Open Letter to City Officials

Open Letter to City Officials

Don’t Block W. Lyman Ave.

Guest Columnist Janet Hommel

Dear Mayor Leary, Vice-Mayor Weldon, and City Manager Randy Knight:

We have a problem in Winter Park. You, as city leaders, are not fostering a culture of listening to residents, especially those on the Westside.

Recently, we pleaded with you not to sell Blake Yard. We begged you to consider making a community garden of the space. This was one of the last gems of city-owned urban greenspace.

After you up-zoned and sold Blake Yard, we fought the intrusion of an 8-unit cluster housing apartment building on Comstock, a street of single family homes. Again, you didn’t consider residents’ concerns.

Now you have a proposal to bisect W. Lyman Avenue at New York. You will cut off the Westside from Park Avenue. I read in the agenda item that the Chamber of Commerce is in favor of this change. I note further that staff will reach out to local businesses and will take this concept to the Transportation Advisory Board and the CRA Advisory Board for further review.

What’s missing here? Oh, them! Has it occurred to you to ask what the residents think — especially those on the Westside who will be most impacted?

What would be your reaction if the city were going to cut your street in half, making your block a dead end and forcing you to reroute to reach the other side of town? Imagine further that the city didn’t inform you of this, but rather sought input only from the neighbors on the other half of the bisected street – all of whom were commercial.

Now, try to imagine how we on the Westside feel.

Ignored. Again.

Sincerely,

Janet Hommel

258 W. Lyman Avenue
Winter Park, Florida

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Saving Winter Park’s Unique Character

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.

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Traffic Increase Zooms Toward Lee Road

Traffic Increase Zooms Toward Lee Road

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

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.

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We Can’t Hear You!

We Can’t Hear You!

Open Letter to the City of Winter Park

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.

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Is Stormwater the Canary in the Coal Mine?

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.

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Stewardship: In Support of a Land Ethic

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.

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