Saving Winter Park’s Unique Character

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

Saving Winter Park’s Unique Character

Guest Columnist Bob Bendick

Winter Park is becoming an island in a sea of urban sprawl.

I was reminded of this a couple of days after the recent forum on the future of Winter Park at Rollins College, when I drove to St Petersburg for a meeting. There was a lot of traffic both going and returning, but It was not just the time lost sitting bumper to bumper that made the day tiring–it was also the scale and pace of the I-4 corridor which is quickly becoming one almost-continuous 100-mile wide urbanized area.

The day’s drive and my relief in arriving back in Winter Park, and taking a walk with the evening clouds reflected in Lake Virginia, made me think more about the Rollins forum.

What is it about Winter Park that still makes it such a good place to live? From my perspective five positive attributes of our city were highlighted at the forum by the presentations of the panelists and the question and answer session that followed.

Winter Park retains a human scale

Winter Park was originally planned and continues to retain a comfortable human scale, in contrast to the increasingly large and impersonal scale of the surrounding metro area — think ten lanes of rushing traffic on the soon-to-be-completed widening of I-4.

Greenspace, lakes and trees connect people and nature

Greenspace, lakes and trees bring people into contact with nature in every part of our city. The tree canopy reduces air pollution and traffic noise. Views of the lakes are everywhere, and our parks are heavily used.

There are many opportunities for walking and biking within the city

It is possible and enjoyable to walk or bike in Winter Park, particularly to and around the downtown area. Where heavily trafficked roads decrease walkability, like the 17-92 and Fairbanks/Aloma corridors, the quality of the Winter Park experience is diminished.

Winter Park has a sense of place and history including a vibrant town center

Unlike so much of Florida today, Winter Park is not generic. It has a coherent history that is reflected in its architecture and, particularly, in Rollins College and its downtown. It conveys a sense of place — not just anyplace.

The city is a diverse community

Winter Park thankfully retains racial and ethnic diversity, which enriches the life and culture of the city. It is still a community with events that bring people together in shared experiences.
As is the case in other places around the country that have managed to retain a distinctive grace and character, people want to move here.

Winter Park is at a crossroads.

The pressure for more development and redevelopment is not necessarily negative unless that growth undermines those attributes that make the community a good and unique place to live and work. Winter Park can accommodate growth and change while planning on a community-wide basis to retain the assets that make it unique.

We need to add greenspace to balance growth

This means adding and connecting greenspace as the city grows, ensuring that new development is consistent with the scale and character of the city, resisting and, where possible, mitigating the impacts of heavily trafficked transportation corridors on our quality of life. It means creating new opportunities for alternatives to automobiles, consciously acting to retain the diversity of the community, and reinforcing the vitality of our downtown.

Planning for investment in the City will foster a robust economy

The experience of similar communities is that planning for public and private investment that further enhances the city’s character will not diminish the city’s economy, but will make it that much more attractive for quality development. Perhaps more importantly, respecting the unique assets identified by the Rollins College panel will help ensure that Winter Park will still feel like home to the generations of residents who follow us.

Rollins Panel on WP Future Draws Capacity Crowd

Rollins Panel on WP Future Draws Capacity Crowd

A standing-room-only crowd filled Rollins’ Suntrust Auditorium last night as panelists engaged the audience in a lively discussion about Winter Park’s future.

An audience of Winter Park residents and Rollins students joined panelists, former Commissioner Pam Peters, Entrepreneur Steve Goldman, Architect Phil Kean and Mayor Steve Leary, to explore how our city will navigate the opportunities and the issues facing it now and in the years to come.

Videos are in two parts, below, and last about an hour total.

Parking Code Gets the Green Light

Applies to Park Ave. CBD, New England Ave. in Hannibal Square & Orange Ave. Corridor

Parking Code Gets the Green Light

Commissioners voted Monday, Oct. 22, to approve the revised parking code proposed by the City Planning Department on the first reading. The second and final reading is scheduled for the November 12 meeting.

Code revisions apply specifically to the Central Business District (CBD) along the Park Avenue corridor, the New England Avenue commercial portion of the Hannibal Square neighborhood and the Orange Avenue corridor. The revised codes are the culmination of more than a year’s work by parking consultant Kimley-Horn.

No ‘Fee-in-Lieu’

Originally, the revised ordinance contained six elements. Before their discussion commenced, however, Commissioners excluded the element that would have created a fee-in-lieu of parking, whereby a property owner could pay for required parking within a city-owned parking facility without actually having to provide dedicated parking spaces at their property. This has the effect of leveling the playing field, eliminating any advantage wealthier developers might have over less wealthy ones.

Summary of Major Changes

Under the new ordinance, anyone converting retail or office space to restaurant use in any of these areas, including Park Avenue, must provide the increased parking required for restaurant use.

The ordinance would change the distance permitted for off-site parking from 300 feet to 750 feet. To walk 750 feet takes about five minutes.

The ordinance provides for the use of the Urban Land Institute’s Shared Parking analysis as a reference for determining when and how shared parking will be permitted.

Parking requirements for new retail and general office space will change from four spaces per 1,000 square feet to three spaces per 1,000 square feet.

Finally, parking requirements for large office buildings will be four spaces per 1,000 square feet for the first 20,000 square feet of the building, then will transition to three spaces per 1,000 square feet for all floor area in excess of 20,000 square feet.

‘Grandfather’ Clause

The ordinance will include a “vesting provision,” so that anyone already in the process of designing a project who submits site plans and/or floor plans for City approval by the date of adoption of the ordinance can continue under the current parking code, provided they apply for a building permit by Dec. 31, 2018, and begin construction by March 1, 2019.

Traffic Increase Zooms Toward Lee Road

Traffic Studies Show, Better to Place Horse in Front of Cart

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

Traffic Increase Zooms Toward Lee Road

Guest Columnist Todd Weaver

Change is inevitable. The only thing we can control is the rate of change, and the important thing is how we manage that change rate. The Ravaudage development is set to bring major change to Lee Road at 17-92. How well is the City equipped to manage the change and the rate at which that change happens in this sector of Winter Park? Especially relevant: are the roads equipped to handle the increased traffic this development will generate?

Monday, the Winter Park City Commission will address another round of variance requests, building plans and setback deviations submitted by Dan Bellows, the developer of the ever-expanding Ravaudage juggernaut.

The Development Review Committee (DRC), consisting of highly-skilled staffers from City departments involved in the review and approval of site or building development projects, met last week to discuss these requests. With some conditions, all the requests were approved and will go to the Commission on Monday.

Requests for Setbacks, Waivers & Variances Abound

One request is for a zero-foot setback for a 6- to 8-story office building just west of Peacock Ford. This large office building, which will become the view from the single-family lakefront homes across the street in Maitland, is but a single element in a development that will include two major hotels, the rack-‘em-and-stack-‘em apartment buildings currently under construction, a retirement home and a host of other smaller out-buildings that will house restaurants, shops and smaller offices.

What’s the Plan to Handle the Increased Traffic?

Solutions to handle the sharp increase in traffic this out-of-scale development will generate are still on the drawing board. The Planned Development (PD) agreement with Orange County, negotiated prior to this PD’s re-annexation into Winter Park, includes alignment of Bennett Avenue and Executive Drive with an FDOT-approved traffic light on Lee Road.

Send the Traffic Through K-Mart Plaza?

The developer asked the DRC to waive the requirement for the alignment, because it would cause him to lose approximately half an acre at that intersection that he could otherwise develop. Bellows floated the idea of positioning the traffic light to move traffic through the former K-Mart plaza. Due to the complexity of adding a traffic light on a State road, the requirement to align Bennet and Executive was postponed for an additional year for further study. It could be years before traffic at this critical intersection will receive the direction it needs.

17-92 Design Modifications Years Out

A design modification to 17-92 to resolve the bike and pedestrian connectivity in the area is in the works, but that design is at the 60 percent level and rests entirely in FDOT hands. The modifications do not increase the number of motorized vehicle travel lanes. The construction completion date is uncertain, but years off.

No Plans for Lynx Terminal or Firehouse

Other conditions required of the Ravaudage PD were a Lynx terminal and a firehouse. Those two seem easier, but neither appears in the current plans.

Meanwhile, Back at Orange Avenue . . .

At the same time, City officials are pushing for high-intensity redevelopment along Orange Avenue, complete with an additional Sunrail station. A new station is a good idea if funding is available, but shouldn’t we consider a rail station at Ravaudage first?

How Will Traffic Increase Benefit Winter Park?

Just because the traffic statistics floated by City officials show our traffic numbers haven’t increased in 18 years, should we buy into the notion that a significant increase in traffic will be a boon for Winter Park?

Add to the rapid infill of giant apartment complexes in Maitland the proposal for 562 residential units, 320 hotel rooms and 1,254,357 square feet of commercial and office space at Ravaudage. Then ask yourself: how will the imminent explosion of traffic benefit residents or legacy businesses?

A change is in order, but the rate of change is out of control. Mr. Bellows was granted his entitlements from Orange County. Is it Winter Park’s responsibility or in Winter Park’s best interest to dole out more before the traffic infrastructure is in place?

Winter Park needs to put the transportation horse out in front of the Ravaudage cart.

 

Todd Weaver is a semi-retired aerospace engineer, engineering consultant and company president who has lived in his Winter Park home for 22 years.

We Can’t Hear You!

Open Letter to the City of Winter Park

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

We Can’t Hear You!

Guest Columnist Jim Fitch

The September 24 Winter Park Commission meeting was an embarrassment to the City of Winter Park. Taxpayers, who fund all City operations one way or another, attend these meetings in order to be informed. The City needs to be more respectful of citizens whose taxes keep the City running and whose votes elect the Commission.

Hearing & Seeing = Believing

It is very difficult for those of us who regularly attend the twice-monthly Commission meetings to hear, to see or to understand the proceedings. It is hard to believe this is intentional – even when controversial topics like The Canopy are being discussed.

Full Names, Please

City staff making presentations frequently fail to state their full names and positions. They are known to the Commission (e.g., “Troy”), but there is often a failure to inform the audience. Most presenters address their remarks to the Commissioners and not to the public.

Don’t Ignore the Microphones

The Mayor mumbles, the City Manager mumbles and Commissioners Seidel and Cooper do not speak into their microphones. The result is that the audience must strain to hear the discussion – and is completely left out of the side banter between Mayor Leary and Commissioner Sprinkel. Only Commissioners Sprinkel and Weldon speak clearly enough to be understood.

Make the Visuals Visible

Even though the Commissioners have laptops and document packets in front of them, they sometimes seem ill-informed about what is going on. Document screen shots projected for the public are, more often than not, too small to be legible. No laser pointers are used – Mayor Leary says it would only cover one of the two screens.

If the presenter’s lectern were placed in the center of the room in front of the dais, the presenter could use a laser pointer on both screens.

Appoint a ‘Listener’

The City should also place a listener at the back of the chamber to monitor audio levels and alert the Commissioners and presenters when their remarks cannot be heard. Presenters and Commissioners alike should pay attention to the public when people in the audience signal that they cannot hear.

We Need New Mikes

The City should invest in higher quality wide angle microphones or individual lavalier microphones, rather than the uni-directional ones now in use, so that the official discussion, as well as the side banter, is clearly audible to the audience.

If It’s a Public Meeting, Citizens Deserve to Be Able to Hear & See
Not only are the current practices disrespectful to the citizens of Winter Park, they are a violation of the Sunshine Law. This is an easy fix – please do something to correct this situation.

How Would You Vote on the WP Library Today?

How Would You Vote on the WP Library Today?

Since the Library Bond Referendum, which called for a “new library and events center consisting of library facilities, civic meeting and gathering facilities and related parking structure, and improvements incidental thereto, and the demolition of the existing civic center” was passed in March 2016, plans for the facilities seem to have morphed into something slightly different than the voters might have envisioned in 2016.

The Voice would like to know how its readers feel about the library’s evolution into the current project, The Canopy. By answering the questions below, you will let us know how you regard the project and you will also see how your neighbors are feeling about it.

Click the link below to vote.

Library Plan Goes Forward

Library Plan Goes Forward

City commissioners charged ahead this week with final approval of the site plan for their new library and civic center, despite an advisory board’s concerns.

Earlier this month, the city’s planning and zoning board opted for only preliminary approval of the project because unanswered questions remained, especially about stormwater drainage.

The 4-1 vote on Monday to approve the site plan included Commissioner Greg Seidel, a civil engineer, in the majority. He said he reviewed the stormwater plan and “didn’t see any deal breakers.” Commissioner Carolyn Cooper, who raised questions about the cost of dealing with some of the project’s risks, voted against the site plan.

Commissioners did endorse one recommendation from their advisory board: They agreed to consider tearing down the Lake Island Hall recreation building to add 36 more parking places to the site plan.

Seidel’s support came with two suggestions that were not acted upon. First, he wanted the city to pre-treat the stormwater before it pours into the lake. At the very least, he said, the city should remove trash from the drainage. “It’s not that expensive.” Mayor Steve Leary declined to endorse the idea but didn’t rule it out. “I’d want to know how much that would cost,” Leary said.

Second, Seidel proposed putting a parking garage at the southwest corner of the site where a parking lot is planned, using non-library funds to build it. He noted that a garage there wouldn’t interfere with the look of the two new buildings and could serve area businesses and park users as well. More importantly, he said, it would make sense to build the garage with CRA funds intended for the redevelopment of the central business district. Commissioners were not enthused. “The parking issue won’t be resolved until we have experience with the facilities,” Commissioner Pete Weldon said.

Commissioners felt comfortable ignoring their advisory board after city Planning Manager Jeff Briggs said that board was “not as familiar” with the site-plan issues as city commissioners were. “There doesn’t appear to be a lot of logic bringing it back” to the board after the Saint Johns River Water Management District reviews it, Briggs said. The district in the next few weeks will decide whether to permit the city’s proposal to channel stormwater overflow from Lake Mendsen into Lake Rose, the site of the city’s huge 1981 sinkhole.

The total cost of many elements of the site plan remain unknown. That’s not unusual for developers, but the city lacks deep pockets for the project. Unknowns include, for example: the cost of tearing down the recreation building; the cost of trying to save even a few of the 63 protected trees targeted for removal; the cost of stormwater pretreatment; and the cost of removing more muck if necessary. The placement of the library and civic center had to be shifted after soil borings disclosed deep levels of muck on the site.
Cooper asked if the city has budgeted enough to deal with all the risks. “I’m fine accepting the fact that we can fix it with money. The question is how much [money] and should we?” Other commissioners did not share her concerns. If more costs arise, Weldon said, “trade-offs will have to be made,” as happens to “any developer.”

Is Stormwater the Canary in the Coal Mine?

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

Is Stormwater the Canary in the Coal Mine?

Guest Columnist Charley Williams

If ever a project needed to hit the “pause button” this one is it—staring us right in the face.

The stormwater component, as outlined in this piece, is the red flag alert.
The designated stormwater basin (of which Lake Mendsen is the receiving end) is already at capacity (Saint Johns River Water Management District). It already serves the Paseo, Winter Park Village, runoff from US 17-92 and 74 more acres. We all know the site at Morse and Denning/Harper floods–badly. Yes, we will experience future rain/storm events. Count on it. Also of note, current conditions offer an irony: Lake Killarney sits higher than Mendsen. That’s a problem. What’s more, Lake Rose, which sits at the other end of MLK Jr Park, is being proposed as the overflow-reliever. Lake Rose is a sinkhole. Lake Rose is not wholly owned by the city. In order for the city to solve the stormwater conundrum, it will need to purchase property it currently does not control. Citizens will lose yet more park greenspace if either lake needs to be enlarged. Is that fair? We are already looking at over 8% of the original park footprint being diverted to development. And now we are increasing that number? Yes!

Which brings me to this wish list: (the good news: it’s not too late, if there is political will)

1. Save the trees on the northwest corner of the library property: Right now, up to 63 trees are slated to be lost. After all, this was a park first. Is the rebranding of the project to “Canopy” an outright taunt?

2. Reclaim the lost square footage chopped out of the library project. The proposal adds only 600 square feet over our current library, with no café, no bookstore. That’s not what the citizens’ were promised—we were promised 50,000 square feet. Get it back. Function over form. Why are we short-changing future generations? Winter Park will continue to grow. Plan for it! We are paying architects $2 million to solve that problem. Have they?

3. Work harder to integrate the structures with the Park experience. Current designs operate as if on two parallel universes. The buildings ignore the park. How can that be? The park is an outright gift—embrace it.

4. Parking: we were promised a garage. Where is it? Priority: Convenience (and safety) for our seniors.

5. Green building standards: where is the solar component? This is Florida!

6. Finally—work to acquire the private holdings along Fairbanks that abut MLK Park. Add these parcels to the masterplan park acreage. The prior CRA made this a priority. (Loss of the Bowling Alley was monumental). Yes, this might just compensate for the loss of park space

In the NW corner of MLK Jr Park: fair is fair.

WP Sinkhole Back in the News

WP Sinkhole Back in the News

Winter Park’s infamous 1981 sinkhole is gobbling up attention in the latest debate over the city’s planned library and civic center.

City commissioners Monday will decide if they share an advisory board’s concerns that the sinkhole – now called Lake Rose – will have to play a major role in handling stormwater from the site.

Stormwater retention was one of two major issues that gave the planning and zoning board pause last week in considering the proposed library plan. Parking was the board’s other stumbling block.

City staff asked the advisory board to make a final decision about the complete site plan, but the board gave it only preliminary approval and added two conditions. First, it wanted more detailed information about the stormwater plan once the St. Johns River Water Management District approves it, a process that could take another three weeks. Second, it wanted city commissioners to explore finding 36 more parking spaces, a move that could result in the demolition of the Lake Island Hall recreation building.

No matter how the advisory board voted, city staff said later in the meeting, the city commission this Monday could override that recommendation and give the project final approval.

At the heart of the board’s concerns is the city’s plan to run a pipeline from Lake Mendsen, which would be next to the new buildings, to Lake Rose. The idea is to allow excess water from the larger lake to drain into Lake Rose during hurricanes and heavy rains.

Board member Bob Hahn pushed for the planning board’s two conditions, saying he needed to see additional study of the water management issue to make sure the idea would work. “I’m comfortable with moving the project through in the preliminary stage, but having it come back [to us} in the final stage.”

Like other board members, he expressed support for the new library but was concerned that unanswered questions remained.

“I, too, feel we’re going too fast,” Chairman Ross Johnston said. “There’s a lot that has been predetermined, much more than is normal for a planning and zoning meeting,”
Public Works Director Troy Attaway said the pipeline would let the two lakes “function together as basically one lake” and increase its capacity to handle storm water. Attaway predicted that the connection also would help alleviate historical flooding along Denning Drive during rain storms.

Lake Rose is named after Mae Rose Williams, whose house fell into the sinkhole in May of 1981. Her heirs still own a portion of the property, as do the city and another property owner. Cheryl Thompson, her granddaughter, objected to the city’s stormwater plan during public comment, citing existing overflow problems. Resident Kim Allen wrote the city that the pipeline may not relieve Lake Mendsen’s current lack of room for stormwater. The city also should be concerned about flushing polluted stormwater down drain wells into the aquifer, she said.

Other residents noted that the plan does not comply with the language of the $30 million bond referendum, which called for a parking garage. City code requires 146 parking spaces for buildings the size of the proposed library and civic center. The city would provide 213 spaces in parking lots, plus 24 parallel parking spots on Harper Street. City Planning Manager Jeff Briggs said the city is looking into tearing down the recreation building at Lake Island to add even more parking places, but no decision has been made. The building is “not well utilized,” he said.

The project will change the look of the park in many ways. In addition to the two new modern structures that will house the library and civic center, the site will lose 63 protected trees, including most of the live oaks on the property. In the mid-1900s, the site was a mucky wetland that gradually was filled in around the edges with construction debris.

Stewardship: In Support of a Land Ethic

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

Stewardship: In Support of a Land Ethic

Guest Columnist Charley Williams

“The earth is common ground and…gradually the idea is taking form that the land must be held in safekeeping….” E.B. White, 1942

There is growing support state-wide and throughout our local communities for the adoption of a formal land ethic.

Why?

Each of us has become witness to challenges never before seen in the Sunshine State. Our beaches and shores are blighted with sea-rise and algae bloom. Climate change spin-offs have brought us increasingly violent storms like Irma. The storms, combined with pollution and over-building, are shortening the life cycle of our tree canopy, which is the critical factor in cleaning the air and protecting us from the sun.

Parks are on Life Support

City and county park lands are vying for survival with the exponential growth now occurring in Central Florida. Cities and counties do their best to balance competing demands for passive vs active use of park lands.

Still Not Safe to Get Out of the Car

Central Florida continues to head the list of the most dangerous communities for pedestrian and bicycle safety. Here in Winter Park, greenspace connectivity is increasingly cited as the single most important step to renewing our pledge to sustain the character of our community.

Green Assets = $$$

While open green lands cannot be measured solely in economic terms, parks and green space are invaluable assets as a marketing tool for our city. Proximity to parks has been proven to increase property values. What’s more, protected park lands do not require costly, full-blown municipal services such as water, sewer and schools.

Momentum is Building

This conversation has been gaining momentum since 2014, when Amendment 1 — known as the Florida Water and land Conservation Initiative — to increase spending for natural lands acquisition programs like Florida Forever passed with an overwhelming majority.

WP Needs an Integrated Plan

Locally, this vision for an integrated plan for greenspace connectivity within our urban core resonates with citizens of all walks of life. It embraces our often-discussed concerns for a healthy tree canopy, a vibrant, connected system of parks and greenspace, an appreciation for scenic beauty, designated quiet zones, family enjoyment, outdoor recreation, community enrichment and sustainable local native habitats.

City Leadership: Join In

I would urge our city and community leaders to take this trend a step further. The time has come to clearly define and articulate a Land Ethic for all of Winter Park. It will serve as our guide for future decisions as well as the definition of our responsibility for this generation and the next. It’s time to stop talking and pledge to take action.