Progress Point Bid Withdrawn

Cites City Failure to Clarify Terms of Sale

Progress Point Bid Withdrawn

On February 23, ROC Seniors Housing Fund Manager, LLC, formally withdrew their offer to buy the Progress Point property to build a mixed use development consisting of an assisted living facility, a memory care unit and a restaurant.

To view notice, click here.

The Short End of the Land Swap

Progress Point – that infamous piece of land the City acquired when they traded away the State Office Building property up the road at Morse and Denning. At the junction of Orange and Denning, right beside the railroad tracks, split down the middle by a road, contaminated by heavy metal, it has sat unwanted and unloved since 2011.

For Sale Sign Goes Up April 2015

In April 2015, the City put it up for sale. They advertised in the Sentinel and on Loop Net. Thirty packets containing the Notice of Disposal (NOD) were sent to potential buyers. After 90 days, there was one response.

One Potential Buyer

A proposal was submitted by ROC Seniors for an 82 unit assisted living center with a 32-bed memory care facility and a 6,000-square-foot restaurant. The developer, represented by former Winter Park City Commissioner Phil Anderson, offered $4.5 million which, according to City records, was in keeping with a 2011 appraisal of $4.4 million.

Staff and EDAB Recommend the Project

Both City staff and the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) recommended approval, pointing out that the development would “activate the taxable value,” adding between $71,000 – $86,000 annually to the General Fund. “Staff feels that the project meets the character of Orange Avenue,” read the Agenda Item, “promotes new jobs and creates active redevelopment along Orange Avenue.”

ROC Seniors cited several important benefits their project would bring to the City. There would be no impact on schools. The facility would provide an under-served need for seniors. The project would create greater employment opportunities than other uses and would be an attractive presence consistent with existing Orange Avenue businesses.

Price Just Went Up

On the Friday before the September 14, 2015, Commission meeting, the City received a new appraisal, which had been ordered after the NODs went out. It came in at $5.69 million. As a result, ROC Seniors came before the Commission with an offer that was nearly $1.3 million below what was now the most recent appraisal.

Leary Opposed

A lengthy discussion among the commissioners about whether the proposed use was appropriate for the Orange Avenue corridor began with Mayor Steven Leary’s unequivocal opposition to ROC Seniors’ proposed use.


The NOD had contained no guidelines regarding what kind of project the City would like to see there. Public comment, mostly from business owners along Orange Avenue, was heavily in opposition to the project.

ROC Meets the Price

After an acknowledgement from Mr. Anderson that ROC Seniors would meet with City staff to discuss raising their offer to meet the new price, the Commission decided to table the issue and send the question to Planning and Zoning for their opinion on an appropriate use for the  site.

How Did We Reach This Point?

How did such an unlovely site gain $1.3 million in value, you might ask. In a November 5, 2015, letter from ROC Seniors to the City, Anderson points out certain ‘assumptions’ the appraiser used in assigning the $5.69 million value.

  • The City would realign Palmetto Avenue so that it would no longer run through the middle of the property, creating one contiguous piece of land.
  • The City would deliver a “clean, clear site” by removing residual contamination.
  • The City would accommodate storm water offsite.
  • The City would approve a mixed use.

In his letter, Anderson requested the City definitively clarify the appraiser’s assumptions. He also highlighted the need of surrounding businesses, including the Jewett Clinic, for additional parking and suggested the City retain a portion of the Progress Point land for that purpose.

To view the entire letter, click here.

Bottom Line: No Progress on Progress Point

After six months of discussion between the City and ROC Seniors, the City failed to come to a clear decision. The City has not confirmed that it would complete the items on which the appraiser based his valuation, and it has not clarified what kind of use they believe would be appropriate for that site.

“No one has said they want an assisted living facility or a mixed use project on that site,” Anderson told the Voice. “And no one has said they don’t want that kind of project. It’s time for us to move on.”

Commission Lobbying Trip Cancelled

Did Commissioners Violate State Law When They Went in Past Years?

Commission Lobbying Trip Cancelled

Why was the City Commission’s annual lobbying trip to Tallahassee cancelled?

Last year’s trip resulted in a contribution of state funds to the restoration of Mead Gardens, and the year before that, funds to assist with electric utility undergrounding. Priorities for this year’s foray included projects such as the acquisition of Howell Branch Creek, green energy generation and the new library. Legislative matters to be discussed included pension reform and dedicated funding for Commuter Rail. For full list, click Here

City Attorney: “Don’t Go”

The decision to cancel, announced in an email to Commissioners from City Manager Randy Knight, was based on advice from City Attorney A. Kurt Ardaman. Ardaman advised that such a trip violates statutes governing the city’s jurisdiction and carries the potential for violations of the Sunshine Law.

In addition to representing Winter Park, Ardaman and his firm, Fishback Dominick, serve the cities of Longwood, Winter Garden and DeBary. Spokesmen for all three cities stated that their Commissioners do not travel to Tallahassee together.

Through a spokesperson, Ardaman stated that the question of lobbying trips for commissioners from these cities had not come up, but that if it did, he would advise against it.

Governing Bodies Can’t Meet Outside Political Boundaries

At the January 11 Commission meeting, Ardaman stated, “Clearly, there are cities that go to Tallahassee, and they have meetings with their legislators and their lobbyists . . . . But the law is what it is, and just because cities do that does not mean that cities do not violate the law. There is actually a statute that spells out when it is . . . allowed for governing bodies of cities to meet outside their political boundaries.”

Ardaman explained that this statute limits such meetings to two specific situations. One is when a city has fewer than 500 residents; the other is when two governing bodies – such as a city and a county – meet to discuss matters of common interest, and those meetings should occur within the county at issue. There is no other exception for a city governing body to meet outside its political boundaries.

Potential for Sunshine Violation

Ardaman said, in addition to the jurisdictional issue, there is the possibility of a Sunshine Law violation.

The Sunshine Law requires that all commission meetings be publicly noticed 48 hours in advance, and that meetings of two or more commissioners may be attended by the public. So, if two or more commissioners travel to Tallahassee, any member of the public is free to ride along and attend the meetings in the state capital.

Ardaman said that he and other City Attorneys agree that these restrictions, however well intentioned, pose an issue the Florida Legislature should address.

Resolution Proposed at Next Commission Meeting

At the following Commission meeting January 25, a draft resolution was brought forth asking Florida legislators to revise the law so that Commissioners can conduct business outside of the city’s political boundaries.

The Commissioners were united in their opposition to the resolution, though each had his or her own widely differing reasons.

Seidel: Let’s Talk to the Experts

Commissioner Greg Seidel suggested an information meeting with representatives from the Sunshine Coalition or the First Amendment Foundation to get clarification on the law.

Cooper: Let’s Build Coalition

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper observed that sending such aresolution to Tallahassee without first building a coalition of interested parties would be premature.

Sprinkel: Bad Idea

Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel was unequivocal in her opposition to the resolution. She noted that the legislators in Tallahassee were dealing with far more important issues.

McMacken: Throwing a Piece of Paper at It Is No Solution

Commissioner Tom McMacken deplored the situation that prevents Commissioners from going to Tallahassee to lobby on behalf of the City, but could not support the resolution as it stood.

Leary: One Person Can Do It

Mayor Steve Leary agreed with Commissioner Sprinkel, that the Florida legislators had “bigger fish to fry.” He stated that the City’s priorities are set, he is willing to take them to Tallahassee, and that one person can handle the task.

Resolution Tabled

The Commission voted 4 to 1 to table the resolution indefinitely. Mayor Leary cast the dissenting vote.

Cooper to Represent Winter Park at FL League of Cities

Will Receive ‘2015’ Home Rule Hero’ Award

Cooper to Represent Winter Park at FL League of Cities


Mayor Steve Leary appointed Commissioner Carolyn Cooper Voting Delegate from the City of Winter Park to the Florida League of Cities Annual Conference, to be held August 13 – 15 in Orlando. Leary announced the appointment at the June 22 meeting of the City Commission.

2015 Home Rule Hero

At the conference, Cooper will be among those to receive the Florida League of Cities “2015 Home Rule Hero” award.


Advocate for Municipal Issues

The work for which Cooper is being honored includes membership on the Growth Management Legislative Committee, the Finance Legislative Committee, Board of Directors for the Tri-County League of Cities, and as a member of the advocacy team that addressed municipal issues in Tallahassee.

Local Voice on What Matters to Cities

“These local government officials earned this prestigious award for their tireless efforts to advance the League’s legislative agenda,” wrote Florida League of Cities Legislative Director Scott Dudley. “These men and women are some of the Florida League of Cities’ biggest advocates for municipal issues, always willing and ready to contact legislators and travel to Tallahassee to be sure a local voice is heard on issues that are important to cities. It is clear that these public servants have devoted themselves to Florida’s citizens and will remain loyal to their cities and state far into the future.”


Winter Parkers Respond to Mayor's "Thank You" Survey

Read Results Here

Winter Parkers Respond to Mayor’s “Thank You” Survey

Leary Mailer-2

Remember about two weeks after the March 10 election? Newly elected Mayor Steven Leary sent a questionnaire out to some Winter Park residents asking for their opinions about the City.

At that time, the Voice published an open letter to Mayor Leary, asking questions that many of you had posed to us. Mayor Leary has, so far, not responded to our questions, but 1,107 of you responded to Mayor Leary’s questions. The Voice obtained your responses to the Mayor’s questionnaire through a public records request.

We know you’ve been wondering . . . so here it is. This is what you told the mayor.

More Than 1,000 Survey Responses

While not all of you responded to every question, many of you gave more than one response to a single question. Note that Question #1 had more than 1,300 responses – although we received only 1,107 survey forms. Some commented that the questions were confusing or called for a response that did not reflect the true feelings of the respondent.

Not All WP Residents Received Survey

When asked, the Leary campaign said that one survey was mailed to each household in Winter Park – either electronically or by U.S. Postal Service. The campaign did not confirm or deny that all survey recipients lived in Winter Park. The Voice heard from a number of readers who live in Winter Park who did not receive surveys. The Voice does not know the total number of surveys mailed or how criteria for the mailing were established. We could not, therefore, determine the sample size or the demographic used.

City Doing a Good Job

Most of you who did respond think the tax structure is about right and that the City is doing a good job – especially the Police and Fire Departments. More than half of you expressed concern about over-development, traffic and congestion.

Comments Not Included

More than half of you responded “other” and added comments on the survey forms. Because of the individual nature of the comments, we were not able to tabulate them and have not included the comments in the results.

“Protect Winter Park”

The type of comment we saw most often is summed in this respondent’s plea to the new mayor: “Please – keep your campaign promises. Protect Winter Park’s uniqueness. Once it is gone – too late!”

But the devil is in the details, and the details are all here in the charts.



DPAC Donation Rankles

It’s Coming Around Again

DPAC Donation Rankles


As Budget Season approaches, the specter of nine more annual $100,000 contributions to Orlando’s Dr. Philips Performing Arts Center (DPAC) remains a bone of contention among Winter Parkers. At the June 9 Utilities Advisory Board (UAB) meeting, a group of citizens voiced their opposition to using the Utilities Fund for any portion of the City’s charitable contributions in the coming 2015-16 fiscal year. In Fiscal 2014-15, two-thirds of the City’s contributions to charitable organizations came from the Utilities Fund, and the Utilities Advisory Board members did not find out about it until April 2015 when they read it in the paper.

UAB member John Reker, who was rotating off the board after the June 9 meeting, spoke as a concerned citizen. He stated that utility rates are determined by the Cost of Service and said he does not believe it is appropriate to charge customers for anything other than the cost of delivering water and electricity.

Reker was replaced by former Commissioner Barbara DeVane, who was on the Commission when the City purchased the utilities company. At this meeting, DeVane said, “When we bought the utility, we promised the utility money would stay in the utility.”

According to the City website, the board’s mandate is to advise “the Mayor and City Commission on matters regarding the capital needs, rate structures and policies related to the operation of the city’s utilities system.” In other words, the UAB determines how much we pay for water and electricity, and they are responsible for all capital improvements to the system, like undergrounding.

How much we pay for our utilities determines how much is in the Utilities Fund to make repairs in the event of equipment failure or power outage, and how long it will take to complete the undergrounding process. The only money the utility company has comes from the rate-payers. Diversion of funds from the Utilities Fund necessarily hinders the performance of their charge.

The Winter Park City Charter states: “Transfer or use of collected sewer fee funds for other than sewer purposes must be approved by a voter referendum.” The City Charter was written in 1983, predating the City’s purchase of the utility company. At the time, the only utility Winter Park had was sewer. Since the Charter has not been updated to reflect the current situation, there is no current proscription on diverting electric or water revenues to the General Fund.

City Manager Randy Knight pointed out that the UAB operates solely as advisors and that only the City can spend money.  He went on to say, just because the City dipped into the Utilities Fund for the FY 2014-15 charitable contributions, that did not mean the City would utilize this fund in future years. Knight acknowledged that he was responsible for using the Utilities Fund for a portion of the charitable donations in last year’s budget, clearly subscribing to the “ask-forgiveness-not-permission” school of thought.

UAB Chair Katherine Johnson had prepared a draft memo titled “Proposed Guidance Regarding the Use of City of Winter Park’s Electric Utility and Water/Wastewater Revenues.” She stated that the board was “agnostic” on the subject of the individual donation recipients, but was concerned about the precedent it set. She told the Observer, “This raiding of the utility funds for other purposes is a problem that is systemic in other jurisdictions that I’m familiar with.”

She told the Voice that she wanted to ensure that the priority for the utility funds remains focused on long-term capital projects that will improve the safety and reliability of utility operations and that will benefit the utility’s customers.

“We already give 6 percent of the utility revenues to the City for the general fund,” said Johnson. “This past year they appropriated another quarter percent,” (amounting to approximately $175,000) “and the funds were redirected without the opportunity for a discussion among UAB members and City staff about the long-term impacts of this decision.”


Open Letter to Steve Leary:

Please Answer a Few Questions About the “2015 Citizens Survey”

Open Letter to Steve Leary:


Dear Mayor Leary:

Nearly two weeks after the March 10 election, your mailer entitled “2015 Citizens Survey” went to selected Winter Park households. Some received the survey electronically, others received theirs in the mail. Some did not receive the survey. Both those who received the survey and many who did not had the same question for you:  What is this?

The mailer states that it was paid for and sent by you, “Steven Leary, non-partisan candidate for Winter Park Mayor.” It expresses your thanks to the voters and carries a message that reads in part, “As your mayor, I would like to set priorities over the next 90 days for the first year and beyond and I would appreciate your support and input. . . . Please take a moment to answer this brief citizens survey.” Your mailer requests the answers be returned either to a private email or by pre-paid post to a Park Avenue address.

According to Winter Park Communications Director Clarissa Howard, this is not a document created by the city and has nothing to do with the upcoming Visioning process.

The timing of the mailer – coming two weeks after the election and on the heels of the formation of the Visioning Task Force – had some of us scratching our heads. According to the “Candidate & Campaign Treasurer Handbook,” issued by the Florida Division of Elections, “Once a candidate is . . . elected to office, he or she may only expend funds from the campaign account to” deal with remaining financial obligations, close the office, prepare the termination report and to “Purchase “thank you” advertising for up to 75 days after he or she is . . . elected to office.”To read the entire text, CLICK HERE and scroll down to page 50, “Chapter 17: Termination Reports.”

While some might argue your mailer went a little beyond “thank you advertising,” the Thank You message is clearly stated.

Apparently, the other members of the Commission had no prior knowledge of the survey. When asked for comment, Commissioner Tom McMacken stated simply, “I am stunned.”

Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel wrote in an email, “I believe this was something Steve did on his own– it was not a city initiative so you will have to find out from him.”

Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Greg Seidel applauded your effort to solicit residents’ input for guidance in your new role as mayor. Cooper added that she hoped you would use the survey results “your own edification and not to formulate city policy.”

The Voice received a number of queries from puzzled readers. Some wondered how your campaign determined which households would be surveyed and what the campaign organization planned to do with the results.

Others found the questions difficult to answer. Long-time Winter Park resident Ann Saurman wrote in a message to Mayor and Commissioners:

Some of the questions had a definite bias.”

“The City maintaining right-of-way trees” required agreeing to an increase in taxes, while neither “Needing more active parks and playing fields” or “Needing ‘lots of improvements’ to Winter Park’s facilities” required any tax increase.

“I hope this is not an indication of how the visioning process will be executed,” wrote Saurman. ”I would like Citizens Surveys to go to all citizens and for the questions to be designed in a fair and honest way so as to produce credible results.” 

The Voice has submitted further questions to you which were based on similar messages from other readers. The questions are below. Although you had not responded as of publication, we welcome the opportunity to publish your reply if you decide to answer the questions in the future.

Congratulations Mayor Leary, Commissioner Seidel

With Gratitude to Cynthia Mackinnon and Gary Brewer for Their Willingness to Serve Their Community

Congratulations Mayor Leary, Commissioner Seidel

L to R: Bill Leary, Beth Hall, Tom Leary, Joan Gfeller, Rich Leary. 

Mayor Leary’s brothers and neighbors support their candidates of choice.

It’s over. The yard signs are nearly all gone, most of the flyers clogging the mailboxes are once again from Publix. Life is returning to normal. 

This long, hard-fought race brought out more than 6,700 voters — a respectable showing for a non-presidential year. Unofficially, 6,722 voted in the mayor race, with Steve Leary pulling down 52.75 percent and Cynthia Mackinnon close behind with 47.75 percent. In the race for Commission Seat #1, vacated by Leary, Greg Seidel received 56.14 percent of the 6,466 votes cast to Gary Brewer’s 43.86 percent. 

These figures are preliminary. Official results will be released Friday, the 13th.

Mackinnon Looks Forward to Civility and Collaboration

In her concession speech March 10, Mackinnon said, “I expect you will see a new civility and more transparency in our city government. I expect you will see more fairness in the say city board members are selected. I expect good progress will be made in restoring our tree canopy. So, let’s focus . . . on what motivated us in the first place — we love this town. I don’t have any doubt that Mr. Leary and his supporters love this town, too.”

Brewer Deplores Campaign Cost

Gary Brewer was somewhat more pointed in his observations about the conduct of the campaign. “I believe this community needs to take a hard look at . . . how we finance and conduct campaigns,” he wrote. “More than a quarter million dollars has been spent in this campaign, mostly for attacking one another. As a charitable fundraiser, I can’t help but think what those resources could have done to support programs like the Library, Mead Garden, Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park and Welbourne Day Nurseries . . . or you name the charity.”

Leary: “Winter Park Deserves Our Best”

In an email message, newly elected Mayor Steve Leary expressed the feelings many of us share. “I appreciate those with whom I disagree, for I know they love Winter Park as much as I do,” he wrote. “We’ve had enough division, rhetoric, demonization. . . .  Let us move forward into the future together as a Community.”

At the end of the day, we’re all neighbors, and we are all looking forward to the energetic leadership of these two capable young men. Our wishes go out to both of them for success in making sure Winter Park remains the best place to live, work and play. 

Library Hosts Two Debates

Candidates for Mayor, Commission Meet Separately

Library Hosts Two Debates

Separate debates between mayoral candidates and candidates for city commission revealed a stark contrast in the tenor and the conduct of the two races.

Mayors Debate First

The first debate, between mayoral candidates Cynthia Mackinnon and Steve Leary on February 19, was moderated by former Channel 6 anchor Lauren Rowe before a standing-room-only crowd. Rowe, herself charismatic and edgy, posed questions that emphasized the differences between the two candidates. Either candidate who failed to answer a question to her satisfaction was given very little leeway. The tone of the debate was contentious, and each candidate’s difference with the other was palpable.

At the request of the Library, both debates were taped by the Winter Park Voice.

Click here to see video of the debate between the mayoral candidates.

Commissioners Meet the Following Week

The second debate, between commission candidates Greg Seidel and Gary Brewer, was downright friendly by comparison. Moderated by Ann Helmuth of the Orange County League of Women Voters, this debate was as much a discussion as it was a debate. While some remarks were in the form of rebuttals, just as often, one candidate simply expanded on the remarks of the previous speaker. Each was quick to acknowledge the strengths of the other. Held before a much smaller audience, the tone of this debate was almost relaxed.

To view the commission candidates’ debate, click here .


Special Election 2015 Section in The Voice

To see full candidate profiles, interviews, filings, positions on various issues and other stories as they are published, click on the “Election 2015” button >  

Campaign Treasurer’s Reports can be found on the City of Winter Park website at

How to Request an Absentee Ballot

Deadline: Wednesday, March 4, 5:00 p.m.

How to Request an Absentee Ballot


Are you one of the many Winter Park voters who is accustomed to voting by absentee ballot, who hasn’t received a ballot this year, and are wondering where it is?

No Permanent Absentee Status

Laws governing the way we vote have changed. The State of Florida no longer has permanent absentee status. If you haven’t received your absentee ballot for the 2015 election, Lucy Melendez of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office says your status probably has expired and you will need to renew your request.

Anyone registered to vote in Orange County may request an absentee ballot.

To renew your request online, go to

To request a ballot by phone, call 407-836-2070.

If you have access to a computer, you may also download the request form in .pdf format and mail it to the address given on the website. Request forms are available in English and Spanish.

Necessary Information

You will need to include your name, date of birth, residential address, mailing address if it’s different from your residence, and the elections for which you wish to receive a ballot.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Wed., March 4, 5:00 p.m.


Special Election 2015 Section in The Voice

To see full candidate profiles, interviews, filings, positions on various issues and other stories as they are published, click on the “Election 2015” button in the upper right portion of your screen when you are viewing the website. Or click this button >  

Campaign Treasurer’s Reports can be found on the City of Winter Park website at

Winter Park Candidates Square Off

View Complete Video of University Club, Chamber Debates Here

Winter Park Candidates Square Off


WPVoice forum

If turnout at the past two candidate debates is any indication, the current election cycle seems to have sparked unprecedented interest among Winter Park voters. 

Candidates Face Off at University Club of WP

The Winter Park Voice hosted a candidate forum at the University Club of Winter Park at 5:30 p.m. February 10. The moderator was Michele Levy, Co-President of The Orange County League of Women Voters. The crowd was standing-room-only, and many were turned away because of fire code limitations. For those who missed this first debate, click here to see video of the entire debate.

Chamber Hosts Second Debate

Three days later, on the auspicious morning of Friday the 13th, Winter Park’s four candidates faced off once again before another packed house, this time at the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center. This 8:00 a.m. debate, hosted by the Chamber, was moderated by Chamber President Patrick Chapin and Chamber Board Member Kyle Taylor. Questions ran the gamut, from downtown parking, traffic and trees to “Say something nice about your opponent.” Again, the crowd was standing-room-only.

At the request of the Chamber, this debate in its entirety was taped by the Winter Park Voice. To view the video, click here.

Library Debates Feb. 19 and Feb. 25

The Winter Park Library will host the final two candidate debates. Mayoral candidates will debate at Noon on Thursday, February 19, and candidates for Commission Seat #1 will debate at Noon on Wednesday, February 25.


Special Election 2015 Section in The Voice

To see full candidate profiles, interviews, filings, positions on various issues and other stories as they are published, click on the “Election 2015” button in the upper right portion of your screen when you are viewing the website. Or click this button >  

Campaign Treasurer’s Reports can be found on the City of Winter Park website at