The Voice reported on September 19 that the Community Redevelopment Advisory Board and the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board narrowly approved the purchase of the Fairbanks Avenue Bowling Alley at 1111 Fairbanks Avenue. On September 22, however, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) voted down the $3,250,000 purchase of the 1.6 acre property on a 3-3 split.
Bradley, Leary, McMacken on Losing Side
The CRA Advisory Board is made up of citizens serving in an advisory capacity only. The Community Redevelopment Agency, which is comprised of the mayor and four commissioners, plus a representative from Orange County, Frank DeToma, is the decision-making body.
Knight: “The price is the price.”
City Manager Randy Knight kicked off the discussion by reporting that he had
spoken with the seller, Scott Fish of UP Developments, and that Fish was
unwilling to take less than the $3.25 Million asking price. “So,” said Knight, “the price is the price.”
But, What’s the Value?
Whatever the price, the value is still unclear. City staff has, to date, not had the land appraised nor are they able to answer questions about what other, similar pieces of property are available.
McMacken: “We’re adding a substantial piece to a great park.”
Arguing in favor of the acquisition, Commissioner Tom McMacken said he thought, long term, this would be “money well spent.”
Bradley later stated, “This is a property that’s never been on the market . . . never, ever been on the market.”
Cooper: “Don’t Talk to me about an asphalt park.”
“The struggle I’m having,” said Cooper, “is that staff’s plan for this – and generally those plans come to fruition – is for this to be an asphalt parking lot . . . So that’s not park. Don’t talk to me about an asphalt park.”
For Commissioner Sprinkel, the deal didn’t pass the sniff test. She said that while the bowling alley acquisition deal may have been familiar to some on the dais, “It just dropped into my lap.” She said she felt the commission had not spent sufficient time discussing the acquisition or exploring the different possibilities that might be available to them. “I just feel like it’s too fast,” she said, “it’s not considering everything, and it just doesn’t feel right.”
How Are We Going to Pay for This?
One issue that arose repeatedly was the funding source. The acquisition of the property had first come up during the budget discussion at the August 25 commission meeting.
The city proposed to use $1,650,000 from CRA reserves, $975,000 from the Parks Acquisition Funds and $625,000 from the sale of land to the medical practice of Dr. Ivan Castro. The CRA reserves, however, had only $1,400,000 — not $1,650,000. Where to find $250,000?
$245,000 Mysteriously Materializes
Expenditures for CRA Projects and Community Initiatives in the CRA budget proposed on August 25 totaled $1,165,148. Without a murmur, by September 22, total CRA expenditures had fallen to $920,648.
These are the projects that took the hit.
The money cut from these projects totals $245,000 – just about enough to make up the shortfall needed to purchase the bowling alley.
As the mayor opened the floor for public comment, Larry Williams of Eucalyptus Properties approached the podium. First he pointed out that the mayor had been mistaken when he stated that the bowling alley property had never been on the market. “Indeed, it has been on the market,” said Williams, who explained that he himself had optioned the property six years ago, but decided not to buy it because it would be difficult to develop.
Williams went on to address the City Manager: “What you did, Randy, was not right,” he said. “This is a lot of money. You don’t negotiate this kind of deal without putting it out on the table. . . .There’s one thing that’s been absent in this conversation far too much, and that’s the price.”
Williams pointed out that not only is the city paying a premium for land that has limited utility, but also, the city staff at no time requested a property appraisal or verification from Fish of $300,000 in carrying costs he was asking from the city.
Woody Woodall: “This is Not a Park.”
Woody Woodall, who currently sits on the CRA Advisory Board and who voted against the acquisition, insisted, “This is a lousy deal.” He objected to depleting CRA reserves. If the money is there, he said, “I’d rather we spend it on something that will be a positive addition to our parks.”
Will the Commission Seek Last-Minute Appraisal?
As the Commission prepared to vote, Commissioner Cooper proposed to table the matter until the city could get an appraisal on the property, but that amendment failed.
The Board then voted for an amendment to seek a property appraisal. Commissioner Sprinkel questioned the value of such an appraisal. “What happens if the appraisal comes back at less than what the price is?” she wanted to know. When Bradley asked if she wanted to put that forward in the form of an amendment, Sprinkel replied, “I’m not going to vote for it anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference to me.”
When Bradley sought to reassure Sprinkel that the property was “sure to appraise,” especially since there is a building on it of “who knows how many square feet,” Sprinkel replied, “No one knows. That’s the whole problem – we don’t know any of this.”
Bowling Alley Purchase Fails
With that, the clerk read the role. Leary, Bradley and McMacken voted for the purchase. Sprinkel, Cooper and DeToma voted against.
The 3 – 3 vote was not enough. The motion failed.
News Alert--Bowling Alley Slides Into Gutter on a 3-3 Split
Will City Strike a Fair Deal to Buy Bowling Alley?
Some Say It’s a High Price to Pay
September 18, 2014 – High Noon. City Manager Randy Knight called a joint meeting of the Community Redevelopment (CRA) Advisory Board and the Parks & Recreation Board to discuss the purchase of the Fairbanks Avenue Bowling Alley at 1111 W. Fairbanks Ave. The two boards met at the Winter Park Country Club golf club house.
Scott Fish, of UP Developments, LLC, developer of the new Whole Foods, has contracted with Rollins College to purchase the bowling alley for $2,950,000. Fish is willing to assign his contract with Rollins to the city, so the city can buy the bowling alley property to extend Martin Luther King, Jr., Park.
City Rushes to Meet Deadline
The city will waste no time waiting until after the visioning process to seize the opportunity. The contract between UP Developments and Rollins is scheduled to close October 27, creating urgency among city staff to reach a decision. The matter will go before the CRA Board at 2:30 Monday, September 22, and will be on the agenda of the commission meeting which immediately follows.
Rollins Bought Property in 2013
Rollins purchased the bowling alley property in the late spring of 2013, when it looked like Harper-Shepherd Field would become a Minor League baseball stadium. Rollins needed space for other teams that use Harper-Shepherd. Being next to Martin Luther King, Jr., Park, the bowling alley property was an ideal location for Rollins to expand their playing fields.
When it became clear that baseball would not be coming to Winter Park, however, Rollins no longer needed expansion room and sought to sell the property. UP Developments, LLC,, stepped in and contracted to buy the property from Rollins.
Apparently, the city has been interested in the bowling alley property for some time, with an eye to expanding MLK Park and mitigating some of the traffic problems on Fairbanks. When they approached Scott Fish about it, Fish agreed to assign his contract with Rollins to the city, so that the city can buy the property from Rollins and UP Developments will withdraw from the transaction.
Purchase Will Expand MLK Park, Add Parking
City purchase of this property would expand MLK Park by approximately 1.6 acres, allowing for a non-regulation sized playing field. It would also create an additional 100 parking spaces for the park and for business establishments along Fairbanks and 17-92. Preliminary plans also call for an extended right-hand turn lane along west-bound Fairbanks at the intersection with 17-92.
Cost to City — $3.25 Million
The city proposes to pay for the property with funds from several different sources. They include:
|CRA contribution from fund reserved for debt service||$1,650,000|
|Parks Acquisition funds||975,000|
|Sale of city land at 300 Pennsylvania Ave.||625,000|
UP Development’s contract with Rollins is for $2,950,000. According to Winter Park Communications Director Clarissa Howard, the additional $300,000 the city is willing to pay would compensate Scott Fish for “real estate fees and site plan design fees associated with the property.”
“Is this a fair price?”
CRA Advisory Board member Daniel Butts asked City Manager Knight if he thought this was a fair price for the property. Knight replied, “It’s higher than market value,” but added that there has been no appraisal on the property.
Butts then wanted to know how much the city would lose in tax revenues. He pointed out that this expenditure would “wipe out the rainy-day fund” for CRA debt service. The debt he was referring to is on the Community Center in the Hannibal Square neighborhood. The “rainy day” fund would cover this debt service should property values fall again as they did in 2010-2011.
Land Acquisition Only the Beginning
Parks & Recreation Advisory Board member Janet Atkins pointed out that acquisition of the land was only the beginning, and that considerable additional funds would be required to demolish the building and to redevelop the property. It is also unclear who would pay for widening Fairbanks to create the right turn lane onto 17-92. She said, however, that “this is a great first step toward expanding this park.”
Parks & Rec Votes to Approve the Purchase
Parks & Recreation Director John Holland stated the land purchase would help meet the goals of the Parks & Rec Department in three ways. First, it would add park land, consistent with the Comprehensive Plan mandate to provide one acre of green space per 10,000 residents. “We are right on the line of meeting that level of service,” said Holland. He pointed out that there is a need for more multi-purpose playing fields. And, third, there is a current parking shortage at MLK Park.
CRA Votes Approval — with Strings Attached
The CRA Advisory Board, which voted separately, required more discussion. Daniel Butts wanted to know if the city had any other funding source. Noting that the city has reserves of $27 Million, Butts suggested the city contribute at least half of the purchase price to avoid depleting CRA contingency funds. He also urged Randy Knight and Planning Director Dori Stone to go to Scott Fish and to Rollins to re-negotiate the sale and come back with a better price. The CRA then voted three to two to approve as amended.
The measure is scheduled to go before the CRA at 2:30 Monday, September 22, and then to the Commission, which meets at 3:30 immediately following the CRA.
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City Welcomes "Grass Roots" Ordinance Reform--Sometimes
A Closer Look at Two Ordinances Reveals That City’s Embrace of Citizen Activism Depends on Ordinance & Which Citizens Are Doing the Reforming
|The City’s apparent reluctance to fully partner with citizen advocates for stronger historic preservation – including the Commission’s unwillingness (so far) to grant a hearing to the City’s own consultant – has troubled local preservationists.
The uneasy relationship between the City and an informal Historic Preservation citizens’ advisory panel contrasts strongly with the close working relationship between the City and the citizen advisory panel headed by Patrick Chapin and attorney Frank Hamner that worked closely with the Planning department and the City Commission to craft a new Fine Dining Ordinance. The Fine Dining panel’s recommendations were heard by the City’s Planning and Zoning Board as well as the full City Commission. Their recommendations formed the basis of the City’s new Fine Dining ordinance which was adopted in September, 2013.
There are similarities in the paths taken by each group in their attempts to amend a City ordinance – similarities that include months of meetings, resolution of conflicting views and interaction with City Boards. However, the contrast between the City’s treatment of the Fine Dining and Historic Preservation panels is striking.
Fine Dining Panel Receives Kudos All Around & Full City Cooperation.
Mr. Chapin sits on the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) and also represents the interests of the Park Avenue Merchants’ Association in frequent testimony before the City Commission.
Mr. Chapin’s partner on the Panel was Frank Hamner, a local attorney representing the interests of the Holler family – a prominent Park Avenue landowner. The panel also included other Chamber members.
Mr. Hamner successfully lobbied City Hall to permit two fast food chains, Burger Fi and Firehouse Subs, to occupy Park Avenue retail space owned the Hollers. However, before and after the Firehouse Subs deal was closed, Mr. Hamner continued to work with Mr. Chapin to close the door to all future fast food chains on the Avenue.
City email records obtained by the Voice show that high-level staffers at City Hall – Director of Planning and Community Development Dori Stone and Planning Manager Jeff Briggs – corresponded frequently with Hamner and Chapin on a range of matters, including Fine Dining, during an 8 month period between May and December, 2013. Our count of the emails exchanged among Chapin, Hamner, Briggs and Stone in various combinations shows that more than 100 emails were exchanged.
Various public statements from City officials and their accommodation of the panel’s interest in appearing before key City boards confirmed that the City welcomed the involvement and leadership of Chapin and Hamner in changing the Fine Dining Ordinance. The panel’s draft of proposed ordinance changes was ultimately accepted as the template for the new ordinance that was overwhelmingly approved by the Planning and Zoning Board and the City Commission.
Jeff Briggs applauded the efforts of the Chapin/Hamner panel in his introduction to the panel’s presentation of its proposal to Planning & Zoning on 8/6/13:
After the panel received the unanimous approval of P&Z, they moved on to the City Commission on 8/26/13 and, again, presented their findings and recommendations. Mayor Bradley welcomed the panel:
Historic Preservation Panel Encounters “Roadblocked” Board & Uncertain Commitment from City.
Betsy Owens is one of the leaders of the group that is seeking a voice in the City’s revamp of its Historic Preservation ordinance. Ms. Owens is the Executive Director of Casa Feliz, a major historic landmark in the city of Winter Park. Ms. Owens and other preservation-minded citizens are part of a group – the Friends of Casa Feliz Preservation Advocacy Committee – formed to promote ordinance changes that will provide stronger protection of Winter Park’s historic homes and neighborhoods.
The relationship hit a low point last summer when the City issued a demolition permit for Capen House several months after the City Commission voted unanimously – in a six minute hearing – to strip the historic home of its protected status.
The essence of that decision, which was rendered on behalf of SunTrust bank’s interest in the foreclosed house, was the protection of “property rights” vs. a community’s interest in preserving its cultural heritage.
Since that time, preservationists and City officials have struggled to resolve the “property vs. community rights” issue in numerous Historic Preservation Board hearings. Even though the informal advisory panel has submitted research and recommendations, testified before the HPB on multiple occasions and talked with City officials, including the Mayor, they have never been able to get a commitment from the City that their concerns and recommendations will be considered – and acted on – in any manner resembling the reception afforded the Fine Dining Panel. Click the button below to view the HP Citizen Panel report.
Commission & HP Board Unwilling to Commit to Appearance by HP Expert & Citizen Panel.
Preservationists have been unable to secure a promise from the Commission that either they or the City’s own consultant will be able to present their findings and recommendations directly to the City Commission, as was the case with the Fine Dining Panel. Instead, the Mayor – with the support of Commissioners Steve Leary and Sarah Sprinkel – has insisted that the panel and consultant interact primarily with the HPB, which will consider input from the consultant and the panel, then create a report of its own for presentation to the Commission.
The Commission’s decision not to deal directly with the Historic Preservation citizen panel – and conflicting opinions among HPB members on questions of property rights and whether historic preservation enhances home values, have created discord between the board and citizen preservationists.
Preservationists also question the qualifications of some on the board. However, one opinion that board members and preservationists seem to share is that Lindsey Hayes, the City’s sole preservation-oriented staffer, is a well-qualified, passionate advocate for preservation.
Even though preservationists have had numerous contacts with Lindsey Hayes and a few meetings with Ms. Hayes’ supervisor Dori Stone, our requested search of all email correspondence among Owens and Dori Stone and dept. manager Jeff Briggs between May and December, 2013, showed no evidence of the Historic Preservation Citizen Panel receiving the sort of significant ongoing contact and support these high-level staffers offered the Fine Dining Citizen Panel.
As department Director, Dori Stone is ultimately responsible for working with City Manager Randy Knight to ensure that HPB findings are presented to the City Commission. However, that presentation – originally scheduled for October/November of this year – has now been pushed to the middle of 2014.
Is Preservation Ordinance Reform Imperiled by Board’s Fear of Commission Displeasure?
Lack of support at the highest levels in the City appears to be a factor in the uncertain pace of Historic Preservation review. HPB workload and “careful treading” are also factors. In an HPB workshop on October 9, 2013, HPB Chair Randall Glidden remarked that a set of past recommendations had hit a “roadblock” with the Commission because some Commissioners had objected to recommendations related to creation of Historic Districts in the City.
Does City Historic Preservation Board See Itself as City Commission’s Agent or Its Advisor?
During the workshop, Mr. Glidden suggested that because the board’s work involves policy considerations, it is appropriate for the HPB to “. . . go up the line to the City Commission” to find out from them “. . . what do you want to see? How do you want the historic resources of the City of Winter Park to be protected? What levels do you want to go to?’’
Mr. Glidden’s assertion triggered a question from audience member Pat McDonald seeking clarification of how the HPB sees its relationship with the City Commission:
Mr. Glidden indicated that the HPB had even considered “removing” some recommended changes to make their findings more palatable to the Commission. During the workshop, Chairman Glidden and board member Genean McKinnon balked at suggestions that the work of the citizen panel should be presented directly to the Commission with Ms. McKinnon suggesting that the HPB’s report deadline made presentation of the citizen panel’s report to the Commission problematic. Mr. Glidden added that “I just think multiple recommendations prior to this board making their recommendation may be confusing. And, it kind of jumps the process.”
Who Were the “Back Channel” Influencers Who Caused the HPB to Ditch HP Ordinance Recommendations in 2012?
During the October 9 workshop, in response to intense questioning by preservationist Aimee Spencer, Mr. Glidden admitted that in March 2012, a male Commissioner had communicated to him that board-recommended changes were unacceptable, giving Glidden the impression that the board’s 2012 ordinance changes “wouldn’t fly” with the Commission due to “property rights” objections.
The exchange between the board chair and the Commissioner took place immediately after the P&Z board voted unanimously to accept the board’s recommendations on March 6, 2012.
Chairman Glidden described his encounter with the Commissioner after the P&Z meeting saying, “In talking to him [ the Commissioner ] after, I could see that we were going to have a problem . . .”
It is this input and similar comments apparently passed on to Glidden by Randy Knight and others through “back channels” in 2012 that accounted for the withdrawal of the board’s Historic Preservation ordinance recommendations from consideration at that time.
As shown in the 10/9 workshop video, preservationists and other citizens are continuing to ask for an opportunity to directly address the City Commission to present their views and suggestions – and those of the City‘s expert consultant. Despite Commission efforts to keep citizen and consultant testimony largely confined to the HPB, even City staffers had assumed that the Commission would – as a first step in consideration of ordinance changes – hear direct testimony from the City’s own Historic Preservation consultant, but a majority of the Commission rejected that option in November.
Video excerpts (included in part one of this story) of Commissioners debating the merits of allowing the City’s Historic Preservation consultant to share his research and recommendations with them illustrates the ideological and procedural fault lines along which the Commission is still divided – fault lines that the Fine Dining Panel somehow managed to straddle, but which have so far proved impassable to advocates in the Historic Preservation community.
Note: We have changed the text of this article to correctly identify Ms. Betsy Owens by her proper surname.
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