The Canopy – Questions Remain

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

The Canopy – Questions Remain

Guest Columnist Marty Sullivan

The first anniversary of the conditional use approval of the Canopy project is coming up September 24, and shortly thereafter the Commission should receive the construction drawings, from which the City can finally calculate the “not-to-exceed” cost of the project.  Despite anticipation of these long-sought answers, questions remain.

The proposed Canopy project is a big deal for our City. Based on the history of our current library, we may have this public building for the next 40 years.

What Questions?

We have to ask: Is the design compatible with our City?  Is the library satisfactory in form and function to serve Winter Park citizens? Will the adjoining events center serve Winter Park’s needs for community events? Will the evolving cost fit within our budget? Will long-term maintenance and operation costs be acceptable? Will it be a desirable addition to Martin Luther King, Jr. recreational park? 

Let Your City Officials Hear From You

Your City leaders need to hear from you. Let your Commissioners know your thoughts on the proposed library and events center. There is no time to waste. Act now.

You can research the proposed Canopy library and events center on the City web site, https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/city-info/winter-park-canopy/

Narrow Margin Foretold Present Dilemma

In March 2016, we voted on a bond referendum for a new library. I expected a favorable landslide vote, because who isn’t in favor of a new library? The bond passed, despite controversy over vague plans and finalization of the building site. The final breakdown was 51 percent for and 49 percent against. The referendum passed by a margin of just 214 votes, foreshadowing the controversy that was sure to follow.

Initial Concept is Substantially Changed

Are the changes in building sizes from the initial concepts acceptable? The referendum language specified, “For the purpose of building the Winter Park Library and Events Center, to include library facilities, civic meeting and gathering facilities and related parking structure . . . .”

Voters were told there would be a 50,000-square-foot (sf) library, an 8,505 sf civic center and a 200-space parking garage (“Community Engagement Workshops,” ACi Architects, 10/26/2015).  

Now, the plans are for a 34,400 sf library and a 13,564 sf events center. The ‘associated parking structure’ has been replaced by surface parking (City Commission conditional use approval, 9/24/2018). The Canopy library is only 400 sf larger than the current library facility. Library staff cites efficient use of space, which compensates for the reduction in size, but is this library adequate for our citizens’ needs?

MLK Park Loses Trees and Green Space

Are changes to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park appropriate? The proposed structure will reduce the MLK park area by an estimated two acres, and the storm water treatment area must be expanded, although no specifications had been developed as of May 2019 (LandDesign engineers).

What Effect Will Tourism Dollars Have?

The City secured a $6 Million Tourist Development Tax (TDT) grant in return for making the Canopy Events Center available for international tourism. At the City’s presentation to the TDT grant board, City Manager Randy Knight was asked about the extent of Winter Park citizens’ use of the event center facility.  He responded that he thought Winter Park residents might use the facility during the week, but that the event center would be available on weekends for tourism activities.  Winter Park voters approved the bond referendum based on an event center with the purpose of “civic meeting and gathering facilities.” However, now the intended purpose seems to be an international tourism destination. (Presentation before Tourist Tax Grant Board 3/15/2019). 

No Hard Numbers, So Far

Cost estimates have been a moving target. To date, the City has provided only artistic renderings, and we are depending on bids based on construction drawings to derive hard costs.  The City’s official position on cost estimate is $40.5 million, coming from $28.7 Million in bonds, $6 Million TDT grant and $5.4 Million in private donations. The estimated total budget with contingencies is $43 Million.

How many private dollars should our community contribute to this one project? Are we draining resources away from other endeavors? We have other important projects on the horizon, many of which may require private sector support, such as plans for the post office site, new parks, city hall renovations and repurposing the old library site.

How high is too high?

What final figure will cause our City leaders to pause and rethink this project? Fifty Million? We’ve heard $55 Million. Commissioners need to tell us now what they consider an acceptable figure to move ahead with the Canopy.

Make Way for the Wrecking Ball

Civic Center to Be Demolished This Week

Make Way for the Wrecking Ball

Controversy surrounding the city’s new library project dominated the January 28 City Commission discussions, even though it wasn’t on the agenda. This time around, criticism came from state officials, who aren’t happy with the City’s plans to build its new library and civic center at Martin Luther King Park. The state has even warned that the city could lose future grant money for parks if it doesn’t comply with the rules.

None of that is stopping the City from going full speed ahead with the project. Plans are underway to tear down the Rachel Murrah Civic Center this week and take the chainsaw to 60 trees at the park between now and April.

City Out of Compliance with State Grant Rules

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection notified the City Manager in a letter dated March 6, 2018 that the city had failed to follow the rules governing a grant it received in 1994 for improvements to Martin Luther King Park. Commissioner Carolyn Cooper and several citizens pleaded unsuccessfully with commissioners to hit the pause button to resolve the issue.

Seen in this context, and taking into account the City’s failure, so far, to come up with a clear plan to bring the Canopy project back in line with the $30 Million budget approved by the voters in 2016, the decision to proceed with such haste gives one pause.

Playing the Blame Game

“There is a small group that continues to protest this project and has gone to the State and has asked the State to overturn previous State grants, once again costing the citizens of Winter Park money,” said Leary. “If we have to pay back the State . . . uh, this is a small group who are shooting people in the foot. It’s an absurd request.”

FL Department of Environmental Protection

The notification of non-compliance came from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and concerned the 1994 grant for improvements to MLK Park under the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP). The grant required the City to dedicate the park, in perpetuity, “as an outdoor recreation site for the benefit of the general public.” [emphasis added]

City Version of Deed Restriction Unacceptable to FDEP

A March 6, 2018, letter from FDEP General Counsel’s office warned that the Public Dedication recorded by the City in January 2018, “does not meet the requirements of the rule and is not acceptable to the department.” The letter went on to state, “Failure to comply with the department’s rules can result in the City being declared out of compliance and therefore ineligible for further grants from the department.”

This could affect the City’s application for a FRDAP grant for improvements to the wetlands around Howell Branch.

But Wait – There’s More

A January 16, 2019 letter from FDEP stated, “It has also come to our attention that some or all of the City’s previous land and recreation grants do not have restrictive covenants recorded for the parks funded by our grants.” In addition to MLK Park, the letter contains a list of other FRDAP grants for locations such as Lake Baldwin Park, Mead Garden, Phelps Park and the Howell Branch Preserve, requesting the City to provide copies of the declarations of restrictive covenants for each within 60 days.

To read the full text, click here.

What’s a Deed Restriction?

A FRDAP grant to the City carries with it the requirement to publicly record with Orange County a covenant restricting the park to outdoor recreation, in perpetuity.

If the City converts this dedicated land to another use, according to the January 16 FDEP letter, the City must “. . .replace the removed property with property of similar size and value and replace any facilities (such as the walking trails around the current civic center that were part of the FRDAP grant) that will be removed by the new construction.”

Citizens Urge Caution

During public comment, several citizens urged the Commissioners to move cautiously with their demolition plans until the way forward is clearer.

“I see a tendency by the City to insulate itself from opposing views and from citizen input,” began Beth Hall. She pointed out that the original Library Task Force had considered multiple sites for the new library, MLK Park among them. “But I don’t see where the FRDAP grant was pointed out or considered by the Task Force,” she said. “Thus a major restriction on the viability of the site was ignored.” Hall pointed out that the City had made no attempt to inform voters of this issue at the time of the bond referendum.

Who Knew about the Grant?

In a January 30 email responding to a public records request from Beth Hall, City Clerk Cindy Bonham confirmed the City has no records of communications or materials about the MLK Park FRDAP grant being provided to the Library Task Force, to the Commission, to the Planning & Zoning Board, the Library Board, the Library Staff or to the trial court that heard the bond validation suit.

Road Not Taken

Referring to the FDEP requirement to replace all converted lands with land of similar value, Hall asked the Commission to remember the bowling alley property. “That it is gone is a failure of long-term vision and strategic thinking,” she said. “Maybe hearing other voices would have taken us another way, but we will never know, for that was the road not taken.”

When is a Canopy Not a Canopy?


Charley Williams displayed the City’s tree demolition legend, which identifies more than 60 trees that will fall victim to the chainsaw this spring. He suggested the City Communications Department might keep citizens abreast of what will transpire in MLK Park. He showed before and after pictures of mature live oaks that were removed January 26 to make way for the Civic Center demolition.

Williams urged Winter Park to “show some leadership” by heeding the advice of the Winter Park Forestry department to save mature specimen trees by root pruning and moving them to safety within the park. He pointed out that other cities have done this and that there are Winter Park residents ready and willing to privately fund the project. “We’ve already named it the Canopy,” said Williams. “Now I think we ought to walk the walk.”

‘We Keep Whittling Away Amenities While the Price Goes Up’

Kim Allen enumerated ways in which the Canopy project has changed since it started in 2016. The square footage of the library is significantly reduced. Elements of the buildings, like the porte cochere at the entrance, have either been eliminated or declared ‘alternatives,’ which the City can build only if it raises additional money. The $30 Million budget cannot accommodate many elements that would seem integral to the success of the project.

Sarah Sprinkel: “It Makes Me Mad”

In her closing comments, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel decried having what she called “an issue that some people in this community have created for us.”

Cooper reiterated her suggestion to put the matter of the grants on the City Manager’s report so that people could see periodic updates of how the City is working through the issue. Cooper’s desire for this kind of transparency was not supported by her fellow Commissioners.

Leary: “It Just Seems to be One Thing After Another”

In his concluding remarks, Mayor Leary said, “Whether it’s trees outside, or whether it’s water . . . I mean, it’s one thing after another.”

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.

No Park Expansion

No Park Expansion

A 20,000-square-foot medical office building will occupy a lot once home to bowling lanes on Fairbanks Avenue near U.S. Highway 17/92.

City commissioners accepted an offer to buy the land from ComTech Properties for $3.5 million by a 4-1 vote, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper opposed. The site at 1111 W. Fairbanks Ave. has been coveted by some in Winter Park eager to expand Martin Luther King Park.

The city put the land out for bid in June, less than a year and a half after it bought the 1.63 acres from Rollins College for $2.9 million. The college had bought the bowling lanes site in 2013 for $2.85 million as part of a planned athletic field, but sold it to the city after it found another location.

The city used community redevelopment — or CRA — funds from its special downtown taxing district to pay for about a third of the purchase price to Rollins. The intent was to create turn lanes from Fairbanks Avenue onto Hwy. 17/92. There also was discussion at the CRA and city commission level about using the parcel to expand MLK Park.

Commissioner Cooper argued Monday the city should delay the sale “for now,” so it can study what effect the new city library will have on storm water drainage in the area. Hurricane Irma raised the need for more land to offset storm water, she said. Commissioner Greg Seidel voiced similar concerns, as did two residents who spoke to delay the sale. This area “was the TV stand-up spot” reporters used to show flooding from Irma, resident Charley Williams said.

Mayor Steve Leary said the agenda item was “never about park space and water,” but about needing space for traffic lanes. Arguments about stormwater were just another tactic to delay the sale, he said, and that could scare away prospective tenants in the office building and jeopardize the bid.

Power and Police Priorities

Power and Police Priorities

Winter Park’s electric utility and law enforcement emerged as partial winners in Winter Park’s budget debates. The city’s tax rate for 2018 will stay the same.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma and complaints about outages, city commissioners figured out ways to make more money available to the electric utility fund. The biggest chunk — $1 million – will be transferred to the utility this budget year from the city’s water reserves. Another $425,000 would be freed up in the utility’s 2018 contingency funding by moving street-lighting from the utility to the general fund, where it had been in the past.

Not yet known is whether that the additional $1.425 million will speed up the city’s underground wiring or how much work could be accomplished. Although several commissioners said the money was intended to move forward with undergrounding, Mayor Steve Leary said some of the $1 million could go toward other improvements necessitated by the hurricane. City Manager Randy Knight estimated the city’s total storm-related costs at $5.5 million with much of that ultimately covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

“The City has undergrounded just over six miles with the $3.5 million provided for the FY17 fiscal year,” said Clarissa Howard, the city’s communications director Tuesday. “It is extremely difficult to determine how much could be done with additional funds as each project is different and complexity can affect the cost.”

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper voted against the $1 million transfer, saying she preferred such fund-to-fund shifts be done as loans that are paid back. Both Mayor Leary and Commissioner Pete Weldon voted against putting street lighting back in the general fund.

NO BODY CAMERAS FOR POLICE

Police Chief Michael Deal was successful in winning an $862,000 increase in his department’s budget. In earlier budget talks, Mayor Leary had asked the department to cut its request by $200,000, but on Monday commissioners decided to approve the full request. They said they wanted the department to be competitive with other Central Florida departments in hiring new officers.

Commissioners, however, declined to budget the $120,000 Deal had sought for police body cameras. In earlier budget talks, only Mayor Leary had supported that request. Commissioner Weldon didn’t want the cameras to be used to make public safety a “political football,” and Chief Deal said he had seen no complaints of excessive force or racial profiling in the year he has been chief.

On Monday, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel noted the police department’s healthy budget and said the chief could use the money for body cameras if he saw them as a priority. If the chief “can figure out a way to do it, fine,” she said.

NO TAX RATE INCREASE

Commissioner Weldon was unsuccessful in seeking a cut in the property tax rate to 3.9942 mills. That would have removed a half million dollars from the general fund. One mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 in assessed property value.

Weldon argued that the city’s coffers are healthy enough to sustain a lower rate. In addition, he said, the same millage will bring in more revenue because the city’s assessed property values have increased. Commissioners voted 4-1 to keep the rate at 4.0923 mills.

Keep the Park in Winter Park

Guest Columnist – Bob Bendick

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

Keep the Park in Winter Park

The “Greenspace Connectivity” article published here is a useful continuation of the discussion in our community about the need to update Winter Park’s ten-year-old Parks and Recreation Plan.

While there remains some uncertainty about the exact questions to be answered by a plan update, it has been encouraging to see the support among elected officials and others for continuing investment in parks and open space in Winter Park.

WP Vision Focuses on Parks & Greenspace

A number of the recommendations of the 2008 plan have been implemented. This, in itself, demonstrates the value of park planning, and this progress provides a good base for additional improvement. Careful stewardship of our parks reflects the views of the great majority of Winter Park residents, as expressed through the city’s recent Visioning Process. The Vision plan recommends:

• Investing in a sustainable future that encourages and supports lifelong learning, healthy living and a daily connectivity to the natural world.

• Enhancing walking, biking and recreational activities through a connected and integrated network of open space.

• Fostering sustainable public and private parks and open spaces using state of the art practices and techniques.

Revise Parks Plan to Address Today’s Needs

So why is a revision of the city’s parks and recreation plan a practical and useful step toward achieving the elements of our shared community vision? First, a revised plan would reflect the preferences of today’s Winter Park’s residents. For example, activities such as lacrosse and paddle boarding hardly existed here ten years ago, but now have grown to become popular uses of our parks.

Reduce Cost and Conflict

A carefully wrought plan would provide a much-needed cohesive framework for making decisions about expanding, adding or modifying individual parks. The decision-making process would become more cost-effective and the City would realize a reduction in the lost time and conflict that results from ad-hoc decision-making.

Avoid Duplication

A thoughtfully revised plan would reduce duplication of facilities and activities, thus improving the delivery of recreational services to the people of Winter Park. It might also introduce innovative ways for private citizens to contribute to the natural and scenic character of our city.

Introduce Updated Management & Maintenance Practices

An updated plan would introduce state-of-the art techniques for management and maintenance of park facilities. A specific, achievable menu of desired projects would enable the City to take advantage of strategic opportunities for implementing the plan through public infrastructure programs, private donations and amenities in commercial and residential development projects.

Connect Our Parks

An updated plan would show how our parks can be connected with walkways and bikeways to provide a green framework for the city’s future. Connectivity among our parks would enhance opportunities for outdoor recreation for citizens of all ages while affording opportunities for safe, non-motorized transportation. We can achieve all this through coordination with the City’s bicycle and walkway planning.

No Need to Re-invent the Wheel

The city’s 2008 parks plan is a sound, useful document. There is no need to start over or to undertake a lengthy and complex planning process. We can take a practical, creative approach to discover ways to further enhance and connect our city’s natural assets of parks, lakes, private open space, walkways and bikeways.

Such an effort is well worth the investment of time and money. Having a clear, overarching vision of the city’s specific open space needs and priorities will save us in the long run, and will encourage the partnerships and creative ideas that are central to park planning and management in today’s world.

We owe it to the next generation to keep the park in Winter Park.

Green Space Connectivity

A City In Search of a Unified Parks Plan

Green Space Connectivity

Among the drawers, shelves and stacks of notebooks, leaflets and books storing visions, plans and master plans sits the Winter Park Parks & Recreation Master Plan. As that plan nears the age of 10 – it was last updated in 2008 — Commissioners, staff and citizens have concluded the time has come to give it some much-needed attention.

Outdated Information

Many of the national statistics used to support the 2008 plan date from 1999. In 2008, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), upon which we now base much of our data, did not exist. According to GIS data, since 2008 the City has added 50 acres of parkland – some of it under water, but most of it visible to the naked eye.

In addition, some significant developments have occurred in the past 10 years that do not appear in the 2008 plan – projects in Mead Botanical Garden and plans for the new library-event center in MLK Park, for example.

Parks Plan Needs Life Support

Solid reasons exist to resuscitate the plan. Both the City’s Comprehensive Plan and the Vision Plan require the City have a current Parks & Recreation Master Plan. Actually, Comp Plan Policy 6-2.5.4 states the plan should be updated every five years. Second, the City must have a current Parks & Recreation Master Plan in order to retain accreditation under the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA).

There’s Talk, but No Action Yet

Toward that end, the Commission took up the question of updating the Parks & Recreation Master Plan at their August 28 meeting, with the stipulation that they intended to take no action at that meeting.

At the outset, it’s important to know three factors which could stand in the way of a speedy conclusion to this effort. First, with the recent retirement of former Parks & Recreation Director John Holland, no Parks & Rec director is in place to guide the update process. According to City Manager Randy Knight, the search for a new director has not yet begun.

As of August 28, there is no money in the FY 2018 budget for a plan update, although that could change. Finally, the scope of work is vague and the proposed schedule, which exceeds 12 months, is not set to commence until March 2018.

What Do We Know About WP Parks?

According to the 2016 Comprehensive Plan, Winter Park boasts 346 acres of publicly owned park, open space and conservation lands. There is no distinction between active park space, for instance the Farmer’s Market and Azalea Lane tennis courts, and passive green space like Central Park or Mead Botanical Garden.

Of the 346 total acres, 27.58 acres comprise 36 ‘mini-parks.’ Some mini-parks provide peaceful sightlines onto small gardens or lakes, while others are little more than a park bench in a roadway median.

Howell Creek Conservation Land to be Added

In addition to the existing inventory, the City is in the process of purchasing 55.57 acres of conservation land along the Howell Creek Basin. The properties were appraised at $166,000. The agreed-upon purchase price plus commissions will come to $304,500. Approximately half this amount will come from a grant from the State of Florida. The remainder will likely come from the Parks Impact Fee Fund, which currently has a balance of more than $1 million.

The package deal includes seven separate parcels. Of these 55+ acres, two parcels totaling 12.23 combined acres are within Maitland City limits, and 7.71 acres are submerged.

Maitland Gets a Piece of the Park

According to minutes of the August 14, 2017 Commission meeting, staff plans “to work with the City of Maitland on a joint planning agreement to transfer the one piece of property that is in their city limits and adjacent to our park into [Winter Park] city limits and to transfer ownership of the other parcel to Maitland.”

Once this wetlands area has been reclaimed, invasive plants will be replaced with native species. The City plans to create a recreation area that will feature boardwalks, nature trails and a kayaking “blue way.”

Questions Remain — How Do We Anticipate Future Costs of Park Ownership?

Parks & Recreation accounts for approximately 15 percent of the City’s budget. To date, more money has been devoted to parks acquisition. As our parks age, however, the lifecycle costs of ownership and maintenance increases. Is the City prepared to create a Parks & Recreation Master Plan that accurately reflects these costs so we can anticipate out-year budget requirements – and budget for them?

How to Develop Connectivity Between the Park Spaces?

In their August 28 report to the Commission, staff highlighted the need for connectivity between our existing parks and green space. Their recommendation was endorsed by Commissioner Greg Seidel, who cited the need to weave in GIS data points to evaluate feasibility and to accelerate the connectivity portion of the Parks & Recreation Master Plan.

Should We Distinguish Passive Park vs. Active Park?

As urban sprawl presses on our borders, our active parks and passive green space frequently find themselves in the same footprint and in direct competition with one another. The resulting frustration for any visitor is that neither the active nor the passive functions can be adequately realized.

Charley Williams’s ‘Official Quiet Zones’

Elected officials, City staff and Winter Park residents are embarking on a difficult task – one that will take time to complete. In the meantime, Winter Park resident Charley Williams offered the following thoughts that might form a context and a way to think about these issues. In this spirit, we share his musings with you.

 

Charley Says . . .

Leash your dog
Take your bike for a walk.
Enjoy the garden.
Leave the flowers on their stalks.

Take a deep breath
. . . .and take one again.
Smell the dirt and
The scent of the air after the rain.

Sit on a bench, relax, listen.
Remove your sunglasses.
Feel the shade.
Close your eyes – smile, feel your thoughts fade.

Watch the clouds.
Enjoy the sunset.
What bird call was that?
Are the owls waking up?

Come tonight for a meteor shower.
Bring your blanket to lie on.
Feel our natural rhythms
In the low light of our park after dark.

Charley Williams has lived in Winter Park and Central Florida for over 25 years. When it comes to sports and rec, he’s proud to say he still has good knees.

City Tree Preservation Board Jumps the Gun

Saves Developer $12,375

City Tree Preservation Board Jumps the Gun

Several weeks ago, in the thick of election season, Winter Park’s Tree Preservation Board delivered its own October Surprise.

The board had proposed significant changes to the city’s Tree Preservation Ordinance earlier this year, and had been waiting for months – through hearings, workshops and citizen testimony — for the changes to be finally approved.

But then, in early October something happened that tested the board’s willingness to wait for final Commission approval of the ordinance changes:  A local developer filed an appeal, hoping to overturn a $12,375 tree removal fee required by the city’s current ordinance — an appeal that mirrored the Tree Board’s own desire to significantly reduce tree fees and replanting standards.

Tree Board Overturns Current Preservation Standards in Appeal Case

The developer’s appeal was heard by the Tree Board on October 18. On that day, in less than thirty minutes, the Tree Board overturned provisions of the city’s current tree ordinance and instead, voted to substitute their own proposed ordinance changes — just 3½ weeks before the City Commission would have an opportunity to vote on the changes. While discussing  their motion to waive the fee and the standards mandated by the city’s current ordinance, the board cited provisions of its own proposed ordinance changes in reaching their decision.[Video]

City Claim re Historic Trees that “We’re Not Allowing Removal” Proves False

Nine days before the Tree Board appeal hearing, the city sponsored a Tree Ordinance Workshop where citizens debated the board’s proposed changes in anticipation of upcoming Commission hearings on the matter. At least two members of the Tree Board attended the October 9 workshop. These members and many city residents witnessed George Wiggins, head of the WP Building Department, offer a strongly worded assurance to citizens who might question the intent of the proposed changes:

“There’s an extremely important point here that I cannot over-emphasize. When you’re looking at a historic tree . . . we [city staff] have never issued a permit to remove a historic tree . . . So when you see these drastic differences [between the proposed ordinance and the current ordinance] I’m not sure that it matters much, because we’re not allowing the removal. “

However, documents obtained by the Voice reveal that two weeks before the workshop, Mr. Wiggins’ Code Enforcement department approved a permit application to do just that – remove a healthy live oak – a 39” diameter heritage tree; The same tree that would later be at issue in the October 18 Tree Board appeal. 

WPV contacted Mr. Wiggins, asking him to clarify the timing of the permit approval. He commented that his workshop statement “. . . was based on info I received from our arborist that must have pre-dated that permit. In addition it would be impossible to build the new home with the location of the tree in the middle of the lot.”

Historic Live Oak Blocks Developer Plan to Build New Home 3x Size of Current Home

Public records obtained by the Voice show that once the tree removal permit was approved, the permit applicant, Rex-Tibbs Construction Company, filed an appeal on October 4 asking the city to waive payment of a $12,375.00 fee into the Tree Fund.  The fee Rex-Tibbs was hoping to avoid is owed by property owners when they receive a permit to remove a large, healthy tree. (Fees are not owed when a sick or declining tree is removed.) The staff report prepared for the appeal hearing defines the city’s requirement in this case:

“As a Historic Tree, the compensation requirement becomes 3” of replacement to 1” removed or replanting of one 4.5” minimum caliper shade tree and compensation of $110.00 per inch not replanted. Assuming the minimum was replanted, this leaves a balance of 112.5” and a balance due of $12,375.00.”

Other documents obtained by the Voice include a Purchase Contract for the residential property on which the oak stands – a lot in an established neighborhood on Rockwood Way in south Winter Park. In an apparent bid to develop an investment property, Rex-Tibbs Construction is contracted as the sole buyer of the Rockwood property. The property contract is scheduled to close in mid-November.

Rex-Tibbs submitted building plans to the city indicating that they intend to replace the existing 1600 sq. ft. home on the lot with a new two-story 4,500 sq. ft. home. The new building footprint covers the spot now occupied by the historic oak. Winter Park Voice contacted Donney Rex and requested comment and/or clarification of the information obtained in our Public Records Request. As of press time, Mr. Rex did not respond to our request for comment.

During the appeal hearing in front of the Tree Preservation Board, the city’s arborist, Alan Lee, conceded that the size of the historic tree’s canopy creates significant difficulty for construction of a new home on the lot. However, Mr. Lee also pointed out that the historic oak is physically and structurally “in good shape,” adding that he expected the historic oak to live “another hundred years or more.” [Video of Full Hearing]

Did City Miss Opportunity to Replace Ailing Trees on Winter Park Road?

During the hearing, board members learned that the property on Rockwood is very close to Winter Park Road — a few hundred yards from the spot where the city pruned deep v-cuts into multiple oak trees along the roadway. City officials have stated that the trees were pruned this way due to the declining health of the trees.

Current city code would have allowed Rex-Tibbs to plant or possibly even “donate” multiple trees as a way to significantly reduce the fee they owed the city. A review of the Rockwood Way documents does not show evidence of any alternative building plans or off-site tree replacement strategies requested by the city or offered by the builder.

At the Tree Preservation Board hearing, Donney Rex of Rex-Tibbs construction presented his case to the board members, noting that he has planted many trees during his years as a home builder. Mr. Rex was not opposed to planting a few replacement trees on the property, but did ask the board to waive the $12,375.00 fee. Options including modifying the building plan and/or applying for setback variances to enable the home to be moved away from the tree were not discussed at the hearing. Board members and the city arborist agreed with the builder that the historic tree would have to be removed to enable the proposed new home to be built, as currently designed, inside the current setback envelope.

Board Members Explain Decision/Rejection of Current City Code

Soon after Mr. Rex finished his presentation, board member Richard Simpson made a motion to waive the entire fee. Mr. Simpson’s rationale for approval appeared to be largely based on the more lenient Tree Preservation Ordinance provisions his board has recommended to the City Commission. Simpson explained

“I know that the City Commission has not adopted our proposals to revise the tree code, but . . . if we adopted the proposed code — notwithstanding that it hasn’t been approved yet by the City Commission — and approved this with a two tree replacement requirement, we’d be consistent, at least, with the amendments to the code that we [proposed earlier this year].“

Simpson’s motion was quickly seconded by board member Christine Menkin. Just before the board voted, board chair Woody Woodall assured the board members that he had attended the October 9 Tree Ordinance workshop and observed that “There was really only one person that dramatically opposed our [proposed changes].”

Immediately following Mr. Woodall’s comment, city staff recorded a board vote of “All in Favor” to waive the $12,375.00 fee and require Rex-Tibbs to replace the 39” diameter live oak with two 4.5” trees.

Related Tree Workshop Videos:

Winter Park Voice requested comments from all Tree Preservation Board members who were present at the hearing, including Anthony Gray, Phil Eschbach, Woody Woodall, Christine Menkin and John Simpson. As of press time, we did not receive any comment on the proceedings, except from John Simpson, who commented via email to the Voice,

“I have no comment regarding the actions taken at the October 18 meeting. The video and minutes speak for themselves. As I am not the chairman of the TPB, it is not my place to speak for the Board.

Regarding the Board’s proposed changes to the ordinance, I suggest that you seek comment from Pete Weldon as he was the member primarily responsible for the proposed changes. As you know, these changes were discussed and revised at several Board meetings and were then adopted by the Board and sent to the City Commission for consideration. I voted in favor of these proposed changes, but recognize that others may have different views and priorities. My intent was to encourage the retention and planting of trees within the City while reducing the financial hardship imposed on property owners seeking to improve or enhance their homes.”

Commission Yields to Citizen Concerns: Schedules Tree Preservation Workshops: Schedules Tree Preservation Workshop

Commission Yields to Citizen Concerns: Schedules Tree Preservation Workshops: Schedules Tree Preservation Workshop

At their September 10 meeting, City Commissioners agreed to put off a vote on Tree Preservation Ordinance changes until a citizen workshop could be convened.

The panel acknowledged receiving critical letters from citizens concerned about the proposed changes. The discussion opened old fault lines on the Commission — with the Mayor hinting that citizens had been stirred up by misleading information.

Halfway through the discussion, some members of the panel became visibly agitated as they described citizen resistance to proposed policies. Despite the occasionally contentious exchange, the Mayor and Commissioners did ultimately reach consensus that a public forum would benefit the community. City Manager Randy Knight was asked to schedule a workshop on proposed Tree Preservation Ordinance changes.

 


UPDATE: Public Meeting on proposed Tree Ordinance changes will be held Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 6 pm at City Hall.



>> Watch video of the discussion by clicking on the image above.

On Monday, September 17, Phil Eschbach, a member of the city’s Tree Preservation Board, joined a group of Winter Park residents in a meeting with Randy Knight. The group discussed setting up a workshop, scheduled for October 9, that will give city residents an opportunity to learn more about the city’s proposed changes to the Tree Preservation Ordinance.

In a statement to the Voice, Mr. Eschbach said he hopes “for a good turnout on Oct 9th because we want to make sure the public understands what this is all about and what the ramifications are. Also the important thing to get across is that after the hearings, the ordinance will be brought up for a vote later in October.” Mr. Eschbach tells the Voice that the October 9 meeting is scheduled for 6:00 pm, pending final confirmation from City Manager, Randy Knight.

Marc Hagle, past member of the Tree Preservation Board that wrote the current ordinance, has indicated to members of the citizen group that he will attend the workshop.

This article was updated on 9/19/12.

 

Hagle: Fate of 100 Year Old Trees Worth Debating

Hagle: Fate of 100 Year Old Trees Worth Debating

In an open letter to city officials and citizens of Winter Park, Marc Hagle sheds light on the original Tree Preservation Ordinance he helped write as chairman of the tree ordinance committee.

Mr. Hagle explains the costs and benefits that underlie the current ordinance and urges a more robust, citizen-involved debate before the ordinance is changed.

Hagle traces the history of Winter Park’s tree canopy — an effort sustained by generations of Winter Parkers to fulfill a vision of the city’s founders. That vision transformed a landscape dotted with native pines into the urban oak forest we live in today. The historic 19th century photo shown above (obtained from the Winter Park Historical Association website) shows the Winter Park/Orlando “Dinky Line” passing by the pine trees that dominated the landscape in the late 1800s.

This is the full text of Marc Hagle’s open letter to the city:


“Thank you to all who have volunteered their time for the benefit of Winter Park. It is through a combined effort and dialogue that a true and representative direction for the City is determined.

The tree preservation ordinance is one of those issues which requires an open and representative discussion. There are clearly two schools of thought, the property rights of our citizens and the historic rights of the City.

I am a real estate developer. As such, I am firmly in the camp of individual property rights. An owner should and must have the right to own, protect and develop his individual property as he wishes, of course within safety and other realistic guidelines. But what are these guidelines and what is their purpose?

Historically, City codes are based on the health, safety and welfare of it citizens and the public in general. How does this apply to the tree line within the City? To answer this question, one must understand the history behind the tree line in Winter Park.

Continued from Home Page… In the late 1800’s there were no oak trees in Winter Park. The trees consisted primarily of pines. The City leaders at that time started importing and planting the oak trees as we see them today. This process continued thru the early 1900’s. The City we enjoy today is a product of over 100 years of effort from our forefathers.

Property rights versus the rights of the community, this is today’s debate. The tree line in Winter Park is not a today phenomenon. It is a legacy passed down to us. It is part of the very soul of the City. It is not an asset which can be replaced in the short term, as it takes decades to develop a mature tree.

Does the history of the tree line and the time to replace it give rise to City intervention? Well of course it does and has by the history and agreed importance of the tree line and the very existence of the previous, existing and proposed tree codes. So now the only remaining question is the degree of intervention.

It costs approximately $110 per caliper inch to plant an oak tree. Once planted, a new oak tree must be heavily watered for its first year after planting. To hire a crew on a bulk basis to water newly planted trees costs over $5-700 per tree.

The Winter Park Live Oak Fund has planted over 750 trees in Winter Park in the last 5 years. The fund initially planted both 6 inch and 4 1/2 inch trees. In our first year we learned it was most economical to just plant the 4 1/2 inch tree. We also learned an oak tree of less than 4 1/2 inches had no short term impact on the tree line. By dropping to a 3 inch tree, we were not only compromising in diameter of the tree but most importantly the height and spread. Thus the Live Oak Fund, through trial and error, determined a 4 1/2 inch tree was the best for the City and still cost effective.

When I chaired the committee which wrote the existing tree ordinance, there was considerable debate as to personal versus public rights and a fair and equitable cost, if you will, as to the value of a tree to the City and the right to buy that value from the citizens of Winter Park. It by no means was a short debate. The existing fees were determined based on the size and historic nature of the tree to be removed and a comparison of those costs to ordinances written in the communities surrounding Winter Park. Further, one of the overriding considerations was the long term protection of the tree asset for the City. We did want to allow the property owner the flexibility required, but did not want to allow this flexibility without recognizing the actual replacement cost of such an asset.

The three categories of trees, protected, specimen and historic are representative of similar ordinances in other cities and recognizes the long time it takes for the growth of an oak tree. The replacement ratios of 1:1, 1.5:1 and 2:1 took the visual impact and replacement time into account.

So, should a property owner have the right to remove a 75 year old tree and replace it with 3 five year old trees? From a cost stand point the tree removed costs approximately $20-25,000 and the replacement would cost $990, not a fair trade. From an historic and visual perspective, trimming a deep V for power lines has less impact. We know how the public feels about the power line issue.

Again, I thank the tree preservation committee for their hard work and dedication to the City welfare. I do believe the debate should continue and the investment our ancestors have made in Winter Park protected.”