Orange Avenue on Track to Become Hot Spot

Orange Avenue on Track to Become Hot Spot

December 5, 2019 / by Geri Throne

A 40,000-square-foot lakefront home proposed for Palmer Avenue—the biggest home ever in the city—is garnering the most attention outside Winter Park. But residents who crowded a city planning and zoning board meeting Tuesday had an even bigger issue on their minds: a rezoning plan to convert North Orange Avenue into the city’s next intensely developed hot spot.

After a long line of residents spoke for and against the rezoning proposal, members of the advisory board all voiced their enthusiastic support. They agreed that benefits would outweigh any negatives and voted unanimously to recommend the proposal to the city commission.

City commissioners will consider the rezoning plan at its Jan. 13 meeting.

Planning jargon aside…

Despite use of planning jargon such as “overlay district” and “placemaking” at Tuesday’s hearing, the issues surrounding the proposed Orange Avenue district boil down to familiar zoning concerns: Is growth “inevitable” in Winter Park, and if it is, how much development should be packed into an area? How high should buildings be allowed? How much extra traffic should be created?  How well would new construction mesh with existing structures?

City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson said a flexible mixed-use overlay is the best way to deal with the avenue’s future growth. He defended the months-long process the city went through to arrive at the proposal, noting that residents were involved early on. An 11-member appointed steering committee, made up of people with broad ranges of opinion about development, participated in the recommendations.

“Despite what has been reported [in social media], the small-scale character of Orange Avenue has been promoted and protected throughout the process to the highest extent possible,” Stephenson said.

Residents concerned about the new zoning district, however, were not convinced. They asked the planning board for more time to digest the thick packet explaining the proposal. They noted the potential for congestion, more traffic and buildings as tall as five and seven stories within the district.

Although the number of residential units in the district would stay the same, total development in the proposed district would become more intense. Under current zoning, almost 1.9 million square feet of development is possible in the district. With the new district zoning, the total square footage possible would climb to more than 2.6 million.

The debate…

The benefit, Stephenson said, would be a mixed-use plan that would improve the area visually, attract more visitors, and cure what the city sees as “economic stagnation” on Orange Avenue from Fairbanks Avenue to US 17-92. Some other pluses he cited: wider, safer sidewalks; more open space; connection with nearby Mead Botanical Gardens, and parking garages set back behind buildings. Design standards would ensure that new structures would be attractive and compatible with neighboring buildings.

Existing zoning also would allow more development, he said, and perhaps not what residents might desire. Without new and creative zoning, he warned, a Wal-Mart-sized structure could be built with a huge paved parking lot.

Some residents, however, worried that the plan didn’t do enough to honor the city’s stated commitment to cherish “its traditional scale and charm.” Resident Bart Johnson said that exceptions to that goal in most of the proposed district were big enough for a developer to “drive a truck through.”

“Citizens need more time to fully understand the implications” of the lengthy new ordinance, pleaded resident Pat McDonald, a concern echoed by other residents.

Frank Hamner, an attorney representing the Holler family, a major property owner in the area, criticized calls for further delay as having “a different purpose” than stated. Residents had ample time to attend the numerous public meetings about the proposal, he said. Their calls for more time were “a distraction” to “delay for delay’s purposes.” Hamner also accused unidentified people of posting online anonymously and knocking on doors “spreading lies” about the plan.  Those people should “come up out of the sewer,” and make their case face to face, he said.

Traffic worries

Stephenson downplayed traffic worries. The planning director stressed that the overlay is a “framework” or starting point, which must be approved before a traffic study can be done. He also cited a state study that found few drivers stopped on Orange Avenue as a destination. He described it as a “cut through” road.

That four-lane stretch of North Orange Avenue is no shortcut, however. It serves as an arterial road in Winter Park, connecting Winter Park commuters to State Road 527 and US 17-92 and helping them get from one side of the city to the other. Traffic accidents on that stretch are frequent, city statistics show. Until a traffic study is conducted, it remains unknown how traffic safety, street parking and traffic flow will be juggled under the proposed design.

Left unknown…

Undecided in the proposed ordinance is the fate of Progress Point, an odd-shaped, city-owned parcel at the intersections of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive. The steering committee could not agree how the lot should be used or whether the city should sell it. Sheila Deciccio, a member of that steering committee, urged that the city keep the land, which might help solve area stormwater and parking problems. The site is “one of the jewels we have left,” she said.

Also unknown, but probably not in doubt, is an unrelated agenda item—the fate of the massive 40,093-square-foot home that real-estate developer Marc Hagle wants to build on Lake Osceola. The planning and zoning board tabled its vote until next month after some board members and two neighbors raised questions about a proposed setback.

What is an Overlay District?

What Does It Mean for the Orange Avenue Corridor?

What is an Overlay District?

Back in 2016, the Commission added a provision to the City’s Comprehensive Plan promising the creation of a “Mixed Use Overlay” category ‘within one year.’

Now that we are finally getting around to it, what is it anyway?

‘Mixed Use’ is a development term – a type of development Winter Park has done before on Park Avenue and in Hannibal Square that includes commercial, retail and residential development. Some would include Winter Park Village in that category, though the residential component is less apparent. The rules for these specific areas have worked well for us. That’s why Park Avenue and Hannibal Square look the way they do and why they have stood the test of time.

Asked what happens if a developer just follows regular City zoning regulations instead, Planning Director Bronce Stephenson responded, “Trader Joe’s.”

What is happening on Orange Avenue is a mixed use zoning overlay, but you can call it ‘mixed use,’ an ‘overlay district’ – or baked potatoes. Simply put, a zoning overlay regulates development within certain geographical boundaries in a manner that expresses the community’s vision of what they want the area to be. In this case, it also is way of granting entitlements to developers that seems fairer to the City.

What ‘City’?

Parenthetically, this brings us to a thought to keep in mind during this discussion: Who or what is The City? Is it you and me and everyone who lives here and pays taxes? Is it the elected officials who sit on the dais? Is it the staffers who toil behind the scenes to make the machinery work? Is it all of the above?

In the case of the Orange Avenue project, the answer is ‘all of the above.’ In April, the [then new] Director of Planning and Community Development, Bronce Stephenson, brought together a Steering Committee of 11 citizens from across the political spectrum to create a vision for what the Orange Avenue corridor should be. The Committee met 12 times over the summer. Public input was taken at each meeting.

The Steering Committee and staff identified a specific geographic area, divided it into sub-areas depending upon the type of development that was either existing or possible, and decided how they thought the area could develop in a way that would preserve the eclectic character and offer the greatest benefit to The City. The area they defined became the Orange Avenue Overlay (OAO) area.

Three large landowners – Demetree Holdings on the southern part of Orange Avenue, Holler Properties on Denning and Fairbanks, and City-owned Progress Point in the middle – all have holdings that are large enough to be able to provide resources to upgrade the entire corridor for The City.

The Problem

To fix area-wide issues that affect existing businesses and discourage redevelopment within the OAO district, staff and the Steering Committee first had to identify the problems. What they found won’t surprise anyone.

  • • Dangerous and inefficient traffic flow
  • • Archaic one-size-fits-all zoning codes
  • • An approximately 485-space parking deficit – before a single new thing is built
  • • Poor storm water management that causes businesses on Orange Avenue to flood.

The Fix

The OAO seeks to grant entitlements to developers by ‘quid pro quo’ rather than by variance or rezoning. If a developer is granted entitlements by rezoning and/or variance, as is currently the norm, the developer gets some or all of what he or she wants . . . and the City gets little if anything in return.

Give . . .

According to the rules being put in place for the OAO, if the developer has an ‘ask,’ the developer must also bring a ‘give.’ City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson explained that a developer can offer two kinds of ‘gives’ – quantitative and qualitative.

Qualitative gives might include:

  • • Safety & mobility
  • • Life, light and eyes on the street
  • • Connectivity
  • • Better traffic flow
  • • Storm water management

Quantitative ‘gives’ could include:

  • • Shared parking
  • • Storm water treatment and management
  • • Meaningful open space with unrestricted public access
  • • Trails and other mobility enhancements

Of course, there would be overlaps.

. . . and Take

Doors and Keys – for which read: density — pay for storm water mitigation, parking & open space. If developers don’t make money on their projects, they don’t do them. Eliminating parking from Floor Area Ratio (FAR) calculation is one way to help them be profitable. Large owners – Demetree, Holler and the developer of Progress Point – will be able to ‘earn’ up to 200 percent FAR by providing fixes for one or more of the area-wide problems. The 200 percent FAR is what we have on Park Avenue and in Hannibal Square.

Storm Water Treatment

“We are desperate for space for storm water treatment, especially along Orange Avenue,” said Stephenson. “Progress Point is the lowest elevation within the OAO, and that provides an opportunity for the developer of that property to correct the flooding and storm water treatment problem for the entire area.”

Parking

Today’s 485-space parking deficit translates into 3.9 acres of asphalt surface parking,” Stephenson explained. “We want developers to come in and build vertical parking with 10 percent additional shared spaces. There’s not enough room for it to be surface parking. That means, to make their developments work, the parking places should not be included in their FAR calculations.”

Open Space

Developers with properties larger than 1.5 acres must provide 25 percent “meaningful open space.” For the Holler property, at the current asking price, that 25 percent translates to $6 Million worth of land, according to Stephenson – a sizeable ‘give’ in anyone’s estimation.

Give And Take

Described here are just some of the concessions from developers that will provide substantial value to The City as the OAO redevelops. The final draft report of the Steering Committee will provide detailed lists of ways developers can earn entitlements. Information regarding the Committee’s progress is updated regularly on the City website https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/boards/orange-avenue-overlay-steering-committee/.

What About Progress Point?

The Steering Committee, with 10 of its 11 members present, met the night of November 13 at the Mead Botanical Garden Clubhouse to vote on the final report. As the final report was presented, the one remaining bone of contention was the four-acre parcel at Progress Point.

The City owns the land, but will either lease or sell to a third party to develop the parcel. Over the 12 Steering Committee meetings, there had been considerable discussion of a four-story office building with associated parking structure, but a number of Steering Committee members were unhappy with that solution.

Stephenson pointed out that while The City has no pressing need to sell or lease this piece of land, it has not proven itself to be a good steward. The Committee members agreed that what we need at that location is parking, open space, drainage and connectivity with Mead Garden.

Devoting the entire 4+ acres to parkland would deprive the existing Orange Avenue businesses of the opportunity for treatment of storm water that currently floods many of their businesses, and it would deny them desperately needed parking.

No Consensus on Progress Point

At the end of the day, the Steering Committee stipulated in their report that there was no consensus on the use of Progress Point. The Committee voted 8 – 2 to approve the final report. Dissenting were Michael Dick and Sheila DeCiccio.

“We Can Do Better”

Asked why she voted against the report, DeCiccio stated, “I wanted my voice to be heard on Progress Point. I am 100 percent for everything else in the report. I am all for the Holler and Demetree entitlements. But a four-story office building with a garage bigger than the new one at Rollins? We can do so much better than that.”

“Most of what’s there now is already offices and daytime use,” DeCiccio went on. “There can’t be any shared parking in the daytime – they don’t have enough daytime parking as it is, and nothing much goes on there at night. An office building will not contribute anything there.

“There are so many wonderful things we could do there that would activate the area at night,” she said. “We could do a theatre district, food courts, things that people could go to and have fun. We can do more than just green park space, too, but we wouldn’t need so much parking if we put something besides an office building there. Where is our imagination? This is Winter Park – we need something really wonderful for everyone there.”

There is No Lack of Public Input

By the end of this process, the City will have held 19 opportunities for public input.

The Steering Committee Report will go to Planning & Zoning December 3 for a public hearing.

A public information meeting will be held at Gateway Plaza lobby (Commerce National Bank) on December 18, 5:30 – 7:30 pm.

City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson will be at the Farmer’s Market December 21 from 7:00 am to 1:00 pm to answer questions.

You can watch three educational videos about this process at  cityofwinterpark.org/vimeo

And you can email your feedback to OrangeAve@cityofwinterpark.org

 

 

 

Last Call in Hannibal Square

Last Call in Hannibal Square

Last call for alcohol in Hannibal Square could soon stretch to 2:00 am, but people drinking after 10:00 pm will have to keep things down to a dull roar.

Hannibal Square Rules Would Be Same as the Rest of the City

Planning & Zoning voted October 1 to recommend two ordinances that would bring rules in Hannibal Square into line with those in the rest of the City. The first ordinance would extend hours for alcohol sales and consumption in Hannibal Square to 2:00 a.m., as it is in the rest of the City. The second would apply the same noise controls that exist within the Central Business District to Hannibal Square.

Hannibal Square restaurateurs, particularly Vincent Gagliano of Chez Vincent, have for years tried to persuade the City to bring the rules on last call into line with those governing the rest of the City. Currently, closing time in Hannibal Square is 11:00 pm Sunday through Thursday and Midnight Friday and Saturday. Closing time on Park Avenue and in the rest of the City is 2:00 am Monday through Saturday and Midnight on Sunday.

Early Closing Costs Hannibal Square Businesses

Gagliano and other restaurateurs complain that the 11:00 pm closing requirement sends Hannibal Square clientele over to Park Avenue to continue their revels, costing Hannibal Square establishments hours of potential business.

Residents Worried About Noise

In 1995, when the CRA revitalization of New England Avenue and Hannibal Square began, area residents at the time were concerned about noise from bars and restaurants.

CRA Wanted Restaurant, Not Night Club, District

While the CRA’s goal was to create a restaurant district but not a bar and nightclub district, one of the first establishments to locate in Hannibal Square was Dexter’s, where live music was an integral part of the business model. Bands played on week nights as well as on weekends and sometimes, in nice weather, they played outside. In deference to the neighbors, the City established earlier closing hours and strict noise controls for Hannibal Square.

Noise Regulations – Loud & Clear

According to City Planner Jeff Briggs, back in the 1980s, Park Avenue also had a noise problem in the evenings. The solution was an ordinance that created a violation if one could hear the sound from 50 feet away from an establishment. The ordinance recommended by P&Z prohibits “any person, business or establishment between the hours of 10:00 pm and 7:00 am to make noise that unreasonably disturbs the peace” and that is “. . .in excess of 50 dBA as measured with a sound level meter inside any receiving property.”

What this means is, if someone’s peace is being disturbed, he or she can call the police, who will bring their sound meter and, if the noise exceeds 50 dBA, ask the offending party to quiet down.

What’s in a Decibel?

Decibel levels, or dBA measurements, are meant to approximate the way the human ear hears sound. According to a local engineer familiar with this issue, a jet engine is 100 to110 dBA, a motor cycle with straight pipes produces 90 dBA, a vacuum cleaner about 70 dBA, normal conversation level in a restaurant is 50 – 60 dBA and a whisper is around 30 dBA.

Next Step is the Commission

As with any ordinance, there will be two hearings by the Commission. As of this writing, no date has been set.

 

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.

Winter Park, Where Bike Trails Come to Die

Mayflower Nixes City’s Request for Bike Path Easement

Winter Park, Where Bike Trails Come to Die

When the Mayflower retirement community came before the July 22 Commission seeking final approval for plans to expand their facilities and services, most of the discussion centered not on the expansion, despite substantial changes to the version that received preliminary approval in 2018, but on the City’s request for an easement along the western border of the property where it could maybe, someday, build a 15-foot wide path for bikes and pedestrians. The City wanted to create a route that removed bikes and pedestrians from the dangerous motor traffic on Lakemont Avenue.

In January 2018, the Mayflower received preliminary approval to add a new three-story health care center and a one-story memory care center, a one-story club house and four separate three-story residential buildings. Conditions of approval were that the Mayflower would “explore” a bike path, install buffer landscaping for adjacent properties and come up with a storm water plan approved by the St. Johns River Water Management District.

A year and a half later, in addition to the new club house and additional residences, the Mayflower wanted to combine the health care facility with the memory care center in a single four-story structure to make room for a fifth 24,000-square-foot residential building. The plan presented to the Commission displayed easements along the western border of the Mayflower property for the bike path. The easements are indicated in red and blue on the map above.

Sprinkel Has Heartburn

Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel pointed out that when the original request came before the Commission in 2018, the Mayflower was asked to “explore” a bike path that would serve as a northeast connector trail, but the path was not a condition of approval. “We have not, as a Commission, even approved this bike path,” said Sprinkel.

Turns out the bike path easement was a staff recommendation, which City Code, Sec. 58-90, “Conditional Use,” allows the City to impose. Code says that if an applicant brings for final approval a project in which the height has changed by more than one foot and the floor area has changed by more than 250 feet, the City can re-open all negotiations. Planning Manager Jeff Briggs cited the intent of the 2010 Comprehensive Plan to get cyclists and pedestrians from Lakemont up to Palmer, and said staff believed there was an opportunity for that along the western border of the Mayflower property, as had been discussed in 2018.

Seidel Suggests a Sunset Date

Commissioner Greg Seidel stated while an easement is no guarantee the City will build the bike path, the Mayflower’s failure to grant the easement would guarantee it won’t be built. Seidel suggested establishing a 10-year “sunset date” on the easement – if no bike path is built there within 10 years, the easement will cease and the property will revert to the Mayflower.

Connectivity Plan “Accepted” but Never “Adopted”

The connectivity plan for bikes and pedestrians goes back to the Bikes & Peds Board before it was renamed the Transportation Advisory Board. The Bikes & Peds Board submitted a plan for connecting bike and pedestrian paths through the City, which Mayor Steve Leary said was “accepted” by the Commission, but not “approved.”

Mayflower Project Has ‘Substantial Change’

Addressing Commissioner Spinkel’s ‘heartburn,’ Commissioner Carolyn Cooper pointed out that since the Mayflower came back for final approval with a project that was substantially different from the one that received preliminary approval, “. . .we can start all of these conversations all over again. . . . Alternatively,” said Cooper, “the Commission also has the right to ask the developer to revert to the original plan, since the substantial changes have not received preliminary approval by the Commission.”

“Winter Park is a Big Dead Zone”

Commissioner Todd Weaver addressed the concerns of the Mayflower residents for their own pedestrian safety on the property. He pointed out that between the fence and a 50-foot landscape buffer separating the proposed bike path from the Mayflower property, the residents would not even see the path, let alone encounter bicycles. Weaver recounted a recent Metroplan meeting at which a map of the inter-connected greenways in Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties showed a big ‘dead zone’ at the center — Winter Park. “It is City staff’s mandate to complete our Comprehensive Plan, and part of that is our mobility,” said Weaver. “This connectivity plan has been 10 years in the making, and we are 10 years behind every other city in our area.”

We Are Asking for the Opportunity

Weaver went on to explain that the City had neither planned nor funded the actual path, that it was simply requesting an easement for the opportunity to do so at some future date. He stated that there would be no design and that no plans would be made without including Mayflower residents, surrounding neighbors, City staff and the Commission.

Everyone Wants Trails – Just Not In Their Back Yards

Public commenters criticized City government for its failure to come up with a well-defined plan for greenway connectivity. Citizens hastened to assure Commissioners that they were not against bike and pedestrian paths, as long as they are far enough away from their property.

Attorney Tripp Cheek, who is a member of the law firm representing the Mayflower, Winderweedle, Haines, Ward & Woodman, PA, but who spoke as a private citizen, cited a case in which the St. Johns River Water Management District required a developer to improve a wetlands property he did not own in return for granting him a permit to develop his own property. The developer successfully sued the District, claiming the wetlands improvement had nothing to do with his own development and should not be used as a condition for approval. Cheek cautioned the Commissioners against asking for the bike path easement, warning they were “asking for a problem” in the future.

Cheek’s remarks drew a sharp response from Seidel. “I don’t appreciate it when people threaten me with a lawsuit over something I’m trying to decide,” said Seidel. “That is not going to sway me one way or the other.” Seidel said he would defer to the City Attorney.

Ardaman’s Response

Ardaman cited City Code, which says the Commission has three options. One, the Commission can decide the Mayflower’s changes are not significant. Two, they can find the changes are significant but acceptable. Or, three, they can decide the changes are significant and unacceptable, in which case the applicant must amend the plan to conform with the original conditional use and resubmit it to the Commission.

The Problem is Lakemont

A significant hurdle to the decision is the City’s failure to adopt a connectivity plan. One by one, each Commissioner admitted that where the ball had been dropped was right in their laps. “We didn’t do it because we couldn’t,” said Sprinkel, “we didn’t have agreement up here. Now we need to do something about this.”

“I know that our Advisory Boards have worked hard on this issue,” said Cooper. “They’ve done planning, but their plans have been ‘accepted,’ not ‘adopted.’ I’m glad [City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson] has a different impression about this plan.”

Weaver asked if people in the audience would favor using the “complete streets” treatment on Lakemont that has been employed on Denning. A cheer and a show of raised arms arose from the back of the chamber. Weaver then asked how many of those people would agree to have their taxes raised in order to pay for an improved streetscape on Lakemont. Again, a strong show of support.

Leary Stands by the Mayflower

Before calling for a vote, Mayor Steve Leary stated that in the nine to ten years he has been going to the Mayflower, he has made a commitment. “If the Mayflower doesn’t support this, I’m not supporting it,” said Leary.

 The Trick Box

When the vote was called, Seidel offered an amendment requiring 15- to 20-foot wide easements at the western border of the property, with a ten-year sunset, for the purpose of building the path for non-motorized transportation, and the City would bear the cost of any improvements required to construct the path. The amendment passed 3 – 2, with Leary and Sprinkel dissenting.

Before calling the vote on the final approval, with Seidel’s amendment, Leary offered the Mayflower the opportunity to pull or table the application prior to the final vote.

At least half a dozen lawyers headed for a huddle at the rear of the chamber, with attorney Cheek at the center of the pack.

The Mayflower attorney returned to the podium to report that the Mayflower would agree to a part of the easement at the southwest corner of the property, provided the Commission would approve their plan with the four-story building as presented. The Mayflower offered the easement marked in red at the lower left corner of the map at the top of the article.

In a confusing turn of events, Seidel withdrew his original amendment for the expanded easement, which had already passed, and offered a new amendment that granted the Mayflower’s request, which passed on a 4-1 vote. The main motion, to approve the Mayflower’s plans as presented and with only the smaller easement, then passed on a 5-0 vote.

Will Lee Road Get the Axe?

Axe-Throwing Venue Slated for Old Booby Trap Property

Will Lee Road Get the Axe?

Two local doctors plan to breathe new life into the 0.6-acre property at 2600 Lee Road, site of the double-domed Club Harem – variously known as the Booby Trap, Club Harem, Club Rio and Christie’s Cabaret — an adult entertainment venue with a lurid history.

The contract to purchase the land from the City for $950,000 was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Carolyn Cooper casting the dissenting vote. Local vascular surgeons Dr. David Varnagy and Dr. Manuel Perez Isquierdo plan to build an axe-throwing facility where the Booby Trap once stood.

Axe Throwing?

A popular pastime in Canada and a feature in lumberjack competitions, axe-throwing is now gaining popularity in the U.S.  According to Wikipedia, indoor axe throwing is a sport in which the competitor throws an axe at a target, attempting to hit the bulls eye as near as possible. Today there are commercial locations in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom where participants can compete, similar to dart throwing. For a video of axe throwing, follow the link below.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axe_throwing

City Buys High . . .

In 2015, the City purchased Club Harem at 2600 Lee Rd. for $990,000, an amount well above market value. Then-Mayor Ken Bradley pushed for the purchase in order to “eliminate alleged illegal activity” at the location. Stories about the building with the breast-shaped roof line include a 2008 undercover police investigation at Club Harem, which led to a lawsuit by its owners against the City. The case was quietly settled in 2011 when the City issued a check for $250,000 to the aggrieved parties.

Sells Low

Explaining her vote against the sale, Commissioner Cooper noted that since 2015, the City has invested around $1 million in the property. She said she thought the City should hold out for a better price. She pointed out that property values in this area have increased by 14 percent in the four years since the City’s purchase. City Manager Randy Knight acknowledged that the City was “not hurting for money” and that there was no pressing need to sell at this time. The City’s broker, Bobby Palta, suggested the City could counter the doctors’ offer with a higher price, but the Commission chose to do neither.

Is Axe-Throwing Conducive to Better Behavior?

In his remarks, Commissioner Todd Weaver wondered if an axe-throwing venue that plans to serve beer and wine was “conducive to better behavior than what was there before.” Even though he expressed concern over mixing alcoholic beverages with axe-throwing, he did vote in favor of the project.

At the time of publication, neither Dr. Perez Isquierdo nor Dr. Varnagy responded to requests for comment.

Why No Confidence

In WP’s Largest Public Works Project?

Why No Confidence

Guest Columnist Charley Williams

The planned Canopy project may be the largest public works project ever undertaken by the City of Winter Park. Approved in 2016, the Library, Events Center and Parking Garage referendum garnered a slim majority of 214 votes, out of over 10,618 votes cast.

 

 

Campaign Literature in 2015-16 Promised Cost Levels

New Library: $17,435,700
New Events Center: $ 3,004,943
Parking Deck: $ 3,004,943
Shared Costs: $ 8,405,496

(demolition, design/engineering, landscaping, site work)

Library Board to Raise: $ 2,500,000

TOTAL PROJECT COST $ 29,914,311 with a promised 15 percent contingency

Three years later, why does the public continue to be skeptical about the chances for success?

Why is public trust in this project, funded by taxpayer dollars, continuing to falter? The answers to these questions are not difficult. Look at the project track record over the past four years. Promises were made, then discarded. Trust evaporated. The trend line below speaks for itself.

Original Pledges

  • $29.9 million project with a 15 percent contingency
  • 50,000 square foot library
  • LEED-certified building including solar energy capacity
  • Multi-deck parking garage to ensure easy access, safety and security for patrons
  • Footprint that takes no more than 1 percent of MLK Jr Park acreage
  • A site suitable to build upon with no extraordinary contamination or soil stability issues
  • Storm water plan that could be addressed without taking more parkland
  • A transparent process open to public comment, with all commissioners kept in the loop
  • Project focus is a world class library and a community events center
  • Robust community fundraising support assured
  • CRA funds unlikely to be needed and should be reserved for other city priorities, like the purchase of the Post Office property.

The Path Forward

  • Price tag increased to $40+ million and is tilting toward $50 million
              Note: Taxpayer dollars restricted to the original $30 million bond limit
  • Greatly reduced contingency fund resulting from a challenging construction environment
  • Library size reduced to 34,400 square feet with no LEED certification
  • No parking garage, requiring consumption of more park space for parking lots
  • No traffic study of Morse & Harper to address congestion and safety issues
    Note: Plan proposed to model the entire Orange Avenue MLK Park region
  • Continued flooding of Morse and Harper with no approved storm water plan
              Note: Lake Mendsen is currently at capacity, per St Johns River WMD
  • Complex site issues with debris buried to 30-35 feet and muck.
              Note: Building site has been shifted west to avoid muck pockets.
  • Trees removed without public notice or involvement.
              Note: There is a moratorium on future tree removal.
  • Consumption of MLK Park acreage now in excess of 15 percent of park space, and
  • Lake Mendsen could be further expanded by taking 1-2 more park acres.
              Note: There is some effort to dial back the size of the project footprint.
  • Lack of Transparency — the last comprehensive public forum on the project was the April 9, 2018 City Commission Meeting approving Schematic Designs.
  • Tourism as priority pitched to Orange County Tourist Development Council (TDC) — our own “I-Drive.”
  • One commissioner was not informed of TDC meeting and the request for $6 million.
  • Fundraising from the community still not accounted for, though the deadline was April 2019.
  • CRA funds will likely be tapped to bail out this project.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr: still has not been honored as the namesake of this park.

What if This Were Your Own Health?

Citizens have not been presented with a satisfactory explanation for this list of discrepancies. This is the chance for the commission to step forward and demonstrate leadership.

If this project were a medical patient, we could say we have seen the X-Rays and indicators of a potential complication are all there.

If we wait seven more months, until January, when construction pricing comes due, we then face a crisis decision of whether to administer chemo or radiation or both. Why not take preventive measures now? Get a second opinion? If your health was at stake, what would you do?

Maybe change medical providers?

Can We Afford This Project?

For many, the fiduciary handwriting is on the wall: we cannot afford this project.

No wonder the citizenry is concerned.

Cost estimates and overruns will not diminish. Instead, they will likely increase. Change orders will become a major concern. Our Central Florida construction market is robust but stressed, increasing pressure on construction costs. That context has already been established with the I-4 Ultimate, Orlando Airport’s New South Terminal and the building boom.

Commissioners Need the Chance to Talk to One Another

At the June 10 Commission meeting, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper requested a workshop so the Commission as a whole could discuss various budget issues, including the Canopy and the CRA, without having to go through the City Manager. She was dismissed by Mayor Steve Leary, but her suggestion deserves reconsideration.

Recommendation: Give Us the Benefit of Your Shared Vision

Hold a Workshop.

Put the questions on the table and explore some answers together.

Educate a very concerned public.

How Much Can the Camel Carry?

In the case of the Canopy, it is reasonable to say that a $1,000 per square foot public works project is unacceptable. So, what is acceptable? $700 per square foot? $500 per square foot? $350 per square foot? That guide star needs to be established — or at least discussed – and the public needs to hear the discussion.

If we cannot attain that acceptable price per square foot, alternative scenarios need to be explored. When a project moves beyond 60 percent design, the time and money already invested make it increasingly difficult to say “no” or even to change tack.

Think Big: Where is Plan B?

The goal is to maximize all our assets to make this project the best it can be. For this reason, the process deserves heightened public involvement, heightened communication and heightened stewardship by our elected leaders.

Are our taxpayer dollars being wisely spent? If so, show us how.

That’s how public trust can be restored.

Time to Party!

Celebrate Community & Greenspace at the Winter Park Land Trust Kickoff

Time to Party!

Feb. 28 – Farmers Market – 6 pm

The Winter Park Land Trust inaugural kickoff event at the Farmer’s Market on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 6:00 pm promises to be one great big party. There will be music, refreshments and something for everyone. Everyone is welcome – so come on out!

What’s a Land Trust?

Learn how land trusts work around the United States and hear about the Winter Park Land Trust’s vision to help plan, expand and protect urban parks and green space throughout Winter Park and surrounding communities.

Featured speakers from the City of Winter Park, the City of Orlando, the Alliance of Florida Land Trusts, the Nature Conservancy and, of course, the Winter Park Land Trust, will be joined by 15 groups at information tables, where representatives will be on hand to discuss their visions for urban parks and greenspace in Winter Park.

Participating Groups at Information Tables

City of Winter Park
City of Orlando
Nature Conservancy
Alliance of Florida Land Trusts
1000 Friends of Florida
Rollins College
University of Central Florida
Stetson University
Winter Park History Museum
Mead Botanical Garden
Audubon Society
Florida Native Plant Society
Winter Park Garden Club
IDEAS for Us
Winter Park Land Trust

Please forward this announcement to everyone you know who has an interest the future of parks and green space in Winter Park.

Winter Park Land Trust Kickoff

Go Green on February 28 – 6:00 pm — WP Farmers Market

Winter Park Land Trust Kickoff

Grab your Valentine and get ready to party!

Farmers Market — February 28 at 6:00 pm
Come celebrate the establishment of the Winter Park Land Trust with friends, food and music. Find out how you can be part of the mission of creating, enhancing and connecting our urban parks and green space for everyone’s benefit and enjoyment.

What is a Land Trust?

A land trust is a private non-profit organization whose purpose is to conserve land in perpetuity. It enhances the character of the community by providing open green space for recreation, education, the protection of water and air quality, wildlife habitat, and agriculture.

Land trusts ensure lasting stewardship of conserved lands and waters by working with government to create long-term plans looking out over several generations. Land trusts connect the planning process to the public through membership in the organization. There are more than 1,200 land trusts across the U.S., ranging from all volunteer community-based organizations to large staffed land conservation non-profits with statewide or national territories.

Why Does Winter Park Need a Land Trust?

The 2015 – 2016 Winter Park Visioning Process revealed that expanding and connecting urban parks and green space is one of Winter Park citizens’ most important community values.

A community land trust plays an important role providing additional local open space, and it can supplement the ability of city government to provide and maintain green space.

Land trusts in the United States are long-lived, because they are able to transcend the everyday operational responsibilities and the changes in personnel faced by local governments. They exist solely to support a permanent framework of parks and green space in cities and towns.

Vision and Mission Driven

“The mission of the Winter Park Land Trust is to plan, finance and manage the acquisition of land and interests in land to be used for the creation, expansion, improvement, and connecting of parkland and green space within and adjacent to the City of Winter Park.

Our vision is that the Land Trust will help to ensure that Winter Park and surrounding communities will be an area with sufficient parks and open space, where the footprint of existing parks will be increased, and wherever possible, parks and green spaces will be connected in order to balance and reduce the adverse impacts of increasing development and population density. Attractive green space will then always be an important asset and characteristic of the Winter Park area.”

To learn more, go to www.winterparklandtrust.org

Become a Member

By joining The Winter Park Land Trust, you can help with the process of permanent land acquisition for urban parks and greenspace in Winter Park. You can become a member now by going to the website address above – and come to the kickoff party to learn all about it!
The Winter Park Land Trust is supported through private, tax-deductible contributions. Your contribution is an effective way of acting upon your belief in creating a lasting legacy to secure the quality of life in Winter Park.

Saving Winter Park’s Unique Character

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

Saving Winter Park’s Unique Character

Guest Columnist Bob Bendick

Winter Park is becoming an island in a sea of urban sprawl.

I was reminded of this a couple of days after the recent forum on the future of Winter Park at Rollins College, when I drove to St Petersburg for a meeting. There was a lot of traffic both going and returning, but It was not just the time lost sitting bumper to bumper that made the day tiring–it was also the scale and pace of the I-4 corridor which is quickly becoming one almost-continuous 100-mile wide urbanized area.

The day’s drive and my relief in arriving back in Winter Park, and taking a walk with the evening clouds reflected in Lake Virginia, made me think more about the Rollins forum.

What is it about Winter Park that still makes it such a good place to live? From my perspective five positive attributes of our city were highlighted at the forum by the presentations of the panelists and the question and answer session that followed.

Winter Park retains a human scale

Winter Park was originally planned and continues to retain a comfortable human scale, in contrast to the increasingly large and impersonal scale of the surrounding metro area — think ten lanes of rushing traffic on the soon-to-be-completed widening of I-4.

Greenspace, lakes and trees connect people and nature

Greenspace, lakes and trees bring people into contact with nature in every part of our city. The tree canopy reduces air pollution and traffic noise. Views of the lakes are everywhere, and our parks are heavily used.

There are many opportunities for walking and biking within the city

It is possible and enjoyable to walk or bike in Winter Park, particularly to and around the downtown area. Where heavily trafficked roads decrease walkability, like the 17-92 and Fairbanks/Aloma corridors, the quality of the Winter Park experience is diminished.

Winter Park has a sense of place and history including a vibrant town center

Unlike so much of Florida today, Winter Park is not generic. It has a coherent history that is reflected in its architecture and, particularly, in Rollins College and its downtown. It conveys a sense of place — not just anyplace.

The city is a diverse community

Winter Park thankfully retains racial and ethnic diversity, which enriches the life and culture of the city. It is still a community with events that bring people together in shared experiences.
As is the case in other places around the country that have managed to retain a distinctive grace and character, people want to move here.

Winter Park is at a crossroads.

The pressure for more development and redevelopment is not necessarily negative unless that growth undermines those attributes that make the community a good and unique place to live and work. Winter Park can accommodate growth and change while planning on a community-wide basis to retain the assets that make it unique.

We need to add greenspace to balance growth

This means adding and connecting greenspace as the city grows, ensuring that new development is consistent with the scale and character of the city, resisting and, where possible, mitigating the impacts of heavily trafficked transportation corridors on our quality of life. It means creating new opportunities for alternatives to automobiles, consciously acting to retain the diversity of the community, and reinforcing the vitality of our downtown.

Planning for investment in the City will foster a robust economy

The experience of similar communities is that planning for public and private investment that further enhances the city’s character will not diminish the city’s economy, but will make it that much more attractive for quality development. Perhaps more importantly, respecting the unique assets identified by the Rollins College panel will help ensure that Winter Park will still feel like home to the generations of residents who follow us.