Stewardship: In Support of a Land Ethic

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

Stewardship: In Support of a Land Ethic

Guest Columnist Charley Williams

“The earth is common ground and…gradually the idea is taking form that the land must be held in safekeeping….” E.B. White, 1942

There is growing support state-wide and throughout our local communities for the adoption of a formal land ethic.

Why?

Each of us has become witness to challenges never before seen in the Sunshine State. Our beaches and shores are blighted with sea-rise and algae bloom. Climate change spin-offs have brought us increasingly violent storms like Irma. The storms, combined with pollution and over-building, are shortening the life cycle of our tree canopy, which is the critical factor in cleaning the air and protecting us from the sun.

Parks are on Life Support

City and county park lands are vying for survival with the exponential growth now occurring in Central Florida. Cities and counties do their best to balance competing demands for passive vs active use of park lands.

Still Not Safe to Get Out of the Car

Central Florida continues to head the list of the most dangerous communities for pedestrian and bicycle safety. Here in Winter Park, greenspace connectivity is increasingly cited as the single most important step to renewing our pledge to sustain the character of our community.

Green Assets = $$$

While open green lands cannot be measured solely in economic terms, parks and green space are invaluable assets as a marketing tool for our city. Proximity to parks has been proven to increase property values. What’s more, protected park lands do not require costly, full-blown municipal services such as water, sewer and schools.

Momentum is Building

This conversation has been gaining momentum since 2014, when Amendment 1 — known as the Florida Water and land Conservation Initiative — to increase spending for natural lands acquisition programs like Florida Forever passed with an overwhelming majority.

WP Needs an Integrated Plan

Locally, this vision for an integrated plan for greenspace connectivity within our urban core resonates with citizens of all walks of life. It embraces our often-discussed concerns for a healthy tree canopy, a vibrant, connected system of parks and greenspace, an appreciation for scenic beauty, designated quiet zones, family enjoyment, outdoor recreation, community enrichment and sustainable local native habitats.

City Leadership: Join In

I would urge our city and community leaders to take this trend a step further. The time has come to clearly define and articulate a Land Ethic for all of Winter Park. It will serve as our guide for future decisions as well as the definition of our responsibility for this generation and the next. It’s time to stop talking and pledge to take action.

Rollins Halts Expansion Plans

Public Hearings on Alfond and Lawrence Center Projects Postponed

Rollins Halts Expansion Plans

On August 29, Rollins College announced the cancellation of public hearings in September and October on the expansion of the Alfond Inn and the proposed construction on the Lawrence Center site at 200 E. New England Ave.

Phase II of the Alfond

The Alfond Inn expansion has been long in the works as Phase II of the original plan. It includes the addition of 70 hotel rooms, bringing the total to 182, and the addition of a spa and health club, 4,000 square feet of meeting space and just over 300 square feet of retail space. The expansion also called for an additional 153 parking spaces.

Relocation of Crummer Business School and Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Redevelopment of the Lawrence Center site, at New England and Lyman, was a three-phase project consisting of a new parking structure, a new facility for the Crummer Graduate School of Business and new space for the Cornell Fine Arts Museum.

In order to complete all three phases, the college was requesting a zoning change from Office (O-1) to Institutional (PQP or Public-Quasi-Public).

Public-Private Parking Arrangement with City

As part of Phase I of the project, Rollins was seeking a Conditional Use Permit to build a three-level parking garage to serve the business school and museum properties. The City of Winter Park was contemplating a public-private partnership to expand the garage to four or five stories. This would provide an additional 120-180 public parking spaces in the Central Business District (CBD) and would require a change in the height map from three to four or five stories.

‘Innovation Triangle’

In a letter from Rollins Vice-president of Business and Finance & Treasurer Ed Kania to City Manager Randy Knight, which was provided to the Voice by the City Communications Director Clarissa Howard, Kania described the three-part expansion – the Alfond, the Crummer Graduate School of Business and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum – as the “Innovation Triangle.”

Kania formally withdrew Rollins’ request for public hearings regarding the Innovation Triangle that had been scheduled in September and October. “We would like to withdraw these requests,” he wrote, “in order that we may investigate other potential parking locations to better meet the needs of the College and the residents of Winter Park.”

Projects on Temporary Hold

“With so many exciting and mission-critical projects taking shape at Rollins,” wrote Chief Marketing & Community Relations Officer Sam Stark, “we are putting a temporary hold on our Lawrence Center and Alfond Inn expansions in order to explore and evaluate some cost-saving and project-sharing opportunities that will benefit the College and the community.”

Winter Parking

Will the City Kick the Old Rules to the Curb?

Winter Parking

For the past year or so, the Kimley-Horn parking gurus have been lurking about Park Avenue, Hannibal Square and the Orange Avenue corridor scoping out parking lots and counting cars. They are scrutinizing parking codes that have remained essentially unchanged since the 1970s.

1970s — Merchants vs. Restaurateurs

The codes weren’t entirely static, however. There was some back-and-forth caused by competition between retail merchants and restaurateurs for parking on Park Avenue. In the early 1970s, there were four restaurants on Park Avenue. By 1982, that number had increased to 18, and the retailers were feeling the pinch.

1980s – Too Many Restaurants!

In response to an outcry from Park Avenue merchants, the city formed a Downtown Parking Advisory Commission to study the problem. In 1983, the Commission adopted their recommendation and passed an ordinance that new restaurants could be approved only when they provided sufficient parking. Bakeries, coffee shops, ice cream and dessert shops were exempted from the new rule.

2000s — Enter Winter Park Village

Move forward 20 years to 2003. Winter Park Village opened with four fancy new restaurants and a movie theater with stadium seating. It quickly became the place to be. Once again, Park Avenue merchants felt the pinch, but this time it was because there weren’t enough restaurants. La Belle Verrierre, East India Ice Cream Company and Two Flights Up had all closed, reducing by 400 the number of restaurant seats. All three locations converted to retail.

2003 – Not Enough Restaurants!

So, in 2003, the Commission saw the wisdom of attracting restaurants and the associated foot traffic to Park Avenue to improve the retail climate. They passed an ordinance that allowed new ‘fine dining’ restaurants (with wait staff and table service) on Park Avenue to open without providing the incremental increase in parking. This zoning change quickly produced the desired effect. Since 2003, 17 new restaurants have opened along Park Avenue – adding a whopping 1,471 new restaurant seats.

2018 – Too Many Restaurants!

Based on the current Central Business District (CBD) parking code of one parking place per four restaurant seats, those 1,471 seats equate to 372 parking spaces. Those 17 new restaurants replaced former retail locations. Compare the retail parking requirement with that for restaurants, and under the present code you end up with a parking deficit of 207 spaces. Basically, this puts the city right back where it was 36 years ago.

2018 – The Pendulum Swings Back

That brings us to the August 7, 2018 meeting of the Planning & Zoning (P&Z) Board. City Planner Jeff Briggs presented a draft parking ordinance affecting the CBD, Hannibal Square and the Orange Avenue corridor.

The draft ordinance, which has six components, was not an action item – it was up for discussion only. A summary of the proposed ordinance follows.

1.Retail to Restaurant Conversions

The ordinance removes the ability to convert retail or office space to restaurant without providing the required parking spaces. This change is supported by Comprehensive Plan Policy 1-G-3: “Preserve Park Avenue as a retail shopping district with complementary restaurant destinations, maintaining existing Future Land Use Map designations and zoning and prohibiting bars and nightclubs.”

2.New Retail & Office Requirements

The proposed ordinance changes parking requirements for new retail and office from one space per 250 square feet to one space per 350 square feet.

3.Large Office Buildings

Requirements for new large office buildings would provide one space per 250 square feet for the first 20,000 square feet. For floor area exceeding 20,000 square feet, the requirement would be one space per 350 square feet.

4.Shared Parking

The ordinance provides for the use of the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) shared parking analysis as a reference. Limited types of shared use make sense in Winter Park, such as retail or office buildings with upstairs residential. In a few circumstances, a restaurant might share parking with a nearby institution such as a school or church.

5.Distance for Offsite Parking

The ordinance would change the distance permitted for offsite parking from 300 feet to 450 feet. As Briggs pointed out, that would be going from the length of one football field to one and a half football fields. P&Z Chair Ross Johnston suggested that if employees were required to use offsite parking, that would free up on-street parking for customers who want closer proximity to their destinations.

Johnston also pointed out the difficulty of regulating shared parking. How would the City determine if the people using the shared parking were actually entitled to it, or if they were opportunistic “parking poachers.”

6.Fee in Lieu of Parking

According to the Staff Report, instead of providing actual parking spaces, a developer could write a check to purchase or fund the required parking within a City-owned parking facility.

The City Staff Report stated: “Note that no such fee-in-lieu program can be established without a specific City Commission approved parking facility for which the funds collected are to [be] implemented for either surface or structured parking as to both location and cost and the ability to provide the same number of or more parking spaces otherwise needed to be provided on-site by the property owners electing to pay a fee-in-lieu.”

The Lawrence Center Quandary

So, if the parking must be City-owned, as stated above by the Planning Department, this raises the question: why would the City invest in additional parking decks above the proposed two-story, three-deck Rollins parking facility at the Lawrence Center – if the City is to have no ownership in or control over that facility?

On the other hand, does the City really want to get into the parking business?

“Parking is No Silver Bullet Number”

Although the draft ordinance was discussion-only, P&Z board members appeared squeamish at the prospect of recommending passage in the absence of a more comprehensive plan to deal with parking and transportation within the City. Owen Beitsch stated, “I don’t want to suggest that we don’t act, but I do want to suggest that we think about a package of solutions that constitutes a plan, not just an ordinance that says these are the ad hoc things we want to change.”

Ordinance is One Piece of a Much Larger Puzzle

Briggs responded that there are many aspects to the downtown parking puzzle – such as employee parking, valet parking, parking enforcement, how to create new parking – and the ordinance addresses only the Zoning Code. And that is the purview of P&Z – the zoning code.

Johnston responded to Briggs, “What you’re hearing is that we’re trying to get an ordinance in isolation that has other contingencies attached to it, and we’re not comfortable isolating that part of it. . . . We need to see what the net result of our actions is.”

In other words, will the ordinance alleviate a real or perceived parking deficit? If so, how can we tell?

Where Will the Ordinance Go Next?

Briggs explained that the next step was a similar non-action discussion of the ordinance with the Commission on August 27. The P&Z Board will meet the following day, August 28, for their regular work session, and Briggs will update them about the discussion at the Commission meeting. If the ordinance is still moving forward, there will be a public hearing before P&Z on September 11. P&Z will be asked to vote at that meeting.

If the ordinance passes, it will go back to the Commission September 24 – the same meeting at which the Commission will take up the Lawrence Center expansion. While it is appropriate for discussion of the two matters to coincide, citizens are advised to pack a lunch, as this could be a lengthy discussion.

Who ever said parking was boring?

The Time for Public Input is ALWAYS!

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

The Time for Public Input is ALWAYS!

Randy Knight, City Manager of Winter Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Time for Public Input is NOW!

We Want a Seat at the Table

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

The Time for Public Input is NOW!

Guest Columnist Sally Flynn

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

Lawrence Center Garage

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

Kimley-Horn Parking Study

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

Mixed Use Development

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

We Should Be Talking – Now!

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

Ask Yourself This

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

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

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

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

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

We Deserve a Seat at the Table

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

Join Us

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

Open Letter to Mayor & Commissioners

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

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

Open Letter to Mayor & Commissioners

Guest Columnist Beth Hall

Dear Mayor and Commissioners:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Beth Hall

WPV Video – Mixed Use Zoning

Unedited Video of July 10 Commission Work Session

WPV Video – Mixed Use Zoning

The Voice has received numerous requests to post the video of the July 10 Commission work session on Mixed Use Zoning. Here it is.

The meeting lasted an hour. The video was made strictly for purposes of documentation. Although you cannot always see the face of the speaker, you can hear what was said. The recording was made on a 10-year-old Canon Vixia HF R300 video cam – nothing fancy.

Why Does It Take the City So Long to Post?

In response to the question posed by “Partly Cloudy” in the Comment section beneath the column on mixed use: “What do they do with the recordings during those two days?” The answer is probably that they are uploading the digital files. It takes a long time. A really long time.

Mixed Use – Mandated in the 2017 Comp Plan

The subject of Mixed Use designation comes up at this time because of Policy 1-2.4.14 of the Comprehensive Plan. In 2017, as the Comp Plan was undergoing revision, the City Commission and Planning Department decided to remove the ‘Planned Development’ designation and replace it with a ‘Mixed Use’ designation. They gave themselves one year to accomplish that. That year has come and gone. You can watch all or part of the video to see how they are going about figuring out how to develop a policy governing Mixed Use Development in our city.

Mixed Use on Orange Avenue

Trojan Horse – or Manna From Heaven?

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

Mixed Use on Orange Avenue

Guest Columnist Beth Hall

Citizens of Winter Park: beware the Trojan Horse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Zoning Gets Creative

When Zoning Gets Creative

Zoning rules experienced a creative twist at the July 23 Commission meeting..

Smith Barney Building Will Convert to Condos

Developer Dan Bellows, representing Greenhouse Partnership Ltd., had a simple enough request. He sought to convert the Smith Barney office building at 338 W. Morse Blvd. into condominiums.

But Greenhouse didn’t want to rezone the property from office to medium-density residential to accomplish that. It wanted C-2 commercial zoning, even though no commercial use is contemplated at the site.

The owner got its wish, with a 4-1 Commission vote.

Why Commercial Zoning?

C-2 commercial zoning, it turns out, entitles the owner to much more than R-3 residential ever could. Building intensity can be almost twice what R-3 allows. The developer even could pave over the entire parcel — although Bellows assured commissioners that was not his intention. C-2 also would let the owner avoid the pesky city rule prohibiting short-term rentals such as VRBO or Airbnb.

Bellows said the office building will be converted to five residential condominiums, each with an attached garage that will have a second-floor guest suite. He also plans to build a new three-story building with three residential condominiums in the parking lot next to the existing building.

According to the City Planning Staff report, Greenhouse Partnership Ltd. wants the zoning change to make the property more economically viable, Even though the exclusively residential project could just as easily achieve economic viability if it were zoned medium-density residential R-3.

Staff’s Not Sure Why It’s Still Zoned Office – Except, It’s an Office

The existing two-story office building was built in 1998 and was leased to Smith Barney. In keeping with its intended use, the building was zoned O-2 for office. After Smith Barney merged with Morgan Stanley in late 2012, they moved their offices to a different location. Another tenant leased the first floor, but the second floor has remained vacant.

According to the staff report presented at the meeting: “For whatever reason, this property on Morse Blvd. was excluded from being eligible for CBD [Central Business District] future land use and C-2 zoning. The staff has no specific recollection of the rationale but assume that the authors felt the property was developed with the Smith Barney office building and did not envision another redevelopment scenario.”

The Guy across the Street Got Commercial

But right across the street, architect-developer Phil Kean is completing a townhome development that is designated CBD and C-2, although it is not clear if any of that development will include commercial use. In fact, all of the other properties on Morse, from New York to Capen, are eligible for C-2 zoning. Of course, all those properties include some commercial use, except for Park West condos, which are residential.

Staff’s Not Sure Why It Shouldn’t Be Residential

The staff report stated: “It is interesting that this project, while requesting commercial designations, is actually an R-3 multi-family project, with two variances. Unless the condo owners are planning to use their units for Air B&B’s (sic) or VRBOs, this could just as easily be done via R-3 zoning with no changes to the Comp Plan or Zoning text.”

But if Phil Kean could get CBD/C-2, Dan Bellows thought he should get it, too.

The Commission voted to change the zoning along with the Comprehensive Plan for Future Land Use, with Commissioner Carolyn Cooper casting the dissenting vote.

Discussion Resumes at the End of the Meeting

Even though they had reached a final decision, commissioners rehashed the project again in their discussion period at the end of the meeting.

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper was concerned that, by approving C-2 zoning for a residential project, the Commission had just created future entitlements that far exceed the scale and character appropriate for that section of Morse Blvd.

Commissioner Peter Weldon pointed out the need for the Commission to remain flexible to see where the market forces might take us. “The market drives to what, in the end, becomes the result,” said Weldon. ”And we, as a commission, have to be flexible to recognize where the market realistically addresses the character we’re all trying to create.”

Mayor Steve Leary also did not share Cooper’s concerns, and stated, “I believe we should have the flexibility to hear from our property owners on every one of their applications and not create any barriers to them asking the question.”

Commissioner Cooper’s response is worth watching.

Mixed Use Zoning

Coming Soon to Orange Avenue

Mixed Use Zoning

Orange Avenue may be in line for a major facelift. There is even a chance we will finally see some progress at Progress Point. What’s going on?

Commissioners met early on the morning of July 10 to discuss Mixed Use zoning on Orange Avenue. The discussion was led by Planning Director Dori Stone. The purpose of the meeting, said Stone, was to “discuss . . . the development of a Mixed Use Future Land Use category and companion zoning district.”

City Codes Already Permit Mixed Use Development.

Mixed Use districts are not new to Winter Park. Successful examples are Park Avenue, Hannibal Square and Winter Park Village. These districts are low intensity, a product of historic development patterns and are of walkable pedestrian scale. All have some form of shared parking. And what draws people to all three areas and persuades them to leave their cars for a while is open, visible, accessible green space with park amenities and plenty of trees.

So, why not stick with what we have?

Presently, Mixed Use zoning is allowed in certain areas — mostly downtown. The Commission’s discussion was about gateway corridors that are not part of the downtown Central Business District. The main gateway corridors — 17-92 from the north and south and Aloma / Fairbanks from the east and west – are crying out for Mixed Use. As they are now, these roads are better suited to fast cars than they are to foot traffic. To accommodate those cars that do occasionally stop, surface parking consumes a large, usually over-heated area – again, not friendly to folks on foot. Would the City be better served to create incentives in these areas for developers who would like to show some love to these unlovely corridors and create some attractive human-scale development that would draw some pedestrian and bicycle traffic?

Why Not Start with West Fairbanks?

After all the millions spent on sewers, lighting, repaving and undergrounding on West Fairbanks, wouldn’t this be the logical place for a Mixed Use pilot program? Instead, the City has chosen to tackle a more manageable corridor – Orange Avenue. According to Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) figures, Orange Avenue carries about 15,600 cars each day. Compare that with Aloma, which carries as many as 46,000 cars a day. FDOT website notes these figures are 10 years old – so today’s counts are possibly higher.

Orange Ave. Property Owners Have Repeatedly Approached the City

When she was asked why the City chose Orange Avenue for what will probably become a Mixed Use pilot project, Planning Director Dori Stone wrote in an email, “Staff has done quite a bit of work on Orange Avenue already and it seems a natural choice with large property owners along the Orange Avenue corridor that are interested in working with the city.”

According to Stone, over the past 18 months or so, the City has been working with property owners like Mary Demetree, Roger Holler, Jewett Orthopaedic, Lumber Yard LLC and, not least, the City of Winter Park to determine what can be done to create a ‘sense of place’ along Orange Avenue that would make it compatible with the rest of Winter Park.

Developers Seek ‘Flexibility’ Beyond Current Limits

In a memorandum prepared for the July 10 Commission work session, Stone wrote, “Many of the larger property owners would like to see the flexibility to move beyond the commercial development limits of an FAR (floor-area ratio) of 45 to 60 percent.” She continued: “. . .several of them are interested in making improvements that would provide infrastructure and open space improvements along the corridor that may not be limited to their property, but would benefit the entire city.”

‘Trickle Down’ Development

The theory is that if the City grants these developers greater density and intensity, in return they would cooperate with one another to create a pedestrian-friendly environment with more open green space and park amenities, improved traffic circulation and shared parking within the zone of the pilot project. In this way, substantial benefit would accrue to all the citizens.

Mixed Use Overlay

Stone is suggesting a Mixed Use zoning category called an ‘Overlay.’ The Overlay zoning would “sit on top of the current zoning.” In essence, this would enable a developer who wants Mixed Use to build it, while a present or future landowner whose property does not conform to Mixed Use and who does not want to redevelop could continue to operate within the existing zoning guidelines.

“The City Needs to Take the Lead”

Stone pointed out that the main reason Hannibal Square is so successful is that at the outset, there was a professionally produced master plan. She urged the City to engage an urban designer to create such a master plan for Orange Avenue – before any code is written or any development is approved.

Stone noted that both Hannibal Square and Winter Park Village had a single developer, so there is a certain homogenous quality to them that would not be present on Orange Avenue, which has several large landowners. Nonetheless, this is an opportunity to create another district within the City that has a distinct identity. Rather than approving projects one-by-one on a piecemeal basis, here is a chance to create a neighborhood with continuity and its own sense of place.

Comfort Zone is 10,000-Sqare-Feet

As the City embarks on formulating standards for Mixed Use, we should not lose sight of the fact that currently, any building over 10,000 square feet requires Conditional Use approval. The City’s comfort level with the size of a building has a well-defined limit – and the body politic has felt strongly enough to articulate it in the Comprehensive Plan and to require a developer to participate in a public hearing process to obtain approval to build anything that exceeds that limit.

How Far are We Willing to Move Out of Our Comfort Zone?

That Conditional Use provision has identified our comfort level. Will we be able to reconcile mixed use standards that allow buildings that large or larger as a matter of entitlement — without public hearing or input? Depending on how it is written, Winter Park’s Mixed Use overlay can end up looking like Winter Park Village – or it could look like Mills 50, both of which are successful Mixed Use developments.

From the Winter Park Comprehensive Plan:

Sec. 58-61, Establishment of Districts, article (a) (5)
“The city has developed over the years as a city with a unique character and environment. Since a primary goal of the city is to retain this environment as much as possible, this article must impose certain extraordinary restrictions on the use of land within the corporate limits of the city to insure that future development is in keeping with the existing development.“