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.
“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.
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.
Public Hearings on Alfond and Lawrence Center Projects Postponed
On August 29, Rollins College announced the cancellation of public hearings in September and October on the expansion of the Alfond Inn and the proposed construction on the Lawrence Center site at 200 E. New England Ave.
Phase II of the Alfond
The Alfond Inn expansion has been long in the works as Phase II of the original plan. It includes the addition of 70 hotel rooms, bringing the total to 182, and the addition of a spa and health club, 4,000 square feet of meeting space and just over 300 square feet of retail space. The expansion also called for an additional 153 parking spaces.
Relocation of Crummer Business School and Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Redevelopment of the Lawrence Center site, at New England and Lyman, was a three-phase project consisting of a new parking structure, a new facility for the Crummer Graduate School of Business and new space for the Cornell Fine Arts Museum.
In order to complete all three phases, the college was requesting a zoning change from Office (O-1) to Institutional (PQP or Public-Quasi-Public).
Public-Private Parking Arrangement with City
As part of Phase I of the project, Rollins was seeking a Conditional Use Permit to build a three-level parking garage to serve the business school and museum properties. The City of Winter Park was contemplating a public-private partnership to expand the garage to four or five stories. This would provide an additional 120-180 public parking spaces in the Central Business District (CBD) and would require a change in the height map from three to four or five stories.
In a letter from Rollins Vice-president of Business and Finance & Treasurer Ed Kania to City Manager Randy Knight, which was provided to the Voice by the City Communications Director Clarissa Howard, Kania described the three-part expansion – the Alfond, the Crummer Graduate School of Business and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum – as the “Innovation Triangle.”
Kania formally withdrew Rollins’ request for public hearings regarding the Innovation Triangle that had been scheduled in September and October. “We would like to withdraw these requests,” he wrote, “in order that we may investigate other potential parking locations to better meet the needs of the College and the residents of Winter Park.”
Projects on Temporary Hold
“With so many exciting and mission-critical projects taking shape at Rollins,” wrote Chief Marketing & Community Relations Officer Sam Stark, “we are putting a temporary hold on our Lawrence Center and Alfond Inn expansions in order to explore and evaluate some cost-saving and project-sharing opportunities that will benefit the College and the community.”
For the past year or so, the Kimley-Horn parking gurus have been lurking about Park Avenue, Hannibal Square and the Orange Avenue corridor scoping out parking lots and counting cars. They are scrutinizing parking codes that have remained essentially unchanged since the 1970s.
1970s — Merchants vs. Restaurateurs
The codes weren’t entirely static, however. There was some back-and-forth caused by competition between retail merchants and restaurateurs for parking on Park Avenue. In the early 1970s, there were four restaurants on Park Avenue. By 1982, that number had increased to 18, and the retailers were feeling the pinch.
1980s – Too Many Restaurants!
In response to an outcry from Park Avenue merchants, the city formed a Downtown Parking Advisory Commission to study the problem. In 1983, the Commission adopted their recommendation and passed an ordinance that new restaurants could be approved only when they provided sufficient parking. Bakeries, coffee shops, ice cream and dessert shops were exempted from the new rule.
2000s — Enter Winter Park Village
Move forward 20 years to 2003. Winter Park Village opened with four fancy new restaurants and a movie theater with stadium seating. It quickly became the place to be. Once again, Park Avenue merchants felt the pinch, but this time it was because there weren’t enough restaurants. La Belle Verrierre, East India Ice Cream Company and Two Flights Up had all closed, reducing by 400 the number of restaurant seats. All three locations converted to retail.
2003 – Not Enough Restaurants!
So, in 2003, the Commission saw the wisdom of attracting restaurants and the associated foot traffic to Park Avenue to improve the retail climate. They passed an ordinance that allowed new ‘fine dining’ restaurants (with wait staff and table service) on Park Avenue to open without providing the incremental increase in parking. This zoning change quickly produced the desired effect. Since 2003, 17 new restaurants have opened along Park Avenue – adding a whopping 1,471 new restaurant seats.
2018 – Too Many Restaurants!
Based on the current Central Business District (CBD) parking code of one parking place per four restaurant seats, those 1,471 seats equate to 372 parking spaces. Those 17 new restaurants replaced former retail locations. Compare the retail parking requirement with that for restaurants, and under the present code you end up with a parking deficit of 207 spaces. Basically, this puts the city right back where it was 36 years ago.
2018 – The Pendulum Swings Back
That brings us to the August 7, 2018 meeting of the Planning & Zoning (P&Z) Board. City Planner Jeff Briggs presented a draft parking ordinance affecting the CBD, Hannibal Square and the Orange Avenue corridor.
The draft ordinance, which has six components, was not an action item – it was up for discussion only. A summary of the proposed ordinance follows.
1.Retail to Restaurant Conversions
The ordinance removes the ability to convert retail or office space to restaurant without providing the required parking spaces. This change is supported by Comprehensive Plan Policy 1-G-3: “Preserve Park Avenue as a retail shopping district with complementary restaurant destinations, maintaining existing Future Land Use Map designations and zoning and prohibiting bars and nightclubs.”
2.New Retail & Office Requirements
The proposed ordinance changes parking requirements for new retail and office from one space per 250 square feet to one space per 350 square feet.
3.Large Office Buildings
Requirements for new large office buildings would provide one space per 250 square feet for the first 20,000 square feet. For floor area exceeding 20,000 square feet, the requirement would be one space per 350 square feet.
The ordinance provides for the use of the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) shared parking analysis as a reference. Limited types of shared use make sense in Winter Park, such as retail or office buildings with upstairs residential. In a few circumstances, a restaurant might share parking with a nearby institution such as a school or church.
5.Distance for Offsite Parking
The ordinance would change the distance permitted for offsite parking from 300 feet to 450 feet. As Briggs pointed out, that would be going from the length of one football field to one and a half football fields. P&Z Chair Ross Johnston suggested that if employees were required to use offsite parking, that would free up on-street parking for customers who want closer proximity to their destinations.
Johnston also pointed out the difficulty of regulating shared parking. How would the City determine if the people using the shared parking were actually entitled to it, or if they were opportunistic “parking poachers.”
6.Fee in Lieu of Parking
According to the Staff Report, instead of providing actual parking spaces, a developer could write a check to purchase or fund the required parking within a City-owned parking facility.
The City Staff Report stated: “Note that no such fee-in-lieu program can be established without a specific City Commission approved parking facility for which the funds collected are to [be] implemented for either surface or structured parking as to both location and cost and the ability to provide the same number of or more parking spaces otherwise needed to be provided on-site by the property owners electing to pay a fee-in-lieu.”
The Lawrence Center Quandary
So, if the parking must be City-owned, as stated above by the Planning Department, this raises the question: why would the City invest in additional parking decks above the proposed two-story, three-deck Rollins parking facility at the Lawrence Center – if the City is to have no ownership in or control over that facility?
On the other hand, does the City really want to get into the parking business?
“Parking is No Silver Bullet Number”
Although the draft ordinance was discussion-only, P&Z board members appeared squeamish at the prospect of recommending passage in the absence of a more comprehensive plan to deal with parking and transportation within the City. Owen Beitsch stated, “I don’t want to suggest that we don’t act, but I do want to suggest that we think about a package of solutions that constitutes a plan, not just an ordinance that says these are the ad hoc things we want to change.”
Ordinance is One Piece of a Much Larger Puzzle
Briggs responded that there are many aspects to the downtown parking puzzle – such as employee parking, valet parking, parking enforcement, how to create new parking – and the ordinance addresses only the Zoning Code. And that is the purview of P&Z – the zoning code.
Johnston responded to Briggs, “What you’re hearing is that we’re trying to get an ordinance in isolation that has other contingencies attached to it, and we’re not comfortable isolating that part of it. . . . We need to see what the net result of our actions is.”
In other words, will the ordinance alleviate a real or perceived parking deficit? If so, how can we tell?
Where Will the Ordinance Go Next?
Briggs explained that the next step was a similar non-action discussion of the ordinance with the Commission on August 27. The P&Z Board will meet the following day, August 28, for their regular work session, and Briggs will update them about the discussion at the Commission meeting. If the ordinance is still moving forward, there will be a public hearing before P&Z on September 11. P&Z will be asked to vote at that meeting.
If the ordinance passes, it will go back to the Commission September 24 – the same meeting at which the Commission will take up the Lawrence Center expansion. While it is appropriate for discussion of the two matters to coincide, citizens are advised to pack a lunch, as this could be a lengthy discussion.
Shawn Shaffer has left her position as Winter Park Public Library Executive Director effective August 3. Consultant Cynthia Wood will step in as interim executive. director while the Library Board of Trustees engages in a nation-wide search for Shaffer’s replacement.
Cynthia Wood Named Interim E.D.
Cynthia Wood was Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Rollins from 2002 until 2008. In 2009, she formed a consulting firm, Cynthia Wood, Philanthropy Partner LLC. She has guided various organizations in capital and programmed fundraising readiness, strategic planning and establishing sustainable fundraising systems.
Among Wood’s clients was the Bach Festival Society. Bach Festival Executive Director Betsy Gwinn described Wood’s work as Development Consultant for the Bach Festival Society’s 75th Anniversary campaign. “Cynthia worked with Board and staff members to develop a strategic fund raising campaign,” wrote Gwinn. “The Society has seen a tremendous difference in its development efforts under her guidance.”
Funding Pro Minana Hall Joins Team
The Library Trustees have also engaged Minana Hall as full-time capital and annual development professional. Hall brings 25 years of experience changing the development face of various institutions such as the University of Tampa, the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg and UCF. She has experience working with foundations and volunteer boards to develop major and planned gifts and annual giving.
Sabrina Bernat to Oversee Daily Operations
Sabrina Bernat, who was Shawn Shaffer’s assistant director, will oversee day-to-day library operations. Since Bernat has been involved with the library design team from the outset, she provides continuity and operational expertise.
A representative of the Library Board of Trustees issued the following statement.
“The board is extremely grateful for Shawn’s many contributions to the organization since she joined it five years ago. With the new facility comes new responsibility for fundraising and related initiatives. We have redefined the leadership skills needed to fulfill the new responsibilities and expectations. The library board is excited about our future library and all that it can mean for Winter Park. The board looks forward with enthusiasm to its role in shaping the future of this important institution.”
The Voice has received numerous requests to post the video of the July 10 Commission work session on Mixed Use Zoning. Here it is.
The meeting lasted an hour. The video was made strictly for purposes of documentation. Although you cannot always see the face of the speaker, you can hear what was said. The recording was made on a 10-year-old Canon Vixia HF R300 video cam – nothing fancy.
Why Does It Take the City So Long to Post?
In response to the question posed by “Partly Cloudy” in the Comment section beneath the column on mixed use: “What do they do with the recordings during those two days?” The answer is probably that they are uploading the digital files. It takes a long time. A really long time.
Mixed Use – Mandated in the 2017 Comp Plan
The subject of Mixed Use designation comes up at this time because of Policy 1-2.4.14 of the Comprehensive Plan. In 2017, as the Comp Plan was undergoing revision, the City Commission and Planning Department decided to remove the ‘Planned Development’ designation and replace it with a ‘Mixed Use’ designation. They gave themselves one year to accomplish that. That year has come and gone. You can watch all or part of the video to see how they are going about figuring out how to develop a policy governing Mixed Use Development in our city.