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.

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.

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.

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.

The Time for Public Input is ALWAYS!

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

The Time for Public Input is ALWAYS!

Randy Knight, City Manager of Winter Park

The city always asks for public input and considers this input vital to our city governance. Winter Park operates under a representative form of government. This means we, as citizens, elect representatives to run the city, pass laws and regulations, address development requests, and plan for the future of our city. As part of that process the city ALWAYS asks for community input and often times it provides opportunities for that input multiple times before final decisions are made.

When the question arises, “has anyone asked you…” about items such as the Lawrence Center Garage, parking or mixed use, the answer is, “Yes, the city has asked or will ask as part of the process.”

For the proposed Lawrence Center Parking Garage, a citywide notice was mailed to all city households at the beginning of August asking interested residents and stakeholders to attend and share their input at upcoming meetings. The notice was also posted on cityofwinterpark.org/citywide. The dates for public input are Tuesday, September 11, for the Planning & Zoning Board and Monday, September 24, for the City Commission meeting. Both meetings are held in Commission Chambers located on the second floor of City Hall.

For the proposed parking code changes, a community input meeting was held in July, multiple summits were held in 2017, and the City Commission was provided an update at their March 2018 meeting. These meetings were noticed by various means. Subscribers to citEnews were emailed a notice. The meetings were posted online with related reports posted on cityofwinterpark.org/parking, postcards were mailed to 274 property owners in the corridors directly impacted, and advertisements were placed in the newspaper. If an ordinance modifying the parking code moves forward for City Commission consideration, those meetings will be advertised and public input taken in public hearings at the Planning & Zoning Board and at two separate City Commission meetings.

The Orange Avenue pilot project for mixed use was just suggested at the July 10 Commission work session. This will be a multi-month study/process and public input will be solicited throughout that process. This project was considered by your elected representatives over Aloma Avenue, West Fairbanks Avenue and Lee Road because there are three major properties along that corridor that have expressed interest in redevelopment over the next 24 months. That is not the case for the other corridors.

We understand what a challenge it can be in our busy lives to keep up with the various issues being addressed by the city and that is why we use multiple methods to get the word out. The best ways to stay informed for these types of projects are to subscribe to the citEnews emails at cityofwinterpark.org/citEnews or periodically visit the city’s official website for upcoming board & public meetings at cityofwinterpark.org/bpm.

The Time for Public Input is NOW!

We Want a Seat at the Table

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

The Time for Public Input is NOW!

Guest Columnist Sally Flynn

The city is moving very aggressively on several major projects that have the potential to change the face of our city.

Lawrence Center Garage

First up is the expansion of the Rollins College Lawrence Center at 200 E. New England Ave., with possible city participation in the associated parking garage.

Kimley-Horn Parking Study

Second is a parking study by consultants Kimley-Horn which, if adopted, will change our parking codes to allow construction of larger buildings with less parking.

Mixed Use Development

Third is the development of standards for Mixed Use Development. The city is considering using the Orange Avenue corridor as a “test case” for mixed use, which would involve what’s called Traffic Oriented Density. Developers would be able to build larger buildings with a mix of commercial, residential and office uses. The addition of a new Sunrail stop is contemplated for the area.

We Should Be Talking – Now!

All three subjects should be the subject of intense conversation with Winter Park residents — Right Now.

Ask Yourself This

Has anyone asked you what you think about a six-level garage at the Lawrence Center?

Has anyone asked you what you think about changing our parking code to allow bigger buildings and less parking?

Has anyone asked you to weigh in on using Orange Avenue as a pilot project for mixed use?

Has anyone asked you whether you would prefer instead to see Aloma, West Fairbanks or Lee Road as the pilot project for mixed use master planning?

It’s our money, why aren’t they asking you/me/us?

We Deserve a Seat at the Table

The place to begin is to begin by asking for a seat at the table. Several friends and I will be writing to the commission asking for the opportunity for public input, and for the City to start the discussions over again from the beginning – and this time, they include us.

Join Us

We invite you to join us by writing to mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org and letting them know you want to be included in plans for the future of our city.

Open Letter to Mayor & Commissioners

If there is no parking deficit, why spend tax dollars on parking garage for Rollins?

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

Open Letter to Mayor & Commissioners

Guest Columnist Beth Hall

Dear Mayor and Commissioners:

I am writing to you about the issue of the commission’s handling of public parking in the city versus the public trust. The public trust is perishable. Once lost, it is mighty difficult, if not impossible, to regain.

The issue I have with the handling of parking matters at this time is that the city is feeding the public one story and then taking actions that would indicate that precisely the opposite story is true. The left hand appears not to know what the right hand is doing.

As P & Z and the commission prepare to vote on the proposed changes to our parking codes, it is apparent that you are placing the city on a “parking starvation” diet. Sort of like the traffic diet approach on Denning and what’s proposed on Corrine, for instance.

Because the Kimley Horn study indicates that Winter Park’s “current parking resources are being underutilized” and any parking problem is illusory, the idea is to reduce dramatically the parking requirements we currently insist upon in the city. Because we don’t use what we have, the code won’t require so much parking going forward.

Where offsite parking used to be at a distance of 300 feet, 450 feet is the new standard. Where one space was required for every 250 sq. feet of retail/office space, now it will be one spot for every 350 sq. feet. The first story of a building will need so many spaces but other stories will require fewer.

Yet, at the very same time, the city is allocating millions of dollars to partner with Rollins on a new parking garage at the Lawrence Center. If we have no parking deficit to begin with, per K-H, why the allocation of citizen tax dollars to partner on a five or six level parking garage in which the city has no ownership interest?

If the City intends to build a parking garage in the city with the people’s tax dollars, wouldn’t it be better to build such a structure at the new library and events center? This is what was actually PROMISED in the bond referendum language. This would at least possess superior optics. If we do not need the additional parking anyway, you should put a parking structure where you made a legally binding promise to the citizens to do so.

Another issue I have with changes to the parking code combined with a new garage is that together these will allow for the approval of the Battaglia project with inadequate parking to serve the building. The proposed reduction in parking spots required, based on square footage, combined with a nearby parking garage built at taxpayer expense means Battaglia’s parking woes will be solved on the tax payer’s dime. This will be so although he never, ever shared a single parking spot at the Bank of America garage with the public. We the public may be blind, but we are not stupid.

Rollins can well afford a parking garage. They are not using public tax money to build it. You cannot say the same.

If there is no parking deficit, do not partner with Rollins on a 5 or 6 level garage. If you insist on building a garage, then use the CRA or other city funds from people’s taxes to pay for the library parking garage as promised. Just how many citizens do you suppose really want a huge garage at the Lawrence center site?

If there is a parking deficit, then it is appropriate to either leave the parking code as is or make it even more stringent. Mixed use parking standards can be dealt with at the appropriate time going forward.

Sincerely,

Beth Hall

Mixed Use on Orange Avenue

Trojan Horse – or Manna From Heaven?

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

Mixed Use on Orange Avenue

Guest Columnist Beth Hall

Citizens of Winter Park: beware the Trojan Horse.

Before she “left the building,” retired planning director Dori Stone may have deployed one. The Orange Avenue corridor is in developers’ cross hairs. Rumors even include a possible new rail station.

Apparently unwilling to develop their sizable Orange Avenue holdings under the strict limits imposed by our current land use laws, Stone said that over the past 18 months, owners of larger properties along the corridor have approached the city about opening the door to development of greater intensity.

With property owners anxious to make big changes to the corridor, planning staff has brought forward to the commission the idea of a “mixed use overlay.” Once in place, this alternative zoning would give land owners the option to develop parcels they own on a scale that will vastly exceed the existing zoning parameters. In return, they would give back to the city in a way that benefits all residents. Is this the rumored train station?

Video obtained of the duly noticed “mixed use workshop” held at City Hall on July 10, 2018, shows the city planning director exhorting the commission that as a “legislative body” they have a responsibility to the community to “make this happen” and to “let the community know what this corridor needs to look like.”

Stone insisted the 2017 comprehensive plan must be a “fluid” document, one that “changes with the times,” noting that some of Winter Park’s most “iconic places” are examples of “mixed use” development done before the city had a comp plan or stricter land use laws. Does this mean the comp plan is now an obstacle on the path to progress?

Taller, more massive buildings would “make a statement.” Land holders on the avenue could choose to re-develop under the new mixed-use guidelines or use existing zoning guidelines. An urban design expert should be hired to devise a master plan for a “mixed use overlay. “

Stone cited the Medical Arts District rising around Winter Park Hospital as an example of this idea. Orange Avenue would serve as a test case.

There was no mention of the fact that Orange Avenue is already a thriving mix of shops, businesses and eateries. City ownership of a large parcel on the Orange Avenue corridor was noted. The mayor’s ownership stake in four other parcels was not. Also, omitted was the fact that West Fairbanks has seen the deployment of many millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements, which the City could begin to recoup.

If you think you might like to hear the discussion of mixed use that took place or if you want to hear for yourself how individual commissioners viewed the idea, I fear you’re out of luck.

The audiotape of the meeting posted by the city is very poor quality and the city says enhancement efforts have proven unsuccessful. Had I not obtained a video of the meeting independently, I could not have written this piece. I would not be aware that the posted minutes from the meeting do not accurately reflect city staff in attendance . . . omitting as they do a city attorney who spoke and gave advice.

Mixed use — Trojan horse or manna from heaven? Only you can decide, but as of this writing, becoming informed will not be a simple task.

Let’s Make a Place for Our Big Green Friends

Guest Columnist Todd Weaver

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

Let’s Make a Place for Our Big Green Friends

The one thing of note in an uncharacteristically brief June 11 Commission meeting was a presentation by Planning Director Dori Stone about Mixed Use Development. Her presentation focused on a single question, the answer to which will determine the way Winter Park grows into the 21st century.

The Question

Are current land use and zoning categories sufficient to promote the best development in Winter Park, or does the City want a specific mixed use development option for properties located along gateway corridors within the city limits?

WP Already Has 3 Mixed Use Developments

Currently, Winter Park has three mixed use developments – Park Avenue, Hannibal Square and Winter Park Village. The single word that describes all three is walkable. Each development has a mixture of shops, offices and residences. Each is a popular destination with wide sidewalks and plenty of shade – resulting in plenty of foot traffic. Buildings are pedestrian in scale, allowing life to flow easily in and out of doors. Each location has a well-defined sense of place.

They All Have Trees

While they have different architectural designs, street layouts and building heights, they all have one essential attribute — deciduous trees. Trees with wide branches. Trees with lots of leaves. Trees that provide cool shade and a sense of place.

Regardless of architectural design, without the shelter of these leafy branches all three areas would be hot, blinding, forbidding environments of reflective and refractive masonry, asphalt and glass. People would avoid them whenever possible, except possibly at night. Who among us doesn’t choose the shady parking spot over the one baking in the harsh Florida sun?

We All Need Trees

Our affinity for trees is in our DNA. Our ancestors relied on trees for security from predators, for foraging, for shelter from the elements, and for gathering places for social contact. Our love of trees is innate. No man-made structure ever has the same elemental and calming effect.

Builders who ignore the need for a stately tree canopy in their developments are doing a disservice to their clients, their tenants, the customers of those tenants and to their own legacies. Trees are good for our peace of mind, the environment – and they’re good for business.

What Kind of Canopy Will Be Left at the ‘Canopy’?

In this vein, many are concerned that at the new Winter Park Library – Event Center at “The Canopy,” the majestic trees that currently form the canopy on the Rachel Murrah Civic Center site will meet with the chain saw — despite the branding term. When that happens, the glare and reflected heat from all that glass, metal and masonry will change the character of the MLK Park dramatically. Although new, smaller trees can be brought in, it will take decades to achieve the current sense of place afforded by the existing site trees.

Don’t Cut Them Down; Dig Them Up!

This does not have to happen. A reasonable solution would be to dig up the specimen trees, roots and all, and store them in MLK Park in wooden crates until the construction is completed and they can be safely replanted.

Sound Impossible?

While this may seem incredible, it is actually standard technology. The land that the retired El Toro Marine Air Station occupied was deeded to the City of Irvine, CA in the early 2000s. Before redevelopment began, 543 large shade trees, which included 10 species, were saved in this manner. The average weight per tree was 40 tons. The city crated them and cared for them for about five years until, one by one, they were strategically replanted as redevelopment progressed. The sense of place was preserved by this brilliant and caring move, and the homes in those developments sold as quickly as they were built.

Trees Are Our Brand

Canopy trees are part of our unique Winter Park brand. They shelter nearly every street and enhance every neighborhood. The promulgation of mixed use standards presents a fleeting window of opportunity. We must act now to ensure that mixed-use will enhance our gateway corridors for generations. Let’s make a big green splash!

Trees Should Be Part of the Mix

Let’s make room for our big green friends in our Mixed Use code. Let’s promote reasonable street setbacks and adequate pervious areas for these natural wonders. After all, our big trees enhance and promote our businesses, our neighborhoods and our sense of place in Winter Park. And, for Winter Park, a sense of place is a sense of home.

Todd Weaver is a semi-retired aerospace engineer and UCF graduate. He holds a Florida general contractors license. He currently runs a Winter Park-based business, TruGrit Traction, Inc, which designs and manufactures specialty wheels for pipe inspection robots for the public works industries. Weaver has served on Lakes Management advisory boards for Orange County and Winter Park.