s response to the ILA revenue-sharing plan was overwhelmingly negative.

If City Withholds Interlocal Economic Incentive Payments, Will Ravaudage Falter?

Even though Mr. Bellows’ attorney, Jan Carpenter, readily agreed to remove any linkage between the CDD petition and the proposed Interlocal Agreement, past comments on both sides of the negotiating table lead to the conclusion that loss of Interlocal E.I.P. funds could seriously impact Ravaudage development. Ms. Carpenter appeared to support this conclusion at the city’s 3/19 Economic Development Advisory Board hearing on Ravaudage, stating that “I think that the Mayor said it best last night when he said ‘If you’ve got the CDD you’ve got the car, but if there’s no gas to go in it, it’s not going anywhere’ . . . so without the Economic Incentive Payments, this type of development – being an in-fill redevelopment project – it really probably doesn’t work . . .”

In the following email excerpt – obtained by the Voice in a public records request – Dan Bellows discusses Interlocal “EIP” (Economic Incentive Payments) and implores City Manager Randy Knight to “leave the interlocal agreement alone”:


“Randy, the below is part of an e mail I received from the CDD general council. I am not sure how all this is just coming up?

‘the City’s concern that EIP monies should be limited to improvements only after certain levels of development occurred- and that the EIP payments could be terminated if such levels were not reached. This would make any bond debt unmarketable as the CDD has no interest in the PD or other development rights on lands within the CDD. The plan now may be to limit the types of CDD infrastructure expenditures for which EIP can be used. Again – this could limit bond marketability if the CDD has to reconfigure its infrastructure program to meet the City’s criteria for development.’

‘If no private development occurs, there will be no buildings and no CO’s –therefore no utility revenues or ad valorem taxes – so no EIP to share!’ [Bellows’ emphasis]

We have little time to iron out an agreement and hope that you can direct the cities council to leave the inter local agreement alone with the exception of reducing the increase in ad valorem basis from 75% to a flat 50% and remove any comments about baseball or parking fee caps in garages during baseball games.”

If CDD Passes & Interlocal Fails, Is Another City Revenue-Sharing Deal Lurking in Our Future?

If lack of bond market support and/or denial of city subsidies effectively stalls Ravaudage development – or if the threat of a development bust appears credible – will the City Commission respond with a new package of economic incentives? Sources with city government experience tell the Voice that if ILA subsidies are denied at this point in time, they may ultimately morph into another city plan to underwrite Ravaudage development in the near future. One way or another, there appear to be several scenarios under which the city could find itself entangled in Ravaudage affairs and potential development shortfalls.

In the March 25 hearing, City Attorney Brown mentioned several financial scenarios that envision possible city involvement with Ravaudage that go beyond what is currently proposed (this testimony is included in the WPV video above):

Brown on CDD Bail-Out Scenario:


“The CDD itself doesn’t default, technically. It’s the landowners within the CDD who fail to pay their assessments . . . If the landowner defaults in payment of the debt assessments, then the CDD has an obligation under the trust indenture to foreclose that land . . . So the city is not at risk in any way – zero risk . . . Now if the CDD is dissolved or terminated, the city, at its option, can agree to assume the responsibility to provide services and – in that case – will assume the bond indebtedness, but only to the extent of the services that it’s taking over.”

Brown stated more than once that the city would never be liable for CDD/developer/property owner indebtedness unless the city is somehow motivated to voluntarily assume CDD debt.

Brown on Developer Bankruptcy Scenario:

“I don’t want them to issue a large sum of bonds and hold those monies in construction trust accounts, and then the CDD only goes so far into the actual construction leaving large sums of money in bond trust accounts – and then the landowners default, assessments stop coming in, the CDD now forecloses.

What usually happens is they get a foreclosure judgment, that’s assigned to a special purpose entity controlled by the bond holders – and then those people come in and ‘value-engineer’ the heck out the construction improvements, so you really don’t get what you contemplated getting with Mr. Bellows’ demonstrated history of development . . . You’re dealing now with banks and their consultants – because that’s been my experience – and they try to look at the construction improvement report developed by the district engineer and ‘value engineer’ it, because there’s financial incentive for them to preserve as much as possible, bond proceeds, in those trust accounts and not spend them on construction improvements.

And, so my concern is you could be on the hook for 30 years paying EIP if we’re not careful . . . So, that’s a huge issue we have to work through.”

City Hall Email Includes Strong Opposition to Revenue-Sharing

The prospect of sharing city revenues with Ravaudage developers has forged an unusual coalition of city officials who often have difficulty reaching consensus on development-related matters. Two of the more unlikely allies on this issue are Peter Weldon, Winter Park’s newest P&Z board member and City Commissioner Carolyn Cooper. Even though Weldon and Cooper both support the proposed CDD in one form or another, they – along with most of the city commission – stand with the many city residents who wrote in to city hall opposing the city’s revenue-sharing plan.

Leary: Is Revenue-Sharing All That Different from Past Developer Incentives Given by City?

Even though the winds of ILA disapproval were blowing strong during the March 25 hearing, Commissioner Leary boldly tread where few were willing to go. Addressing his fellow commissioners, Leary started out with a disclaimer: “I’m not crazy about this, the way it exists . . .” then began to tick off a list of concessions and variances the city has offered other area developments including the Alfond Inn and Unicorp’s proposed Lakeside center on Lake Killarney. Leary reminded the commission that “we do things for people all the time” and noted the “nine million dollars . . . for the Fairbanks sewer project” committed by the city.

Leary “Disturbed” by Tone of Ravaudage Funding Debate

Mr. Leary then turned to the tone of the funding debate as expressed by some citizen letters he’s read: “I’ve seen emails come across – and I’m also frankly quite disturbed that it’s an individual that [has received] most of the vitriol and not the project . . . We’ve approved projects up here – all of us – that have been for supporters of ours during our election campaigns, and for people who didn’t support us. And, hopefully we’ve all looked at those projects [and said] it’s either good for the city or bad for the city.”

Leary continued with a list of revenue-sharing pros and cons: “I’m not crazy about 35 years – I think that’s crazy . . . the total amount – I think we need to address that . . . What I did like about it is that it’s incremental revenue . . . I keep trying to tell people . . . they say ‘You’re looking at taking money from us.’ I say ‘No we’re not’ . . . If we can help incentivize the development over there, it’s incremental tax revenue – it’s not coming out of anybody’s pocket in the city of Winter Park.”

Mr. Leary’s comments and comments from other commissioners can be viewed in the WPV Video below.

Monday’s Commission meeting starts at 3:30 P.M.

WPV requested comment from the Mayor, Commissioners and Dan Bellows. No comments were received as of press time.

3/25/13 Story Update:

Dan Bellows can’t have been happy with the reception his “Interlocal” revenue-sharing proposal got at City Hall tonight.

Though it seems likely he’d gotten wind of commissioners’ objections prior to the hearing, he may not have been prepared for the intensity of the commission’s negative response.

No vote was held on the Interlocal agreement tonight, but Bellows now knows he’s got a lot of work to do to move commissioners in his direction.

On the other hand, Commissioners were far more supportive of Bellows’ petition to create a CDD. The CDD will enable him to raise his own development funds using tax-free municipal bonds. Unlike the Interlocal agreement, the CDD will not entitle Ravaudage to any share of city/CDD property taxes.

The Voice’s next installment of Ravaudage coverage will include more reporting and video of tonight’s City Commission meeting.

Though this week did not start well for Dan Bellows and his development team, last Monday marked the beginning of a sort of official “debut” for Bellows’ Ravaudage — with Bellows shuttling his party of legal and financial experts from one city event to the next. First up last week was Monday’s Ravaudage workshop, followed the next day by another appearance of the experts at the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB). Click here to read Ravaudage column by Owen Beitsch, Asst. Chair, EDAB.

Last Tuesday’s EDAB meeting featured questions from the EDAB panel and testimony from Bellows’ team that ultimately garnered an EDAB “thumbs up” for Bellows’ CDD and multi-million dollar revenue-sharing proposal. However, on Friday, Bellows’ development vehicle blew a tire when news leaked out that Ravaudage had lost its bid to build a new baseball stadium for Rollins and a local minor league team.

The proposed baseball stadium was seen by some at the city as an important factor distinguishing Ravaudage from other nearby developments that are expected to emerge soon. Dori Stone, Winter Park’s Economic Development Director, went so far as to name the stadium as an important reason the city is considering subsidizing Ravaudage development.

Developer Backs Off Request for 75% of Ravaudage Tax Revenues

In an interview last Friday, City Manager, Randy Knight revealed to the Voice that the 75-25% revenue split with Ravaudage (proposed for the first five years of the deal) is now off the table. Instead, the city will consider an even 50-50 split of revenues for the 35 year life span of the Interlocal agreement. Sources inside city hall believe that this concession is being offered as a way to help eliminate city losses projected during the first five years of the revenue-sharing period – and to smooth the way for approval of the project.

Will Dan Bellows Be First “Mayor” of Ravaudage?

At Monday’s City Commission workshop, Bellows’ financial analyst, Brett Sealy, bluntly described the political power the city will be granting the developments if it approves the CDD: “CDDs are governed very much the way [the city is] governed. A CDD board is, initially, appointed by the land owner. It’s got five supervisors.” Sealy confirmed that Ravaudage will eventually be run by “qualified electors within the district” who are elected starting six years (or more) after the initial board of supervisors is set up.

Sealy said that many governmental functions will remain with the city of Winter Park including police, fire, zoning and other regulatory powers. However, as City Manager Knight told the Voice, some regulatory powers including the right to grant “conditional use” variances to Ravaudage businesses and residents will/may reside with the Ravaudage board—a right established prior to Ravaudage annexation into the city of Winter Park. Also, according to Ravaudage attorney, Jan Carpenter, the district board will have the right to foreclose on properties within the CDD that default on CDD assessments.

What, Exactly, is City Getting for Its Money? Can Developer Change Plans at Will?

Sources inside City Hall tell the Voice that Ravaudage developers have wide latitude to pick and choose the businesses and residents who will ultimately make up the commercial/retail/residential mix inside the CDD. It appears that the developer is limited mainly by the overall percentage of each type of occupancy noted on his current plan. (See land use details in earlier story below.)

A common refrain among some city staffers and politicians on the question of sharing city property taxes with Ravaudage is: Would you rather have 50% of something or 100% of nothing? Others have noted that developers have successfully invested — and continue to invest — their own money on significant developments within a mile of Ravaudage. Winter Park Village is one notable example. As reported earlier, City Manager, Randy Knight told the Voice that he believes development at Ravaudage would proceed at Ravaudage without funding from the city — albeit more slowly.

On Friday, Knight told the Voice he believes that — despite the loss of the proposed baseball stadium — the city’s investment in Ravaudage development can still be justified as a way to fast-forward infrastructure in the area. Knight also pointed out that infrastructure assistance is not needed by other nearby developments, because of the better-developed infrastructure in those areas.

Winter Park Voice readers who closely follow development in the Lee Road/17-92 area have pointed out that traffic impact studies at the county level are not yet complete — leading to the conclusion that lack of definitive transportation studies in the area may, at some future date, impact development in and around the Ravaudage traffic corridor.

Is “Blight” a Development Strategy?

City Development Director, Dori Stone, Mr. Bellows and others at the city have defined the Ravaudage development as a “blighted” section of the city with poor infrastructure. Advocates of the development proposal have leaned heavily on this designation to justify the extraordinary support being asked of the city.

There is no question that much of the Ravaudage area, which was governed by Orange County before annexation into Winter Park, has suffered from under-developed infrastructure for many years. It’s also true that Mr. Bellows has owned many of these properties for years.

During a recent commission hearing on Bellows’ blighted properties on Winter Park’s Westside, local builder John Skolfield characterized Bellows’ development strategy as “Rezoning by neglect.” Skolfield’s colorful presentation – and Bellows’ even more colorful four-word rebuttal can be viewed (at 21:00) by clicking the WPV YouTube image below.

Will Our Children Be Telling “Bellows Stories” 50 Years From Now?

Dan Bellows appears to be well on his way to establishing himself as a gifted and troublesome local legend. Over the many years that Bellows has worked with Winter Park’s politicians and regulators, he’s established a reputation as a hard driving, but persuasive negotiator in his interactions with city staff, board members and commissioners.

The Orlando Sentinel’s Scott Maxwell just re-posted an old news story on his blog that details Bellows’ history including a tribute to his ability to get his projects approved under the most trying circumstances, including the time Bellows “got into a physical fight — during a planning and zoning meeting at Winter Park — and still won 3-2 approval on the project he was seeking, even after the police had been called.”

Sometimes, however, Bellows’ intensity backfires, as illustrated in a recent Observer story featuring Maitland Councilwoman Bev Reponen accusing Bellows of attempting to “bully” the Maitland city council and staff in recent Ravaudage-related negotiations.

Even though Bellows’ property acquisition tactics and political maneuvers sometimes rub city residents and politicians the wrong way — he has often succeeded in convincing Winter Park’s P&Z members and city commissioners that what’s good for Dan can also be good for the city.

The most recent case in point is Bellow’s successful bid to get the city of Winter Park to rezone his properties on Lyman Ave, a few blocks from city hall. Even though the developer did not get all he asked for, he did manage to get the city to change several westside single-family residential lots to R-2 multi-family zoning.

Westside Express — First Stop: Planning & Zoning Board

Bellow’s first stop in his attempt effect this change was an appearance before the city’s Planning and Zoning board. He managed to win over one or more reluctant board members by insisting that his plan to get the westside property rezoned was the only way he could seal a deal to sell the properties to another developer. One reluctant member, architect Randall Slocum, had trouble understanding why Bellows needed to rush the approval, instead of waiting for an upcoming review of city-owned property adjoining Bellows’ properties. Board chair, Sara Whiting, voiced the same concern.

Board interest in waiting for the review appeared to be an attempt to better understand whether Bellows’ plan to introduce multi-family housing into the historic single-family-zoned westside neighborhood would be a good fit with plans to develop adjoining properties. However, any reluctance on the board was overcome shortly after Bellows sat in the almost-deserted commission chamber loudly repeating over and over that any delay would “blow the whole deal.” Board member Tom Sacha took Bellows’ plea to heart and repeated it on the dais as he advocated for a quick decision by fellow board members that would approve the rezoning and send it on to the city commission for final approval.

Soon after, the P&Z board endorsed the rezoning of the Lyman Avenue property in 6 to 1 vote, with Sara Whiting casting the only “no” vote.

Westside Express — Second & Final Stop: City Commission

When the rezoning proposal moved to the city commission for approval, Bellows once again encountered — and once again overcame — reluctance to approve his request. One of the reluctant commissioners was Sarah Sprinkel who, at the start of the hearing, declared “We’re talking about changing the rules to all these families . . . they are all single-family homes . . . we’re impacting those people and I just don’t want to do that. I just think that’s wrong . . . What if this happened in my neighborhood? . . . I would be fighting it tooth and nail.” But after many comments by other commissioners, pro and con — and impassioned pleas from Bellows and a Bellows opponent — Bellows once again worked his magic: Sprinkel reversed herself and joined Commissioner Leary and Mayor Bradley in approving Bellows’ multi-family re-zoning request on a 3-2 vote.

WPV requested comment from the Mayor, Commissioners and P&Z board members. None were received as of press time.


3/22/13 Story Update:

Earlier today, the Voice officially confirmed whispers within the community that the plan to build a new baseball stadium at Dan Bellows’ Ravaudage has fallen apart.

In an interview with the Voice this afternoon, City Manager, Randy Knight, stated simply that “The group interested in bringing minor league baseball to Winter Park has decided not to locate at Ravaudage.”

Who Put the Kibosh on Ravaudage?

City officials have not been at liberty to reveal which team has been negotiating with the city and developers for the new stadium. However, an article in Ballpark Digest suggests that it is the Brevard County Manatees: “It’s no secret the Manatees have laid the paperwork and groundwork for a move to the greater Orlando area . . . The plan from developer Dan Bellows calls for a new $12-million ballpark to house both the Rollins baseball program and the Manatees, replacing Alford Stadium at Harper-Shepherd Field for the Tars and Space Coast Stadium for the Manatees.”

The Digest admits that the plan was “not written in stone” and now it appears that the focus is shifting elsewhere in Winter Park, or beyond. City Manager Knight remains hopeful, adding that “We’re looking at other locations” within the city.

The Voice will publish more Ravaudage news and analysis soon. Stay tuned.


3/17/13 Story:

Longtime Winter Park developer, Dan Bellows, has been assembling a 54 acre patchwork of properties on the corner of Lee Road and 17-92 for well over a decade. And now, after talking to City Hall for years about his Ravaudage development, he’s within weeks of securing a Community Development District (CDD) “partnership” with the city.

This partnership will provide significant infrastructure funding for Ravaudage. The CDD and an accompanying “Interlocal” agreement would set up the CDD – which will be controlled by Bellows’ development company, Benjamin Partners, Ltd. – to receive/raise close to $70 million in tax revenues, fees and bond money generated by the district over a span of 30+ years. These funds will be earmarked for infrastructure development within the district, but will not exceed the actual cost of development and/or bond debt, according to Randy Knight, Winter Park’s City Manager. Infrastructure includes parks, recreational facilities, water, sewer and power lines, traffic lights and other similar structures.

City’s Ravaudage Workshop Set for Tomorrow at 4:00 PM

This coming Monday, March 18, at 4:00 PM, the City Commission has scheduled a workshop that kicks off the final stretch of hearings required to give Bellows and his development company the permissions and revenues he’s requesting from the city. These City Commission hearings are tentatively scheduled for March 25 and April 8.

In an interview with the Voice on Friday, City Manager Randy Knight characterized the proposed CDD as a sort of “Homeowners Association” writ large – “a governmental entity” with “certain powers” including the authority to “assess properties within that district for infrastructure . . . and only within the district. No properties excluded from the district can be assessed. It can build infrastructure; it can bond using tax-exempt debt, which is a huge
advantage . . . they will have a board, just like a city commission.”

This board will be comprised (initially) of the current property owners, Bellows’ Benjamin Partners. Eventually, however, other businesses and residents of the Ravaudage district will take positions on the governing board.

Knight pointed out that regulatory powers including the right to issue building permits will be retained by the city of Winter Park. And, according to Knight, Ravaudage is still responsible for paying development-related impact fees to the city, which will not be shared with the CDD, should it be approved by the commission.

Documents created by the city’s Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) on December 18, 2012 show that the development will include:

–489 residential units
–320 hotel rooms,
–323,100 sq. ft. of retail space and
–891,000 sq. ft. of office space.

What Happens If City Doesn’t Approve Funding?

City Commissioners could decide to approve the CDD, but not the Interlocal agreement. Without an approved Interlocal agreement and the millions of dollars it obligates the city to share with Ravaudage developers, Bellows and Benjamin Partners would have to raise funds by selling tax-exempt CDD bonds and by other conventional means on the open market. City Manager Knight commented that this approach would undoubtedly slow – but not stop – the pace of development at Ravaudage.

CDD Defaults Trigger Closer Scrutiny in Florida

CDDs are a tool used by developers throughout Florida to obtain upfront financing for their projects. In recent years, use of this tool has become controversial – primarily because a significant portion of these CDDs have gone into default leaving someone other than the developer liable for CDD debt.

Industry newsletters, press reports and other sources indicate that market declines in recent years have affected the CDD default rate – which is pegged variously at 15 to 25%. Richard Lehmann, a widely quoted analyst with the Income Securities Advisor investment firm, noted in 2011 that “there are presently 168 CDD districts in Florida which are in default on over $5.1 billion in bonds.” Lehmann, who also writes a newsletter for Forbes magazine, estimates that Florida is home to approximately 600 CDDs.

The questionable health of some Florida CDDs is a sticking point for some city residents who have expressed concern that the city may be “on the hook” for Ravaudage CCD payments if the developer defaults at some point in the future.

In his interview with the Voice, City Manager Randy Knight stated unequivocally that the city would not be liable if the Ravaudage CDD were to go into default: “There is no risk to the city at all.” Knight added that if the CDD defaults on it bonds, “The bond holders cannot come back to the city and say ‘We want our money’ . . . There is no way they come back on the city . . . We’re not putting the taxpayers of Winter Park at risk.”

How Are Funds Generated for CDD Developers?

The City Manager explained that the city’s deal (should it be approved by the commission) will involve two funding elements: the first being a CDD that will give Bellows and the Ravaudage principals the right to raise funds using tax-free bonds. The second element is an Interlocal agreement wherein the city will agree to hand over to Ravaudage developers a significant portion of taxes and other revenue the city receives from businesses and individuals residing INSIDE the Ravaudage development district for the next 35 years – not unlike the CDDs formed to fund Baldwin Park, Celebration and the Millenia Mall.

According to Mr. Knight, businesses located inside the special district will also be responsible for paying a Public User Fee or “PUF” to the developer that amounts to 1% of their revenues. These businesses usually pass on the 1% “PUF” assessment to their customers. PUF funds will be used for common area maintenance within the development. The City Manager noted that developers have the right to require this fee whether or not a CDD is created.

Knight: CDD shares in city taxes and fees collected only INSIDE the boundaries of the CDD

In response to community concerns noted during our interview with Knight, he stressed again that the city will only contribute to the CDD a share of taxes and fees collected from new businesses and new residents INSIDE the boundaries of the CDD – not from city revenues collected elsewhere in the city.

Knight confirmed that development inside the boundaries of Ravaudage, as currently envisioned, will include a mix of commercial/retail business, office buildings and Baldwin Park-style housing. Bellows, Rollins College and the city are also discussing the possibility of partnering on a baseball stadium that could house a professional minor-league team part of the year and also accommodate the Rollins team. The Voice requested documentation of stadium discussions, but was told that documents pertaining to that negotiation are not yet available for public review. Other sources tell the Voice that these documents are being shielded at the request of Rollins College.

How Will Ravaudage – With or Without CDD Approval – Impact City Life?

It is expected that upcoming Ravaudage hearings will give city officials and citizens an opportunity to address a number of concerns expressed in recent Voice interviews with city residents, including:

–Traffic impact
–Impact on city services including police, fire and other vital services
–Whether independently-owned businesses and homeowners currently residing inside CDD boundaries will face forced sale through eminent domain if city approves CDD
–How the city plans to thoroughly vet those who will be running the CDD

A review of city documents that are available, including meeting minutes and other files, reveals the depth of detail and many pieces of the puzzle that Mr. Bellows and the city have been assembling since at least 2009. Some of those files can be viewed by clicking the buttons shown below.

Interlocal Agmt    CDD Agmt/Staff Review    2011 City Workshop

The following language is excerpted from the proposed Interlocal agreement sent to the Voice by the city on Friday, March 15. The entire agreement can be viewed by clicking the “Interlocal Agmt” button above.

From the Interlocal Agreement, Article 5 “Economic Incentive Payments” (EIP):

The value of EIP for each Fiscal Year shall be computed in the manner set forth in this Section 5.02.

(A) Construction of the Project and its various components as described in Section 5.01, as supported by the District’s publicly funded capital infrastructure, is projected to generate substantial economic benefits to the City. EIP will be made by the City in proportion to the volume of the existing and future development located inside the City’s boundaries and inside the District as described below. The valuation for existing development within the District shall be determined in accordance with Section 5.04. EIP will be equal to the sum of the components listed below (and any other taxes levied by the City pursuant to Chapters 161, 202 and 206 Florida Statutes (or similar state law) and franchise fees:

1) An amount from the City’s general fund equal to a percentage of the increase in the City’s annual ad valorem property tax revenue attributable to the Project’s development and collected from properties located within the District. Such property tax increment shall be determined annually and shall be that amount equal to seventy-five percent (75%) (for the first full five years after the establishment of the District, changing to fifty percent (50%) thereafter) of the difference between:

a. The amount of ad valorem taxes levied each year by the City, exclusive of any amount from any debt service millage, on taxable real property contained within the geographic boundaries of the District and subject to the jurisdiction of the District; and

b. The amount of ad valorem taxes which would have been produced by the rate upon which the tax is levied each year by the City, exclusive of any debt service millage, upon the total of the assessed value of the taxable real property in the District as shown upon the most recent assessment roll used in connection with the taxation of such property by the City prior to the effective date of this Agreement.

c. Nothing herein shall require the City to establish a particular rate of millage except as provided or required by general law or previously existing bond covenants unrelated to District bonds.

2) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s 6% public service tax for electric service attributable to properties contained within the geographic boundaries of the District and subject to the jurisdiction of the District, to the extent such taxes are paid to or received by the City.

3) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s electric service franchise fee equivalent attributable to properties contained within the geographic boundaries and subject to the jurisdiction of the District.

4) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s 10% public service tax for water service attributable to properties contained within the geographic boundaries and subject to the jurisdiction of the District, to the extent such taxes are paid to or received by the City.

5) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s 10% public service tax for metered natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas both metered or bottled, and manufactured gas tax attributable to properties contained within the geographic boundaries of the District, to the extent such taxes are paid to or received by the City and it is reasonably determined that such taxes are generated by properties within the District.

6) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s public service tax for fuel oil, and any motor and other vehicle fuel taxes, attributable to properties contained within the geographic boundaries of the District.

7) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s local communications services tax attributable to properties located contained within the geographic boundaries of the District.

8) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s garbage waste franchise fee, if any such fee is collected by the City, from properties contained within the geographic boundaries and subject to the jurisdiction of the District.

(B) In each calendar year, the District will submit a Progress Report to the City outlining the volume of Completed Project Components in the previous Benefit Determination Year, as provided in Section 5.04.

(C) The City will compute the EIP based on the Progress Report according to the EIP Calculation as provided in Section 5.02.

(D) The City shall provide at the time of payment each year a report outlining all EIP revenues identified in Sections 5.01 and 5.02 of this Agreement as generated by properties located within the District. The City shall show within the report the revenues received per category and based upon the Progress Report submitted by the District, the EIP payments made as a percentage of revenues generated within the District. The Finance Director for the City shall certify the accuracy of the report to the District and remit said report to District with a sworn statement as to the accuracy of the report.

The Voice has asked Dan Bellows and all City Commissioners and the Mayor to comment on this story. None have commented as of press time.

This article has been updated to include more recent CDD default information.

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