Double-Density Cluster Housing

Coming to a Winter Park Neighborhood Near You

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

Double-Density Cluster Housing


Guest Columnist Jan Hommel

On Monday, April 23, developer Dan Bellows will ask the Commission to grant conditional use and associated variances for a rental apartment complex on the property at 301 W. Comstock – formerly City property known as the Blake Yard.

Each of the four rental units will have its own detached two-car garage with a 420- to 480-square foot “accessory living space” above it. To the casual observer, that would be a garage apartment. So, are there four apartments or eight?

Blake Yard sits between the Grant Chapel, the railroad tracks and the Lyman Avenue Villas. The property is easily accessible to Park Avenue via the new walking path on the tracks. The long promised silent train crossings, now under construction, further enhance the desirability of this lot.

About a year ago, the City saw a chance to cash in on Blake Yard. City reserves were at a low ebb at the time and needed bulking up, so it seemed an opportune time to issue a Notice of Disposal (NOD). According to the NOD, the property would be zoned R-2 and allow a maximum of four units. The property appraised at $450,000.

City-Owned Property Merits Special Consideration

The sale of city-owned property usually goes through a rigorous review process. After all, city staff and the Commission have a responsibility to ensure the City is not negatively impacted and receives full benefit from the sale.

Round One — Monkey Business at City Hall

The disposal of the Blake Yard property came before the April 10, 2017 Commission meeting. Two parties, Dan Bellows as Winter Park Redevelopment Agency Ltd., and Rowland and Co., with architect Phil Kean, submitted competitive bids for the property. Both bids were below the appraised value.

After lengthy discussion, the Commissioners decided not to accept either bid and asked Planning Director Dori Stone to negotiate with the two bidders to see if one or both would agree to meet the appraised value. Stone would then bring the issue back before the Commission at the next meeting on April 24, 2017.

Round Two – Back to the Drawing Board

At the April 24, 2017 meeting, following the second phase of the bidding, Dori Stone recommended that the property be sold to Bellows’ Winter Park Redevelopment Agency, Ltd. because he was the highest bidder by $1,000.

The commission was headed in that direction until Rosemary Hayes, the attorney for Rowland & Co., disclosed some information she had gotten from a public records search. She found that on Friday, April 14, 2017, before close of bidding, Rowland & Co. had bid $455,000. Bellows had submitted a bid that offered “$450,000 OR $1,000 higher than another bid.”

Ms Hayes’ public records request also revealed a communications thread between City staff and Mr. Bellows, which included information about the Rowland bid.

City Manager Randy Knight emphasized that all communications between Bellows and City staff occurred after the bidding was closed. Rowland & Co. and their attorney were not party to any of these communications, however.

On a motion to approve Bellows’. bid of $456,000, Mayor Leary and Commissioner Weldon voted yes. Commissioners Seidel, Sprinkel and Cooper voted no. The motion failed and the project was sent back out for bids.

Three’s a Charm

Finally, at the May 22, 2017 meeting, the Commission voted 3-2 to sell the property to Bellows’ Winter Park Redevelopment Agency Ltd. for $481,000. Cooper and Seidel voted no, but this time Sprinkel joined Weldon and Leary to approve the sale.

The sale received final approval on second reading at the July 24, 2017 Commission meeting.

A New High in High-Density Living

In April 2018, Bellows’ plans for the old Blake Yard sailed through Planning & Zoning on a unanimous vote to approve.

Bellows is seeking to introduce a new model for high density living in Winter Park. In the style of the James Gamble Rogers-designed Barbour House Apartments, Bellows plans to build four rental apartments, each with a detached two-car garage – and each of those two-car garages sports a second-floor “accessory living space.”

Pesky Conditional Use Requirement

According to code, the scale of buildings in R-2 should blend in with the neighborhood, in this case, single family homes and duplexes. Bellows’ proposed four-unit apartment building is hardly in keeping with either the adjacent Lyman Avenue Villas or the single family homes on Comstock.

Staff thinks the apartment building blends right in. Evidently Planning & Zoning did, too.

The Neighbors? Not So Much

Since this project requires a conditional use, neighbors’ concerns should have been addressed. Were they? No.

Despite the fact that the neighbors met with City staff to voice their concerns, hired an attorney and showed up in force at the P&Z meeting, their pleas fell on deaf ears. The neighbors should have kept their money and saved their effort.

Neighbors say the scale of the building is a problem. They worry about the variance Bellows received to place his looming building three feet closer to the new bike path than code allows.

Additionally, Bellows must take two valuable parking spaces from Grant Chapel — now Hudson’s Event Venue — to access the apartments from Lyman. The Chapel didn’t have enough parking in its old use. In its new incarnation, the event center is woefully under-parked.

And Those Garage Apartments?

Remember, 301 W. Comstock is zoned for four units. What code loophole allows four units to morph into eight? Here are staff’s arguments supporting the garage apartments:

  1. The space for the apartments is within the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limits.
  2. The garage apartments won’t have separate utility hook-ups.
  3. The garage apartments don’t have kitchens. According to code, garage apartments are not allowed to have kitchens or cooking facilities. These will not have a 240 volt hook-up, so technically, there is no kitchen. This one got a laugh from those of us who forsake the microwave for the oven only at Thanksgiving.
  4. City code prohibits short-term rentals and subletting of garage apartments.

No Subletting? No AirBnB? Then What’s the Point?

The neighbors weren’t buying it — and you shouldn’t either. Subletting is more than likely. The garage apartments will make the rental price on the main apartments much more palatable if the tenant sublets or runs an AirBnB. Any way you look at it, the density will double.

There is no Enforcer

The City admits it is unable to police the “no subletting” rule, and they are certainly unable to police the rule against short-term rentals – AirBnB, etc. In fact, Dan Bellows prominently advertises a property on AirBnB, complete with photos of “Host Dan.”

If the units were Condos, with a proper Home Owners Association, perhaps the owners would police each other to prevent illegal subletting, but as rental units, there are no controls.

The neighbors are justifiably concerned about the “double density” of this project. Parking is inadequate for eight units. Residents and their guests will be forced to use nearby streets — Lyman and Comstock.

There is Still Time to Show Your Support – Monday, April 23

This project comes before the Commission on Monday, April 23. Please help stop this green-lighting of ill-conceived projects by the City, the Staff and Planning & Zoning.

Beware the Slippery Slope

If this level of density is allowed in one neighborhood, every neighborhood in town is vulnerable. We are all in this together. Let your voice be heard.

Write to MayorandCommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org, to ask them to reconsider their decision, and show up at the meeting on Monday, April 23rd.

Those Yellow Signs – They’re Back!

Neighbors Protest Aloma Townhome Development

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

Those Yellow Signs – They’re Back!

Guest Columnist Beth Hall

The city Commission is now all that stands between a group of Osceola/Lakeview Planning District residents and a development proposal which threatens to destroy the single family character of their neighborhood, as well as that of a block on the north side of Aloma between Phelps and Lakemont Avenues.

No Density Signs are Back

City Planning staff and the Planning and Zoning Board have given the high-density, 18 town home project a big thumbs up, despite the fact that it will strip four of the five lots of their single family R-1A status. Residents adjacent to and directly behind the project are up in arms.

Planning Staff Recommends PURD

City Planning staff has worked with the applicant, Ansaka LLC, on the project for close to 18 months and are now recommending approval. The project takes the maximum conceivable density under the Planned Unit Residential Development (PURD) and R-3 zoning classifications, then adds four additional housing units.

Comp Plan Provides for Preservation of Single Family Zoning

The Comprehensive Plan provides that single family homes in this district are to be “preserved.”  City planning staff maintains that this is true of 98 percent of the planning district, but not on this part of Aloma. The growing number of yellow “No Density” signs sprouting along Aloma suggests that prospective neighbors beg to differ.

Ironically, during the same 18-month period the Planning Staff was working with the applicant, the City’s Comprehensive Plan was undergoing its periodic revision process. Despite countless staff hours and numerous community meetings, including Commission meetings, the Comp Plan still calls for the single-family R-1A designation of these parcels west of the corner of Lakemont and Aloma to remain undisturbed.

P&Z Grants Approval December 2017

Planning and Zoning took up Ansaka’s application on December 5, 2017. They approved it over the objections of the residents who appeared and spoke in opposition.

P&Z recommended the applicant hold a community meeting to discuss an appropriate “buffer” between the project and the adjacent single family homes to the north and west of the micro-community before the project went to public hearing at the January 6, 2018, Commission meeting.

Ansaka Slows Down Application Process

Ansaka skipped the January 6 Commission meeting, and finally held a community meeting on March 1, 2018. It is unclear how attendees were notified of the meeting. The applicant chose to postpone the public hearing until March 26, 2018.

City Staff Hits Speed Bump

Then, a glitch in the City’s public notification process necessitated a delay for two more weeks, until Monday, April 9, because of the City’s inability to verify that it had provided adequate public notice in all its required forms, including publication.

Speed Bump Slows Ansaka

The Applicant made clear his intention to proceed on March 26, but was unsuccessful. The project was pulled from the March 26 agenda and rescheduled to April 9. The intervening two weeks have seen a surge in awareness of the project throughout the neighborhood and throughout the City.

Neighbors Ask Commission to Step into the Breach

At this moment, residents of the neighborhood near the project are holding out hope that the city Commission will give their already established property rights priority over those of a developer who bought land speculating that he could rezone it, change the future land use map, and amend our Comprehensive Plan.

Who will prevail?

What to do about Winter Park’s Infestation of Carpetbaggers?

Open Letter to the Mayor, Commissioners and my Winter Park Neighbors

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

What to do about Winter Park’s Infestation of Carpetbaggers?

Guest Columnist Todd C. Weaver

Population Threshold is a topic that rarely comes up in conversations about public policy, but it should, and particularly with regard to the proposed 18-unit Planned Urban Residential Development (PURD) on Aloma between Lakemont and Phelps.

What is Population Threshold?

A Population Threshold is the point at which the rate of increase of the per capita cost of public services is more rapid than the rate of increase in population. You’ve likely heard the false narrative that increasing the size of our tax base is good for Winter Park.

In the long run, nothing could be further from the truth.

Taxes Go Up as Thresholds Are Crossed

As population density increases, the cost per capita for public services increases at a faster rate than the population, and any increase in housing density never pays for itself. It gets paid for by increasing taxes on the entire population. Likewise, chances that an increase in the commercial tax base pays for itself are slim to none.

Winter Park boasts a fine staff of experts that oversees the functionality of our city services. These people can tell you that at certain thresholds, city service costs, which are funded by taxpayer dollars, must accommodate increases in development at certain trigger points or “thresholds.”

Hundreds of Miles of Buried Pipe and Conduit

Staff responsible for public works and utilities can tell you that we have hundreds of miles of piping and conduits buried under the City to handle sewage transfer, storm water and potable water. We also have a plan in place to use recycled water for irrigation, requiring more miles of underground piping. The same is true for the electric undergrounding effort, currently underway.

At some population threshold, the carrying capacity (size) of these pipes and conduits must be increased, at a substantial cost to present and future residents and businesses. Streets must be dug up, traffic rerouted, expensive horizontal drilling where traffic cannot be practically diverted, temporary diversions of flows during construction, additional pumping and lift stations, water treatment facilities, increased electric substation equipment . . . and the list goes on.

Public Safety Costs Increase

The cost of Public Safety rises commensurately. The frequency of police calls from high-density, multifamily developments is far greater than those from single family homes and most businesses. This requires increased patrols, call answering and staff. We need more manpower and more sophisticated firefighting and EMT equipment to handle high-density structures as development and population increase.

Traffic Increases

Increased density brings increased automobile traffic, adding to the nutrient loads draining into our lakes. We must compensate for the increased nutrient load in our waterways with expensive herbicides, increased labor and expensive aquatic equipment to handle tussocks, algae blooms and dredging exacerbated by development. Every time additional pavement or impervious surface is laid, storm water runoff increases, putting us closer to another threshold.

High Density = Variances

The development at Aloma and Lakemont is all too common a scenario. Despite having a Comprehensive Plan and zoning codes in place, a small number of players, who are well aware of the limitations of land use imposed by City regulations, now expect the Planning & Zoning Board and the Commission to roll over and grant their claims for significant variances, zoning changes and other non-compliant requests.

The developer, ANSAKA, LLC, bought four single family lots and one office lot. At the April 9 Commission meeting, the City will be asked to rezone them all — on the primary east-west corridor through the City. When combined, the lots do not meet the 2-acre minimum required by code to build such a development.

Profit Is Not Dependent on Zoning Changes

I’ve developed multiple commercial and residential properties in several Florida counties over the past 20 years. Never once did my company believe it had the right to ask for any variance to local or State codes. We were happy to have the assistance of municipal and county staff to guide us through the maze, and were content with a reasonable profit in every case.

Developers have a right to make a profit — that’s not the argument. What we have now in Winter Park, however, are a few developers who think it’s their right to maximize profits at the expense of Winter Park residents and businesses, and at the expense of our standard of living. These firms are like the carpetbaggers of the Reconstruction South, arriving with an empty bag, staying long enough to fill the bag with money, then leaving the townsfolk to deal with the resulting mess.

Asking Everyone to Use the Same Playbook

All we ask is that everyone play by the same rules — the rules we all agreed to in our Comprehensive Plan and zoning codes.

I respectfully ask the Commission to consider the above facts and logic and do the right thing by holding the line on our Comp Plan and zoning codes in the interest of your current and future constituents.

Sincerely,
Todd Weaver

Todd Weaver is a 22-year resident of Winter Park, and a 45-year resident of central Florida.
After graduating from UCF’s College of Engineering, Weaver spent much of 30 years as an aerospace & mechanical design engineer. He also attended UF Gainesville, taking graduate courses in biochemistry, veterinary medicine and other life sciences. He holds a Florida General Contractor license and has developed several residential and commercial properties.

Three years ago, Weaver and two partners founded a Winter Park-based company, TruGrit Traction, which has designed and patented a new type of wheel for underground pipe-inspection robots. Weaver’s company supplies Winter Park’s Water & Wastewater Utilities Department with wheels for their camera robots, at no charge to the city. TruGrit Traction proudly engineers, manufactures and assembles all products in the USA, with sales in 50 states, Canada and the European Union.

Local Mayors Fight for Home Rule

Have Our Elected Reps in Tallahassee Gone Off the Rails?

Local Mayors Fight for Home Rule

There is a group of bills making its way through the Florida legislature that would take away Home Rule from local governments and concentrate it at the state level. Leaders in Florida’s 410 municipalities and 67 counties are united in their opposition to the state legislature’s “one size fits all” approach to regulation of such things as short-term vacation rentals, Community Redevelopment Agencies and. . . trees? That’s right: trees.

Maitland Mayor Dale McDonald and Eatonville Mayor Eddie Cole attended the February 12 Commission meeting to show their solidarity with Winter Park and to urge all residents to demand that our representatives in Tallahassee oppose legislation that will preempt home rule.

Maitland Mayor Deplores ‘Arrogance’ of Elected State Reps

Speaking before the Commission, Mayor McDonald expressed his disillusionment with the “condescending arrogance” of our elected State representatives, “people we’ve known well – elected officials and legislators . . . who can pretend to be acting in your best interests, but who are not . . . .”

“The fear of leadership, the adversarial tones of the last couple of sessions, have been palpable,” said McDonald. “They will all remark on that. Our representatives in Tallahassee will tell you, ’Sorry, we can’t do anything, it’s the leadership. To get something, we’ve got to go along.’”

Whose Money Buys the Message?

McDonald noted, “It’s a whole lot easier to persuade one-hundred-odd legislators than it is 400 cities and 67 counties. But that’s their job. It’s not their job to make it easier for them to get paid – by the PACs and campaign contributions and so forth.” (The reader is encouraged to view Mayor McDonald’s complete remarks.)

A letter to Winter Park citizens from City Manager Randy Knight describes three bills that are particularly problematic.

Short-term Rentals

HB 773 prohibits cities from establishing ordinances specific to short-term vacation rentals. Online vacation rental sites like VRBO and Airbnb have generated brisk business in short-term, hotel-like rentals in residential neighborhoods. Problems include inadequate parking, noise and the presence of strangers in neighborhoods. Passage of HB 773 would prevent the City from locally regulating these businesses.

Community Redevelopment Agencies – CRAs

HB 17 and SB 432 would allow a CRA to be phased out if it is not reauthorized by a super majority vote of the body that created it. Winter Park’s CRA was created in the mid-90s and has been the catalyst for the renovation of the Hannibal Square commercial area, the Park Avenue street scape, construction of the Winter Park Community Center, numerous affordable housing and housing rehab projects and after-school programs.

Tree Trimming

With a school system that has dropped to 28th position nationally, according to Education Week, aging infrastructure and a fragile, over-taxed supply of fresh water, one would think our elected representatives in Tallahassee could find a better way to spend their time than developing tree-trimming regulations for cities like Winter Park and Eatonville.

Call to Action — It’s Not Too Late

Right Now — Email or phone your senators and representatives and tell them to oppose these bills and any others that prevent local government from maintaining the high standards that sustain the charm and character of Winter Park. Note — phone calls work as well as emails. They are recorded and they carry a lot of weight.

The vote is Thursday, Feb. 22, so there’s not a lot of time. It only takes a minute to Act Now. It’s time for Tallahassee to get back on track.

Senator Linda Stewart
stewart.linda.web@flsenate.gov
407-893-2422

Representative Mike Miller
mike.miller@myfloridahouse.gov
407-245-0588

Representative Robert “Bob” Cortes
bob.cortes@myfloridahouse.gov
407-262-7420

For complete lists:
FL Senate: <flsenate.gov/Senators/>
FL House of Representatives: flhouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/representatives.aspx

Ravaudage $1.2M -- No Risk, No Gain

Voice Reader Heeds Commissioner’s Advice

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

Ravaudage $1.2M — No Risk, No Gain

Guest Columnist Jan Hommel

Editor’s Note: On November 20, Commissioner Peter Weldon posted the following comment on the Winter Park Voice Facebook group. The post was in response to a November 18 article in the Voice titled “Ravaudage Gets $1.2M in Infrastructure Costs.”

From Commissioner Peter Weldon

Here are the relevant facts.

The Ravaudage road agreement pertains to specific lengths of specific roads the city of Winter Park acquired when it annexed the property. The background and agreement text can be found beginning on page 27 of the November 13, 2017 commission meeting agenda packet.

These roads are the city’s responsibility. They currently do not have curbs, sidewalks, or proper drainage. The developer intends to improve these roads with drainage, curbing, parking, and sidewalks at or above city design standards, but has no obligation to do so.

The $1.2 [Million] potential payment to the developer is ONE HALF of city staff’s estimate of what we would have to pay to do the minimum amount of work required to bring these roads up to city standards. The developer is going to do all the work subject to city approval of the plans. The developer does not get paid unless the city approved work is completed.

The bottom line is that the city can realize fully improved roads with parallel parking and wider sidewalks than our minimum standards for one half the cost the city would have spent if the developer chose not to improve these roads.

Ms. Mooney and those trying to create a political conspiracy would better serve the city and our residents by being better informed before speaking.

Come on folks. Study the issues before speaking publicly.

Regards, Pete Weldon
Winter Park Vice Mayor

Voice Reader Jan Hommel Responds

Mr. Weldon:

Thank you for requesting Voice readers get the facts before expressing their opinions. I did that. Here’s what I found.

In 2013, the city of Winter Park annexed the property as Home Acres. It was zoned single family, residential, with existing roads that were adequate for their intended use. According to Public Works Director Troy Attaway on 7/24/2017, it would cost about $30,000 to bring the public roads up to city standards for residential use. Commissioner Carolyn Cooper pointed out that when the city annexed the property from Orange County, the county had made no commitment to improve the infrastructure in the development.

The developer, Mr. Dan Bellows, now wants the city to help him bring the roads up to “minimum standards” — for his use in a high-density, mixed commercial-residential development. Building and upgrading roads and sidewalks is a normal part of a developer’s cost of doing business. Windsong and the Lee Road extension built by the Whole Foods developer are prime examples.

Although it is not unprecedented for municipalities to contribute to infrastructure cost, this usually happens in a weak economy as part of a public-private partnership to help kickstart development.

City Manager Randy Knight stated that the city is under no obligation, legal or otherwise, to give this money to Mr. Bellows. He said the only reason to do so is if the Commission thought it would help spur economic development.

This does not apply to Ravaudage. When pushed, the only recent case Troy Attaway was able to cite of the city improving a roadway to benefit business was the Fairbanks roadway improvement, which is not comparable.

At the August 14, 2017 meeting, the Commission voted 5-0 to have staff provide an analysis of the economic benefit the $1.2M payout to Mr. Bellows. Apparently none was provided.

Troublesome Rationale

Commissioner Weldon, your rationale for this give-away was particularly troublesome. First, you stated it will give us control over the roads. Winter Park already has control over public right-of-way road improvement by developers.

Second, you wrote we will get quality roads for half the price. True, but if we can get something for half-price or for free, shouldn’t we take free? As a developer, it is in Mr. Bellows’ interest to put in high quality roads and sidewalks. Mr. Knight clearly stated that we did not HAVE to contribute anything to upgrade the roads.

No Risk?

Next you supported this plan because it was no-risk. True, nothing will be paid out until the city collects money from the project in the form of unrestricted impact fees and property taxes. I am appreciative of the fact that you didn’t want to put city money at risk by giving Mr. Bellows money up front, but at that point, your reasoning fails.

No Gain

If you truly believe that Mr. Bellows needs an infusion of cash from the city in order to hasten development in Ravaudage, then fund him up front. As Commissioner Seidel observed, the timing of the flow of funds, while protecting the city, does little to serve your stated purpose of speeding along development. It may be no risk, but it’s also no gain. Why spend $1.2 million when only Dan Bellows benefits?

In summary, Mr. Weldon, you, along with Ms. Sprinkel and Mr. Leary, voted to give $1.2 M to Mr. Bellows. This money was not necessary to have functioning roads. This taxpayer money was in ADDITION to the high density accommodations that Mr. Bellows already received. This $1.2 M is certainly not needed to encourage development in our very robust Winter Park economy.

Please know the voters are watching. We will be taking these fiscally irresponsible actions into consideration when we go to the polls.

Sincerely.

Jan Hommel

P.S. To the Voice readers, according to City Attorney Kurt Ardaman, this matter should come to the Commission again. Please voice your opinion to the Commission.

Ravaudage Gets $1.2M in Infrastructure Costs

In a ‘No Risk’ Agreement with the City

Ravaudage Gets $1.2M in Infrastructure Costs

The City Commission voted 3 – 2 November 13 to give developer Dan Bellows a $1.2 Million reimbursement over a 10-year period for work on city roads in the Ravaudage development.

Ravaudage Background

The Ravaudage area, once known as Home Acres, was re-annexed in 2012 from Orange County into the City of Winter Park after Mr. Bellows had done some initial work on the property under the auspices of Orange County. Orange County permits allowed Bellows to build greater density and provide less green space than he would have under Winter Park rules. When the property went from Orange County jurisdiction back into Winter Park, the terms of the Orange County permits were honored by the City of Winter Park.

Bellows: ‘City Will Benefit’

The interior roads subject to the current agreement include Benjamin, Lewis, Loren, Glendon Pkwy and Kindel, which were paved by Orange County. As part of his redevelopment of the area into commercial, office, multifamily and residential land uses, Bellows proposes to rebuild roads in the City right of way, adding wide sidewalks, drainage inlets, curbing and on-street parking. Bellows’ justification for requesting partial reimbursement for permit fees is that the City will benefit from these improvements, therefore the City should bear part of the cost.

Cooper Sees Troublesome Precedent

Not everyone sees it that way. Commissioner Carolyn Cooper, who was out of town and phoning in to the meeting, noted that while Orange County had approved greater density, more leasable square footage and less green space, the County had never anticipated paying for infrastructure as part of the original agreement.

Cooper said she was opposed to granting Bellows’ request for three reasons. First, infrastructure contributions were not anticipated in Orange County’s original approval. Second, said Cooper, “Windsong and Whole Foods developers demonstrated that we can get quality development without having to give injections of taxpayer funds. And, lastly, it is not fair to other developers.”

“I am totally opposed,” Cooper concluded, “and find the precedent quite troublesome.”

Seidel Searching for the ‘Win-Win’

“I don’t see the win-win here,” Seidel told the Voice. “There is no tangible value to the City for doing this work. The city doesn’t need to improve these roads — Dan Bellows does. On the other hand, the intersection at Lee Road and Executive Drive needs a signal. I would be happy for the City to contribute money to that improvement, because the entire city would benefit.”

Leary, Weldon, Sprinkel See Benefit to City

Mayor Steven Leary supported Bellows’ request, noting that the planned improvements will meet or exceed Winter Park standards. Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel agreed and made a motion to approve. Commissioner Peter Weldon, who seconded the motion to approve, said he could support the deal because, “We get control over the roads, essentially.”

No Risk

Public Works Director Troy Attaway explained that the ‘no risk’ aspect of the agreement refers to the fact that Bellows’ company will receive no reimbursement of fees until the City has received a portion of the permitting fees from him and has seen an increase in ad valorem taxes from the property.

This is not the first time the Commission has been generous with Mr. Bellows. In January 2015, Leary was one of three commissioners who approved a variance for Ravaudage in which one building went from four to six stories while the height of an alternate building was reduced.

The Winter Park-Maitland Observer reported that during the week preceding the 2015 vote, contributions from five corporate entities associated with Mr. Bellows were deposited into the coffers of Leary’s mayoral campaign. See campaign report.

At the time, Leary denied taking campaign contributions from Bellows and accused his opponent of making “spurious connections” between him, Bellows and the money. “Dan Bellows has not made a single contribution to my campaign to this day,” Leary told the Observer. “He has nothing to do with those LLCs.”

Bellows also denied having ownership in the LLCs. The Observer reported, however, that Winter Park City Commission records showed Bellows has represented at least three of those entities before the Commission. Minutes from July 8, 2013 City Commission meeting list Bellows’ name alongside CRDI LLC. At the April 12, 2010 meeting, Bellows represented Venetian LLC, and he represented WFG LTD in a meeting five months later.

Commission Approves Request

The Commission approved the agreement with Bellows on a 3 – 2 vote, with Cooper and Seidel dissenting. The table below, which appears on page 30 of the November 13, 2017 Commission Agenda Packet, shows how the developer will be reimbursed over a 10-year period.

Villa Tuscany Memory Care

‘Forget It,’ Says Commission

Villa Tuscany Memory Care

At their October 9 meeting, Commissioners once again denied Villa Tuscany’s application for conditional use for a 31,000 square foot memory care facility at 1298 Howell Branch Road with a decisive 5 – 0 vote.

Villa Tuscany Revises Application for Conditional Use

In March 2017, after the Commission denied their application for a somewhat larger memory care facility, Villa Tuscany sued the City in an attempt to reverse the decision. The developer and the City entered into a mediated settlement process, overseen by a Special Magistrate. City Manager Randy Knight led the negotiations for the City. The result was the revised application for conditional use and variances presented October 9.

Applicant Still Seeks Variances

City Planning Manager Jeff Briggs explained in his presentation to the Commission that the developer had made three basic changes. The building was reduced from three stories to two stories, although the overall height of the building was dropped by only four feet, from 35 feet to 31 feet. The planned facility would accommodate 49 beds instead of the original 51 beds.

Second, the parking lot was moved from a 25-foot setback from Lake Temple to the 50-foot setback specified by City Code.

Third, the building was shifted eastward on the property to protect the view of the neighbors across Lake Temple. The shift in location put the building to within 15 feet of the sinkhole on the property. Code requires a 50-foot setback from any wetlands, so approval would involve a setback variance of 35 feet.

No Commission Guidance for Staff During Negotiations

“This mediated settlement process is certainly interesting from the staff’s perspective,” observed Briggs. Staffers who engaged in the negotiations were advised by City Attorney Kurt Ardaman that they were not allowed to speak with Commissioners about the project while the negotiations were underway.

“We had to base our decisions based on comments we heard from some of you at that March public hearing,” said Briggs, “and we had to kind of guess, to be perfectly honest.”

Briggs said he thought the reduction in number of stories and increased setback from Lake Temple might be sufficient for a staff recommendation of approval, but deferred to the Commissioners.

Well-Organized Community Opposition

The applicant then presented their case, followed by a brief Commission discussion, which consisted chiefly of Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel’s motion to deny and Commissioner Carolyn Cooper’s second.

Residents of the neighborhood, led by spokespersons Barry Render and Nancy Freeman, opposed the project on grounds that the structure is incompatible with the surroundings and is simply too large.

They acknowledged that while there are commercial buildings to the north and east of the property, those buildings are around 3,000 square feet – one-tenth the size of the proposed memory care structure. In fact, Freeman pointed out, the proposed Villa Tuscany project is larger than City Hall.

Freeman and Render said the neighbors did not object to the purpose of the project. They cited the example of Alabama Oaks, another memory care facility in Winter Park that is owned by the same applicant. Alabama Oaks is a series of small cottages that house the residents and staff of the facility, one which the neighbors feel would be suitable in their neighborhood.

Drone Photos Show Flooding at the Site

The citizens’ presentation included drone photographs taken several weeks after Hurricane Irma hit this area September 10. Photographs show the proposed building site would still have been under water as of the October 9 meeting. One can assume the additional impervious surface of a large building and 25-space parking lot would cause the water level to rise further.

Dr. Render concluded the neighbors’ presentation with a request. “We would like a project that is proportionate in size and scale, is compatible with our neighborhood, one that would preserve the charm and beauty of north Winter Park and one that would require zero variances.”

Thumbs Down 5 – 0

At the end of the day, the Commissioners unanimously denied both the application for conditional use and the Mediated Settlement Agreement.

The applicant still has the opportunity to seek relief in the court system.

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.

Stormy Weather Ahead

Will the Lights Stay On?

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

Stormy Weather Ahead

Peter K. Gottfried, Guest Columnist

Tropical Storm Maria has now become Hurricane Maria and is battering residents of the Caribbean — even as they are still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Irma. Too soon to tell if Maria will turn toward Central Florida, but one thing remains certain – the City of Winter Park is still not ready for a major hurricane.

This rotten utility pole at Stovin and Park Avenue fell during Hurricane Irma.

Storm Water Has No Where to Go . . .

Flooding occurs in the same areas of the City it always has – and thanks to continuing development without proper storm water management, it is getting worse. The City knowns about these areas, but continues to take a go-slow approach to addressing them.

. . . Except Into the Roads

Lake Mendsen within Martin Luther King Park – site of the proposed $30 million library-event center — is woefully inadequate to handle existing storm water drainage from the Winter Park Village, the Paseo Apartments and the CNL Heritage Center. Even a heavy afternoon thunder storm will cause flooding on Denning Drive and Harper Street. The construction of the new library, with its associated impervious surfaces, can only make things worse. Other areas of the City that routinely flood include the intersection of Kings Way and Fawsett Road and stretches of Palmer Avenue, where water rises to the curb top after an afternoon downpour.

High Rates Alone Won’t Keep the Lights On

Reliable electric power during major storms is a significant issue. Like many other customers in Winter Park, I was without power for a week following Hurricane Irma.

Let’s Bring Our Infrastructure Into the 21st Century

Winter Park purchased the electric utility from Progress Energy/Florida Power in 2005 with a promise to underground all lines within 10 years. According to the City website, that target completion date has moved out to 2026. Progress is measured in terms of how many miles of line have been undergrounded rather than the number of additional customers served. The current debate is less about how and when to underground and more about how to pay for it. For information about undergrounding in your area, go to https://gispublic.cityofwinterpark.org/ugstatus/

Editor’s Note: The City of Winter Park issued a statement that said undergrounding timeline was 20 years.

Winter Park can do better. There is no reason we should scramble every time there is a major storm. Let’s bring our infrastructure up to date so we can have some peace of mind when the next storm hits.

Peter K. Gottfried is President of Natural Systems Analysts, Inc. which provides technical and scientific support to the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Land Management. He served as a City Commissioner and on the Planning and Zoning Board, Lakes and Waterways Board and, currently, on the board of Mead Botanical Garden.

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.