Proposed Park Ave. Restaurant Zoning Bans Fast Food

Chamber Task Force Asks City to Ban Fast Food Chains & Limit Others

Proposed Park Ave. Restaurant Zoning Bans Fast Food

On Tuesday, August 6, Winter Park’s Planning and Zoning board sent a significantly reworked restaurant zoning proposal on to the City Commission.The board voted unanimously to support the proposal that was put together by an informal Task Force comprised of Chamber of Commerce officials, local merchants and Frank Hamner, the attorney for the Holler family, whose real estate holdings include significant Park Avenue retail space.

Mr. Hamner led the presentation in Thursday’s hearing, covering much of the same ground he covered in the prior week’s P&Z restaurant ordinance workshop. One notable modification that was made in the week that transpired between the workshop and the hearing was the inclusion of a “three month rule” that requires Park Avenue corridor landlords to re-lease vacated restaurant space within three months or risk being subjected to more stringent regulation and potential loss of the full package of regulatory benefits and designations enjoyed by the previous restaurant tenant – a key benefit being the possibility that a quickly re-leased space could include a non-fine dining restaurant that might otherwise not be permitted.

Mr. Hamner illustrated his presentation with PowerPoint slides, each of which can be viewed below in our initial 8/6/13 coverage of the P&Z workshop.

A significant change being proposed is the outright ban of fast food chain restaurants. Discussions among P&Z members and Task Force participants revealed broad support for the ban, which has been strongly – and vocally – advocated by Winter Parker residents.

Mr. Hamner echoed the sentiments of City Planning Director, Jeff Briggs, stating that past attempts to create ordinance changes that resolved conflicting views among city officials, city residents, merchants and others had been largely unsuccessful. The City’s own P&Z staff report laid out the multiple failed attempts by the City to resolve the issue. The staff report language can be viewed below in our 8/6/13 coverage of the P&Z workshop, or by clicking the button below.

Staff Report

Early in the hearing, Mr. Hamner stressed that his group was “not assigned this responsibility” by the Mayor or the City. While Hamner stated that his group is not an official “City Task Force,” he did confirm that “this collaboration grew out of a conversation with the Mayor, a couple of Commissioners, Patrick [ Chapin, Chamber of Commerce CEO ], Lambrine [ Macejewski , restaurateur/Chamber member] and myself and Daniel [ Butts, Battaglia Group CEO & Chamber Board Chair ].”

An important element of the proposed ordinance is the imposition of quotas or caps on certain types of restaurants. Mr. Hamner laid out the proposed “cap” formula – which would apply to non-fine dining restaurants – as follows:

“The number of non-fine dining restaurants shall not exceed 20% of the available first-floor store fronts on . . . any particular side of the block . . . and there’s an overall cap of 15% of the total number of businesses in the Park Avenue corridor.”

Hamner said that this formula would, as of now, permit an “additional seven or so non-fine dining restaurants” in the Park Avenue corridor. The proposed cap generated much discussion at the hearing and motivated board member Pete Weldon to send in a detailed response to the proposal via email. Mr. Weldon’s email can be viewed by clicking the button below.

Weldon Email

Winter Park Voice video of the P&Z hearing and vote can be viewed by clicking the video image below. This video also features public comment during the hearing.

However, as noted above, the discussion at the prior week’s P&Z workshop covers most of the same ground and – due to the less formal format of the meeting – the exchange between the board and the Task Force is more detailed – yielding probing and insightful comments and questions from the board, including new members Ross Johnston and Sheila De Ciccio.

Click the button below to view 7/31/13 Workshop Video.

Workshop Video

Part one of the 7/31 workshop video (click image below) shows Planning Director Jeff Briggs’ introduction to the workshop wherein he updates board members with a concise summary of City business.

Mr. Briggs’ presentation reveals an occasional inside view of City business, including a frank assessment of the politics of Florida Hospital’s recent withdrawal of its request for approval of a new parking garage planned at Winter Park Hospital.

Winter Park Voice will update this story and provide continuing coverage of the city’s hearings on restaurant ordinance revisions.

Developers Should Not Be Financed by Taxpayers

Developers Should Not Be Financed by Taxpayers

On Monday at 4:00 PM the Mayor and Commissioners will hold a workshop on the request to form the Ravaudage Community Development District. A vote on this request must take place by April 8th, as there will be no opportunity for public input at Monday’s meeting. As the Mayor and Commission consider the Ravaudage Community Development District, they need to consider the impact, long term and potential challenges in its approval.

Many developments in Winter Park and Central Florida have been successful without CDD’s, so a question: Would the development be successful or be able to obtain the financing to complete without this? A commitment to this developer now will set a precedent others may expect.

There are 600 CDD’s in Florida which have issued $6.5 billion in Municipal Bonds to finance their infrastructure. Of the 600, 168 or 28% have defaulted on $5.1 billion or 78% of the bonds. Consider the track record of the developer requesting the CDD in Winter Park – a record which includes foreclosure, unfinished or partially completed projects. (Source: Florida Community Development District Report)

No one can convince me that the development of 48 acres will not require additional city services and infrastructure. You as commissioners have already taken on that obligation though annexation. The developer, investors, present and future owners should not benefit or be underwritten by the rest of the property owners and taxpayers of Winter Park.

Just reading Governor Scott’s Executive Order Number 12-10 (Review of Special Districts) is enough of a red flag for me.

Many folk in the City of Winter Park wonder and some believe that the developers of projects in Winter Park get what they want from the City and Commissioners; there is a history of Winter Park approving projects which we were later on sorry we approved, and in some cases paid millions to undo.

Development should be able to stand on its own and if planned and done well benefits all. The City of Winter Park has no business being a “partner” in development when the potential for benefit is to the developer and not the City. I can only hope that the Mayor and City Commissioners have the courage to do the right thing: Deny the application for the Ravaudage Community Development District. Developers and development, especially in the City of Winter Park should not be funded or underwritten by its citizens and taxpayers.

Jack Miles



Proposed Fine Dining Ordinance “Dangerous & Hypocritical”? Ordinance Tabled (Again)

Proposed Fine Dining Ordinance “Dangerous & Hypocritical”? Ordinance Tabled (Again)

5/19/13 Story Update: Last Monday’s Commission discussion of fast food and fine dining standards generated plenty of dire predictions and hypotheticals, but no ultimate resolution.

In an effort to keep fast food restaurants from overrunning Park Avenue, the Commission ran over the City’s proposed ordinance time and again trying to make sense of it. After a long, exhaustive discussion, the ordinance was tabled – on life support once again – awaiting an infusion of new ideas from city staff, attorneys, concerned citizens and merchants.

P&Z Director Jeff Briggs opened the hearing on the proposed Fine Dining ordinance with a brave gesture – a summary of the Firehouse Subs “Fine Dining” policy created just for Park Avenue: “There is a Firehouse Subs business that’s going in next to BurgerFi and they are going to be – have committed to be – the only Firehouse Subs franchise in America that is going to offer table service . . .” Then, Briggs got to the point of the new ordinance language, admitting that “we never thought that any of the fast food franchises such as McDonalds, Burger King, etc. would ever try to fit under the definition of fine dining.”

Mr. Briggs indicated that fast food/fast casual restaurants are treated differently because the city believes that they are not significant contributors to the Avenue’s economic development and cautioned that “just . . . having a waiter or waitress or two working [at these fast casual restaurants] doesn’t change that.” He explained that the city encourages fining dining restaurants because the city and Park Avenue merchants believe that these upscale restaurants are “key to the continued economic development of Park Avenue.”

Bradley & Commission Wrestle With How to Include High-End Franchises While Excluding Others.

Time and again, Mayor Bradley noted that franchise restaurants like Ruth’s Chris and Olive Garden would face barriers to entry to Park Avenue if the new regulations were passed as proposed.  Mr. Briggs conceded that – under the proposed rules – an upscale restaurant like Ruth’s Chris, which is franchised nationwide, would not be permitted to locate on Park Avenue unless they were granted a Conditional Approval by the City Commission. Mayor Bradley wondered aloud whether it was the Commission’s role to pass judgment on which restaurants should be on the Avenue. He expressed his concern that favoring one restaurant brand over another is “a very dangerous place to be.”

Both Commissioner Leary and Commissioner McMacken were less reluctant than Mayor Bradley in their willingness to rule on Conditional Use applications by restaurants. Commissioner Cooper argued for banning all non-fine dining restaurants from Park Avenue.

Even though there were points of agreement among the Commissioners, patience in the chamber wore thin at times. Shortly before the Fine Dining ordinance discussion began, Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Cooper had a brief dust-up in a prior discussion concerning Ravaudage that triggered a momentary walkout by Ms. Cooper. Both Cooper and Bradley recovered quickly, however.

Leary: “Quality Establishment Like a BurgerFi” Needs Opportunity to Request Entry to Park Avenue.

Monday’s Fine Dining discussion remained civil, but spirited. Mayor Bradley continued to characterize parts of the new ordinance as “dangerous.” Sarah Sprinkel was exasperated by mistakes and ambiguities in the ordinance language. Tom McMacken recalled his displeasure when he first learned that BurgerFi was flouting its table service pledge and Commissioner Cooper lobbied hard for banning fast food from Park Avenue altogether. In response to Cooper’s advocacy of a complete ban on fast food, Commissioner Leary commented that “the problem with that is that a quality establishment like a BurgerFi does not even have the opportunity to come forward through a Conditional Use process . . .You need to have the opportunity to allow these things . . .”

City Policies Designed to Discourage the “Food Courting” of Park Avenue.

Jeff Briggs recalled that, in the past, there have been concerns about non-food retail franchises on the Avenue – concerns about the “Malling” of Park Avenue. Briggs noted that, despite these misgivings, some merchants believe that franchise retailers like the Gap increase shopping on the Avenue overall. However, Briggs noted that too much fast casual dining could lead to the “Food Courting” of Park Avenue which is “not our character.”

By the end of the discussion, the Commission had not moved significantly closer to consensus. Any sense that they were edging in that direction was strongly challenged by Frank Hamner, attorney for the Holler family, whose retail tenants include both BurgerFi and Firehouse Subs.

Holler Attorney: You Can Take This “Hypocritical” Ordinance and . . . Re-do It.

Hamner spared no feelings and few words in his characterization of the city’s new ordinance as poorly written, confused and “hypocritical.” He criticized city staff for “rushing” the rewriting of the ordinance and urged the city to “start over.”

After Hamner’s passionate critique of the city’s proposal, Mayor Bradley interrupted the Public Comment period and asked City Attorney Brown whether there were problems with the ordinance as written. Brown confirmed that there were errors and began to describe how the errors could be rectified. At that point, City Manager Knight interrupted and suggested to Mayor Bradley that the ordinance be tabled in order for staff “to get it right before it comes back to you.”

Mayor Bradley immediately moved to table the ordinance; Commissioner Leary seconded the motion and the Commission voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

Chapin: “Heartburn Happens” When Fine Dining Rules Not Enforced at Restaurants Like BurgerFi.

After the vote, Mayor Bradley allowed other citizens to continue the Public Comment portion of the hearing. Patrick Chapin from the Chamber of Commerce and Lambrine Macejewski, President of the Park Avenue Merchants Association were among the commenters. Neither supported the proposed ordinance as written.

Once the meeting adjourned, a small group gathered in the back of the chamber to discuss the ordinance. Included in the group were Frank Hamner, Patrick Chapin, Lambrine Macejewski, Jeff Briggs and Commissioner Leary. After a short discussion, the group left the public area and walked together back toward Jeff Briggs’ office in the Planning and Zoning Dept.

Cooper: Let’s Stop All Restaurant Approvals Until We Vote on New Restaurant Rules.

In the days following the hearing, Commission Carolyn Cooper asked City Manager Knight to convene a meeting of Commissioners to discuss enacting a moratorium on issuing permits for future restaurants on the Avenue. The point of the moratorium would be to give the city time to work out its new policy without risking another application by a fast food restaurant attempting to come onto the Avenue by promising Firehouse Subs-style “Fine Dining” table service.

Documents obtained by the Voice lead to the conclusion that no one other than Commissioner McMacken was willing to meet with Commission Cooper to discuss the issue. Cooper and McMacken will meet in the Chapman Room (Room 200) next to the Commission chambers this Wednesday, May 22, immediately following the Commission’s 3:00pm Ravaudage work session. Click the button below to view documents pertaining to Commissioner Cooper’s meeting request.

Cooper Meeting Request

Read & Input Comments


5/13/13 Story:

It took ten months, but the city has resurrected last year’s debate about what kind of businesses – specifically restaurants – are welcome on Park Avenue. On Monday, May 13, the City Commission will consider modifying the ordinance that defines which types of restaurants are acceptable.

Last July, City Hall was abuzz with concern about the half-empty block on Park Avenue between Comstock and Fairbanks. The Holler family owned most, if not all, of the vacant space on that block. That same month, the Holler’s attorney, Frank Hamner, testified in support of an effort by city staff to provide relief in the form of special zoning concessions for these properties. The concessions would have enabled a broader range of businesses to occupy first floor retail space.

BurgerFi & City Face Off Over Table Service Agreement.

Within days of last year’s Commission hearings on Park Avenue zoning changes, BurgerFi opened on the Avenue just north of Fairbanks. Earlier that year, BurgerFi persuaded the city to approve its building application by promising to provide table service as required by the city’s “Fine Dining” ordinance language. However, less than one year later, relations between the restaurant and the city have soured. City’s staffers confirm that the city believes that BurgerFi is not keeping its “Fine Dining” promise. More about that later.

During last summer’s Commission hearings, some Commissioners worried that long-vacant store fronts on the block spelled danger for the Avenue. There appeared to be support on the Commission for zoning modifications and creative interpretations of existing regulations. However, many Park Avenue merchants were skeptical, suggesting that property owners on the block could revitalize the area without special concessions and fast food restaurants. Ultimately, community and merchant opposition forced the tabling of the special concessions.

Today, the block is flush with new businesses bracketed by a new Viking appliances showroom on one end and by BurgerFi on the other.

Firehouse Subs Gains Foothold on Avenue with Promise of Full “Fine Dining” Table Service.

Despite the block’s newfound prosperity, new zoning language has once again come before the Commission – at the same time that a new fast food restaurant, Firehouse Subs, is making plans to occupy another Holler-owned store front. And, once again, the Park Avenue Merchants Association appears to be highly antagonistic to any move that will encourage franchise-style, fast food eateries on Park Avenue.

The city’s acceptance of Firehouse Subs’ February 26 building permit application seems to validate merchant concerns that allowing BurgerFi to gain a foothold on the Avenue would open the door to more fast food in downtown Winter Park. However, new “Fine Dining” language being proposed by the city actually appears to be an attempt to discourage future applications from these restaurants.

City Ordinance Changes Make Future Fast Food Openings More Difficult, but Gives Commission Right to Override New Standards for Benefit of City “Economy.”

In an interview with the Voice last week, Planning and Zoning Director, Jeff Briggs revealed that the city looked to an historic shopping district in south Florida as inspiration for the city’s new “Fine Dining” guidelines: “The new ordinance language being proposed for the city’s definition of permitted fine dining and fast casual restaurants is modeled on the standards established for the historic Worth Avenue district in Palm Beach, Florida.

The new language, if approved, includes a clause that prohibits future fast food, fast casual formula, franchise-style restaurants from opening on Park Avenue, unless a restaurant of that type applies for and is approved on a Conditional Use basis by the City Commission.”

This is the staff summary of the city’s rationale for making the change:

“The City’s C-2 zoning code, in effect along Park Avenue and New England Avenue, makes “fine dining” restaurants a permitted use. Other restaurants (not meeting that definition) are conditional uses which require the provision of parking in order to create a new restaurant location. In effect, “fine dining” restaurants are given a ‘free pass’ or parking variance if they meet that definition. The intent was to allow, as has occurred, for new restaurants such as Luma, Prato, Paris Bistro, Cucina 214 and Nelore Steakhouse to start up on Park Avenue without having to provide parking.

Unfortunately the only differentiator for “fine dining” versus other restaurants is table service versus counter service. Burger King or McDonald’s could come to Park Avenue if they offered table service.

The proposed definition change tightens the rules to accomplish the original intent as well as clarify what meant by table service. Not the option for table service to be available but the requirement for it in all instances. The proposed definition change is also patterned after Worth Avenue in Palm Beach that prohibits “formula restaurants” with more than three locations in the nation, which in our case will be more than three in the Orlando Metro area.”

Proposed ordinance language includes this clause:

“Fine dining restaurants may provide for ordering and payment at a counter/cashier only and exclusively to accommodate take-out orders but if such food or meals is intended for on-site consumption then such food or meals orders, service and payment must be done for customers at their tables by waiter/waitresses and full table service by waiter/waitresses must be available at all times. Fine Dining does not include any restaurant with a fast casual operational format or any formula restaurant of name or brand or franchise with more than three (3) locations in the greater Orlando metropolitan area or whose most common business model for their restaurants includes a majority of locations with drive-thru or predominately take-out food service, unless approved by the City Commission as providing an economic enhancement to the city’s central business district or hannibal square commercial district.”

Coffee shops and other non-destination establishments that do not generate high parking demand are exempted from the proposed restrictions. For more details on the proposed modifications, click the button below to see the Commission Agenda document that lays out the changes.

Fine Dining Ordinance Changes

Will the Proposed Changes Calm Merchant Fears that a New Fast Food Era is Beginning on the Avenue?

The Merchants Association won’t officially speak on the matter until their meeting this Monday, the day of the Commission meeting. However, last week the Voice interviewed Merchants Association President Lambrine Macejewski and VP Steven McElveen. Ms. Macejewski and Mr. McElveen, speaking for themselves, expressed opposition to fast food franchises on the Avenue – whether or not these businesses conform to the “Fine Dining” model that includes servers taking orders at tables and delivering food and drink as traditional restaurants do.

Ms. Macejewski, who owns a Tex-Mex restaurant on East Welbourne Avenue, commented that the city’s approval of Firehouse Subs to open on the Avenue “has upset a lot of merchants . . . they’re concerned about the integrity of the Avenue.” Ms. Macejewski promised that merchants will attend the Commission meeting to learn more about – and possibly comment on – the city’s intentions.

Mr. McElveen, whose business is directly across from City Hall, told the Voice that merchants are worried about “the gates opening” for more fast food businesses on the Avenue – and are hoping that the Commission “will write the code in such a way that that doesn’t happen.”

Whether or not the city Commission approves the new regulations, the city must depend on BurgerFi and Firehouse Subs (who are governed by the current ordinance) to keep their promises to provide fine dining-style table service. Firehouse Subs has submitted a letter to the city pledging to “Provide full table service to everyone who wishes to be seated . . . A dedicated and sufficient wait staff will be hired to greet and serve guests in the dining room.” Firehouse will also post prominent signage that will “. . . invite the restaurant guest to be seated for table service.”

Click the Button below to read the Firehouse Subs letter.

Firehouse Subs “Fine Dining” Pledge

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The language in the Firehouse letter appears to satisfy city staff that Firehouse will provide fine dining table service as currently defined in the city ordinance. However, because the letter specifies that customers may order at the counter if they wish, Firehouse’s promise does not conform to the new fine dining standards being proposed by Planning and Zoning.

The new city rules would prohibit restaurants from offering counter service to customers who choose to dine on the premises. Nevertheless, it appears that Firehouse has been approved to open on the Avenue. City staff tells the Voice that the Firehouse table service agreement passes muster because they applied for their building permit under current rules several months ago.

If Current Zoning Rules Prohibit “Sub Shops” from Opening on the Avenue, How Did Firehouse Subs Get Approved?

In his response to the Voice, Mr. Briggs explained that “That sentence in the fine dining definition uses ‘sandwich shops’, ‘sub shops’ and ‘fast food business’ as illustrative examples of ‘restaurants where ordering and payment is done at a counter/cashier’. Every fine dining restaurant on Park Avenue serves sandwiches but they are not a sandwich shop because the ordering and payment is not done at the counter/cashier.“

Briggs was less charitable toward BurgerFi, which appears to be ignoring assurances they gave the city. According to Briggs, BurgerFi has responded to city concerns about their table service policy by offering to submit a written guarantee to the city that full table service is available to customers who request it – and to prominently post signage informing customers of the policy. Mr. Briggs sees that offer as an attempt to get the city to bless BurgerFi’s current policy, which, so far, has resulted in very few diners taking advantage of full table service.

BurgerFi May Face Code Enforcement Crackdown if Table Service is Not Upgraded.

Briggs is clearly unhappy with BurgerFi’s response, and the long lines of customers waiting to place orders at the counter day-after-day: “That was their offer to get us to deem them in compliance. To me that is insufficient.” It appears that nothing less than a dedicated wait staff and a stronger commitment to making table service a reality will satisfy the city. Barring that, city staffers in Code Enforcement may soon be visiting the restaurant to issue citations that could result in daily fines.

The Voice asked Code Enforcement officials how this process would play out if fines are assessed and are not paid by the restaurant. We were told that standard procedure at the city is to ultimately foreclose on property where fines have remained unpaid.

How Fine is BurgerFi’s “Fine Dining” Table Service? Here’s What We Found:

This past week, the Voice dined at BurgerFi during lunch hour. I stood in line like everybody else and, before ordering, asked the cashier whether table service was available. I was informed that table service was available, but “not during BurgerFi’s busy times.” During lunch I did not see any table service other than meals being delivered to tables after diners had ordered at the counter. Also, just like any at fast food franchise, diners were getting themselves soft drinks out of self-serve machines, pumping their own condiments, dumping food wrappers into waste receptacles and depositing dirty trays into a rack. I did not observe any signage that offered a full table service option.

The next morning I visited the restaurant again at 11:00AM and sat down at a table on the patio waiting for a server to take my order. No other customers were in the restaurant, which appeared to be fully staffed in anticipation of the upcoming lunch rush. BurgerFi’s general manager, Don Clemence, kneeled down at a table nearby making some sort of repair. After five minutes I was approached by an employee who offered to take my order. Instead, I asked to interview the manager. Mr. Clemence, who’s been with the franchise for two months, confirmed that BurgerFi does have a policy of offering table service to anyone who asks, but was unaware of any discussion of providing signage to let customers know that a table service policy exists. Mr. Clemence acknowledged that only a small percentage of customers take advantage of BurgerFi’s full table service option.

Winter Park Voice requested comment from all City Commissioners and the Mayor. As of press time, the Voice received no reply except for this statement submitted by Commissioner Carolyn Cooper:

“Thank you for an opportunity to comment on the proposed change to this important ordinance governing what uses are and are not permitted on Park Avenue. I believe we all understand the economic importance of protecting the character of Park Avenue and appreciate the staff’s effort to tighten up the definition of ‘fine dining.’

Unfortunately, while the ordinance requires ‘non-fine dining restaurants’ to obtain conditional use approval, it stops short of restricting ‘non-fine dining restaurants’ from Park Avenue. I believe this ordinance, as proposed, does not provide the Park Avenue brand the protection it deserves.

There are lots of locations in Winter Park where we can grab fast food. The question is, should those locations include Park Avenue? It is time for us to have a conversation regarding this critical topic. Hope you will join the discussion.”


Mica on P.O./Central Park Deal: Last Time, “All Hell Broke Loose.” This Time, Citizens Must Be United.

Mica on P.O./Central Park Deal: Last Time, “All Hell Broke Loose.” This Time, Citizens Must Be United.

On Monday, April 15, during a commission-sponsored work session, Congressman John Mica shared his views on how the city might finally convince the US Postal Service (USPS) to move the Winter Park Post Office farther north on New York Avenue – thereby freeing up land that could be used to expand Central Park. The USPS has, so far, shown no interest in moving the WP post office or reducing its footprint.

The USPS has rebuffed the city’s recent requests to obtain Right of First Refusal if the property is put up for sale, stating in a 8/6/12 letter to City Manager, Randy Knight, that, “At this time, the property is not available for sale, nor do we anticipate that the property will become available in the foreseeable future.” (Click button below to see letter.)

P.O. Says “No Right of First Refusal.” Insists on Getting True Market Value for Its Property.

In his letter to the city, Tom Samra, USPS Vice President, Facilities, justifies USPS unwillingness to grant the city Right of First Refusal due the Postal Service’s duty to “generate adequate market exposure of the property and competition among all interested parties, to meet our obligation to secure best value to the Postal Service . . . A Right of First Refusal to the City of Winter Park would impair our ability to assure the Postal Service has maximized the property’s overall value . . .”

City Manager, Randy Knight started Monday’s meeting with a summary of the city’s efforts to buy – or obtain the Right of First Refusal to buy – the WP Post Office site when and if the site is put up for sale by USPS. Despite the city’s failure to raise enough money to buy the site when it was available for sale several years ago – and varying opinions among commissioners as to how to develop the PO site – Mr. Knight said there is unanimity on this point: “One opinion that everybody agrees with is we would like for this to ultimately be in the City Commission’s hands to control what happens on that property, versus in private development hands.” (Click button below to see city resolution to develop site as parkland.)

Bradley/Knight: City Wants “Perpetual Right of First Refusal.” Keep P.O. Out of Developers’ Hands.

Knight admitted that, at this time, the city has no “right to purchase under any kind of agreement.” He later acknowledged of USPS that “they want to be in the core . . . they didn’t want to be more than a mile away from the existing site, and they really didn’t want to separate distribution from retail [walk-in PO facilities]. Though they did finally agree that that could happen, it was not their preference.”

Mayor Bradley questioned whether the city was ever in a position financially to pay the cost of acquiring the PO property, “I don’t know that we were ever in a place to be able to spend 6, 10, 12 million dollars – even in spite of public fund raising – to acquire that . . .” Mr. Bradley did point out, however, that “First and foremost, having a perpetual Right of First Refusal . . . I think is certainly our first goal.”

After Randy Knight’s summary, Congressman Mica pulled his microphone closer. Then, like the seasoned politician he is, Mica drew a laugh from the audience by comparing the city’s USPS dealings with a root canal. Rep. Mica then got down to business – presenting his view of how federal, local and political realities have shaped – and will continue to shape – negotiations on the post office property.

Congressman Mica Remembers When “All Hell Broke Loose” During Carlisle Debate.

Rep. Mica recalled an early re-development proposal for the site where “some people from the city and some developers came to Washington some years back” with a plan to re-do the post office area, expand the park and add a parking garage “across the tracks.” Mica said that he found the plan “attractive” then noted that sometime later – after the city took over the project – the city “came up with a quite different plan – which was pretty extensive – all hell broke loose. When something like that happens, you know, I run like a scalded dog . . . the community was pretty divided on the issue – and I wasn’t touching it with a 10 foot pole.”

Mica: Postal Service is Broke. May Be Ready to Deal Now.

Mr. Mica acknowledged the Postal Service’s rejection of the city’s proposal, but noted that the USPS may be more open to negotiating now, “. . . a lot of things have changed . . . since their rejection [of the city’s proposal]. They’re in dire, dire straits . . . they are taking proposals that can save money . . . they’re not going to entertain anything that will cost them money . . . it’s got to be cost neutral.”

Mr. Mica then reminded the commission a second time that lack of community consensus could undermine any negotiation with USPS: “. . . you can’t have a divided community. If you have a divided community, they’ll run away from it, too.”

Mica Claims USPS “Devoid of Brain Power . . . An Embarrassment . . . Lipstick on a Pig.”

Mica did not hesitate to criticize USPS management at the federal and local level, charging that upper management is “. . . devoid of any brain power and creativity” and revealing that the poor upkeep of Winter Park’s own post office has, in the past, been an “embarrassment.”

Despite efforts by commissioners to credit a post office landscaping makeover sponsored by local residents, Mica characterized P.O. revitalization efforts as “Lipstick on a pig . . . I don’t see any hope – it is not the architectural highlight of Winter Park . . . But we’ve got to have a good plan if we’re going to do it. Everybody’s got to be on board.”

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The congressman ended on a note of cooperation, telling the commissioners ,“You set the priorities and I will follow up as best I can” – leading to the conclusion that Winter Park’s best approach to dealing with the post office property might be to rely on Congressman Mica to persuade Post Office authorities to move their distribution operation out of the city center – then build a new walk-in “retail” post office north of its current location within the same large parcel of land it now shares with city park land.

Bradley on P.O. Site: “Time to Start New Chapter.” Let’s “Brainstorm” New Library, Other Options.

Mayor Bradley closed the meeting with a suggestion: “I think that the congressman has brought us a new page. I think we ought to embrace that new page. . .this has a lot of history. I think it’s probably time to start a new chapter – a new fresh chapter that really attacks this in a very positive and upbeat way . . . We’ve brainstormed around park – maybe we should brainstorm again around library. Maybe we should brainstorm again around some other regional good. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to kind of re-look at this.”

Congressman Mica also briefly touched on SunRail and other projects. His comments can be viewed by clicking WPV video image above.

Winter Park Voice requested comment from all City Commissioners, Randy Knight and Rep. Mica. No comments were received as of press time.

Work Session Documents    Letters & Resolutions    8/6/12 USPS Letter

Ravaudage CDD Final Vote Set for Monday

Revenue-Sharing Dead For Now. Can Developer Succeed Without It?

Ravaudage CDD Final Vote Set for Monday

4/8/13 Story Update:
This afternoon, after a long discussion of the property rights of landowners and businesses that reside within the Ravaudage development, the City Commission voted unanimously to approve the Ravaudage CDD. WP Chamber of Commerce CEO, Patrick Chapin spoke on behalf of the CDD.

4/7/13 Story Update:
Chances are good that on Monday, April 8, Winter Park’s City Commission will vote “yes” for the second and final time to approve Dan Bellows’ Ravaudage CDD.

Monday’s likely “yes” vote will give the go-ahead to the creation of a Commercial Development District that will enable Bellows and his partners to elect themselves as the first Board of Supervisors in a brand new governmental entity.

Commissioners who question granting such broad powers to Mr. Bellows have learned that they have little choice in the matter. In response to questions from the Commission during a recent hearing, City Attorney Larry Brown advised that the city must approve a CDD application unless it has reasonable, legally compelling reasons not to. Learn more about CDD “General Powers” here, “Special Powers” here and overview here.

City Debate Not About Whether to Approve CDD, But How to Approve It

On March 25, in the first of two votes required on the matter, the Commission voted to amend and approve the CDD, but raised numerous concerns during the meeting. Despite their unanimous “yes” vote on the CDD, the commission insisted on a modification to the CDD that removed any linkage between the CDD and the “Interlocal Agreement” that would have granted the CDD millions of dollars in city subsidies. Another sticking point for Mayor Bradley, Commissioner Cooper and others was the CDDs power of eminent domain. The Mayor appeared to favor stripping the CDD of all eminent domain powers, but attorney Brown advised the panel that doing so would conflict with state law.

Good News, Bad News

By blessing the CDD, the city will enable the new entity to start raising money using tax-exempt bonds. The bad news for Bellows and company is that the Interlocal Agreement (ILA) has been pulled off the city commission agenda. It appears that the ILA has been tabled for now.

Part of the allure of the revenue-sharing deal with the city was the leverage the 35 year ILA payout would provide in the bond market. The Interlocal Agreement appears to have been an important element in Mr. Bellows overall plan to financially launch his 50+ acre development – important enough to create a CDD/ILA link that was, in the words of his own attorney, “unprecedented.”

During the March 25 Commission hearing on Ravaudage, City Attorney Brown characterized the linkage as “innovative . . . something I’ve never seen before.” Minutes later, Dori Stone, the city’s Development Director, informed the commission that it was actually the city’s own “Special Counsel”, Ken Artin, who formally requested the linkage. The commission was unable to directly question the counsel regarding his rationale for such an action because, as Mayor Bradley pointedly noted, the special counsel did not attend the hearing. Nevertheless, as reported by the Voice on March 25, the Commission’s response to the ILA revenue-sharing plan was overwhelmingly negative.

If City Withholds Interlocal Economic Incentive Payments, Will Ravaudage Falter?

Even though Mr. Bellows’ attorney, Jan Carpenter, readily agreed to remove any linkage between the CDD petition and the proposed Interlocal Agreement, past comments on both sides of the negotiating table lead to the conclusion that loss of Interlocal E.I.P. funds could seriously impact Ravaudage development. Ms. Carpenter appeared to support this conclusion at the city’s 3/19 Economic Development Advisory Board hearing on Ravaudage, stating that “I think that the Mayor said it best last night when he said ‘If you’ve got the CDD you’ve got the car, but if there’s no gas to go in it, it’s not going anywhere’ . . . so without the Economic Incentive Payments, this type of development – being an in-fill redevelopment project – it really probably doesn’t work . . .”

In the following email excerpt – obtained by the Voice in a public records request – Dan Bellows discusses Interlocal “EIP” (Economic Incentive Payments) and implores City Manager Randy Knight to “leave the interlocal agreement alone”:


“Randy, the below is part of an e mail I received from the CDD general council. I am not sure how all this is just coming up?

‘the City’s concern that EIP monies should be limited to improvements only after certain levels of development occurred- and that the EIP payments could be terminated if such levels were not reached. This would make any bond debt unmarketable as the CDD has no interest in the PD or other development rights on lands within the CDD. The plan now may be to limit the types of CDD infrastructure expenditures for which EIP can be used. Again – this could limit bond marketability if the CDD has to reconfigure its infrastructure program to meet the City’s criteria for development.’

‘If no private development occurs, there will be no buildings and no CO’s –therefore no utility revenues or ad valorem taxes – so no EIP to share!’ [Bellows’ emphasis]

We have little time to iron out an agreement and hope that you can direct the cities council to leave the inter local agreement alone with the exception of reducing the increase in ad valorem basis from 75% to a flat 50% and remove any comments about baseball or parking fee caps in garages during baseball games.”

If CDD Passes & Interlocal Fails, Is Another City Revenue-Sharing Deal Lurking in Our Future?

If lack of bond market support and/or denial of city subsidies effectively stalls Ravaudage development – or if the threat of a development bust appears credible – will the City Commission respond with a new package of economic incentives? Sources with city government experience tell the Voice that if ILA subsidies are denied at this point in time, they may ultimately morph into another city plan to underwrite Ravaudage development in the near future. One way or another, there appear to be several scenarios under which the city could find itself entangled in Ravaudage affairs and potential development shortfalls.

In the March 25 hearing, City Attorney Brown mentioned several financial scenarios that envision possible city involvement with Ravaudage that go beyond what is currently proposed (this testimony is included in the WPV video above):

Brown on CDD Bail-Out Scenario:


“The CDD itself doesn’t default, technically. It’s the landowners within the CDD who fail to pay their assessments . . . If the landowner defaults in payment of the debt assessments, then the CDD has an obligation under the trust indenture to foreclose that land . . . So the city is not at risk in any way – zero risk . . . Now if the CDD is dissolved or terminated, the city, at its option, can agree to assume the responsibility to provide services and – in that case – will assume the bond indebtedness, but only to the extent of the services that it’s taking over.”

Brown stated more than once that the city would never be liable for CDD/developer/property owner indebtedness unless the city is somehow motivated to voluntarily assume CDD debt.

Brown on Developer Bankruptcy Scenario:

“I don’t want them to issue a large sum of bonds and hold those monies in construction trust accounts, and then the CDD only goes so far into the actual construction leaving large sums of money in bond trust accounts – and then the landowners default, assessments stop coming in, the CDD now forecloses.

What usually happens is they get a foreclosure judgment, that’s assigned to a special purpose entity controlled by the bond holders – and then those people come in and ‘value-engineer’ the heck out the construction improvements, so you really don’t get what you contemplated getting with Mr. Bellows’ demonstrated history of development . . . You’re dealing now with banks and their consultants – because that’s been my experience – and they try to look at the construction improvement report developed by the district engineer and ‘value engineer’ it, because there’s financial incentive for them to preserve as much as possible, bond proceeds, in those trust accounts and not spend them on construction improvements.

And, so my concern is you could be on the hook for 30 years paying EIP if we’re not careful . . . So, that’s a huge issue we have to work through.”

City Hall Email Includes Strong Opposition to Revenue-Sharing

The prospect of sharing city revenues with Ravaudage developers has forged an unusual coalition of city officials who often have difficulty reaching consensus on development-related matters. Two of the more unlikely allies on this issue are Peter Weldon, Winter Park’s newest P&Z board member and City Commissioner Carolyn Cooper. Even though Weldon and Cooper both support the proposed CDD in one form or another, they – along with most of the city commission – stand with the many city residents who wrote in to city hall opposing the city’s revenue-sharing plan.

Leary: Is Revenue-Sharing All That Different from Past Developer Incentives Given by City?

Even though the winds of ILA disapproval were blowing strong during the March 25 hearing, Commissioner Leary boldly tread where few were willing to go. Addressing his fellow commissioners, Leary started out with a disclaimer: “I’m not crazy about this, the way it exists . . .” then began to tick off a list of concessions and variances the city has offered other area developments including the Alfond Inn and Unicorp’s proposed Lakeside center on Lake Killarney. Leary reminded the commission that “we do things for people all the time” and noted the “nine million dollars . . . for the Fairbanks sewer project” committed by the city.

Leary “Disturbed” by Tone of Ravaudage Funding Debate

Mr. Leary then turned to the tone of the funding debate as expressed by some citizen letters he’s read: “I’ve seen emails come across – and I’m also frankly quite disturbed that it’s an individual that [has received] most of the vitriol and not the project . . . We’ve approved projects up here – all of us – that have been for supporters of ours during our election campaigns, and for people who didn’t support us. And, hopefully we’ve all looked at those projects [and said] it’s either good for the city or bad for the city.”

Leary continued with a list of revenue-sharing pros and cons: “I’m not crazy about 35 years – I think that’s crazy . . . the total amount – I think we need to address that . . . What I did like about it is that it’s incremental revenue . . . I keep trying to tell people . . . they say ‘You’re looking at taking money from us.’ I say ‘No we’re not’ . . . If we can help incentivize the development over there, it’s incremental tax revenue – it’s not coming out of anybody’s pocket in the city of Winter Park.”

Mr. Leary’s comments and comments from other commissioners can be viewed in the WPV Video below.

Monday’s Commission meeting starts at 3:30 P.M.

WPV requested comment from the Mayor, Commissioners and Dan Bellows. No comments were received as of press time.

3/25/13 Story Update:

Dan Bellows can’t have been happy with the reception his “Interlocal” revenue-sharing proposal got at City Hall tonight.

Though it seems likely he’d gotten wind of commissioners’ objections prior to the hearing, he may not have been prepared for the intensity of the commission’s negative response.

No vote was held on the Interlocal agreement tonight, but Bellows now knows he’s got a lot of work to do to move commissioners in his direction.

On the other hand, Commissioners were far more supportive of Bellows’ petition to create a CDD. The CDD will enable him to raise his own development funds using tax-free municipal bonds. Unlike the Interlocal agreement, the CDD will not entitle Ravaudage to any share of city/CDD property taxes.

The Voice’s next installment of Ravaudage coverage will include more reporting and video of tonight’s City Commission meeting.

Though this week did not start well for Dan Bellows and his development team, last Monday marked the beginning of a sort of official “debut” for Bellows’ Ravaudage — with Bellows shuttling his party of legal and financial experts from one city event to the next. First up last week was Monday’s Ravaudage workshop, followed the next day by another appearance of the experts at the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB). Click here to read Ravaudage column by Owen Beitsch, Asst. Chair, EDAB.

Last Tuesday’s EDAB meeting featured questions from the EDAB panel and testimony from Bellows’ team that ultimately garnered an EDAB “thumbs up” for Bellows’ CDD and multi-million dollar revenue-sharing proposal. However, on Friday, Bellows’ development vehicle blew a tire when news leaked out that Ravaudage had lost its bid to build a new baseball stadium for Rollins and a local minor league team.

The proposed baseball stadium was seen by some at the city as an important factor distinguishing Ravaudage from other nearby developments that are expected to emerge soon. Dori Stone, Winter Park’s Economic Development Director, went so far as to name the stadium as an important reason the city is considering subsidizing Ravaudage development.

Developer Backs Off Request for 75% of Ravaudage Tax Revenues

In an interview last Friday, City Manager, Randy Knight revealed to the Voice that the 75-25% revenue split with Ravaudage (proposed for the first five years of the deal) is now off the table. Instead, the city will consider an even 50-50 split of revenues for the 35 year life span of the Interlocal agreement. Sources inside city hall believe that this concession is being offered as a way to help eliminate city losses projected during the first five years of the revenue-sharing period – and to smooth the way for approval of the project.

Will Dan Bellows Be First “Mayor” of Ravaudage?

At Monday’s City Commission workshop, Bellows’ financial analyst, Brett Sealy, bluntly described the political power the city will be granting the developments if it approves the CDD: “CDDs are governed very much the way [the city is] governed. A CDD board is, initially, appointed by the land owner. It’s got five supervisors.” Sealy confirmed that Ravaudage will eventually be run by “qualified electors within the district” who are elected starting six years (or more) after the initial board of supervisors is set up.

Sealy said that many governmental functions will remain with the city of Winter Park including police, fire, zoning and other regulatory powers. However, as City Manager Knight told the Voice, some regulatory powers including the right to grant “conditional use” variances to Ravaudage businesses and residents will/may reside with the Ravaudage board—a right established prior to Ravaudage annexation into the city of Winter Park. Also, according to Ravaudage attorney, Jan Carpenter, the district board will have the right to foreclose on properties within the CDD that default on CDD assessments.

What, Exactly, is City Getting for Its Money? Can Developer Change Plans at Will?

Sources inside City Hall tell the Voice that Ravaudage developers have wide latitude to pick and choose the businesses and residents who will ultimately make up the commercial/retail/residential mix inside the CDD. It appears that the developer is limited mainly by the overall percentage of each type of occupancy noted on his current plan. (See land use details in earlier story below.)

A common refrain among some city staffers and politicians on the question of sharing city property taxes with Ravaudage is: Would you rather have 50% of something or 100% of nothing? Others have noted that developers have successfully invested — and continue to invest — their own money on significant developments within a mile of Ravaudage. Winter Park Village is one notable example. As reported earlier, City Manager, Randy Knight told the Voice that he believes development at Ravaudage would proceed at Ravaudage without funding from the city — albeit more slowly.

On Friday, Knight told the Voice he believes that — despite the loss of the proposed baseball stadium — the city’s investment in Ravaudage development can still be justified as a way to fast-forward infrastructure in the area. Knight also pointed out that infrastructure assistance is not needed by other nearby developments, because of the better-developed infrastructure in those areas.

Winter Park Voice readers who closely follow development in the Lee Road/17-92 area have pointed out that traffic impact studies at the county level are not yet complete — leading to the conclusion that lack of definitive transportation studies in the area may, at some future date, impact development in and around the Ravaudage traffic corridor.

Is “Blight” a Development Strategy?

City Development Director, Dori Stone, Mr. Bellows and others at the city have defined the Ravaudage development as a “blighted” section of the city with poor infrastructure. Advocates of the development proposal have leaned heavily on this designation to justify the extraordinary support being asked of the city.

There is no question that much of the Ravaudage area, which was governed by Orange County before annexation into Winter Park, has suffered from under-developed infrastructure for many years. It’s also true that Mr. Bellows has owned many of these properties for years.

During a recent commission hearing on Bellows’ blighted properties on Winter Park’s Westside, local builder John Skolfield characterized Bellows’ development strategy as “Rezoning by neglect.” Skolfield’s colorful presentation – and Bellows’ even more colorful four-word rebuttal can be viewed (at 21:00) by clicking the WPV YouTube image below.

Will Our Children Be Telling “Bellows Stories” 50 Years From Now?

Dan Bellows appears to be well on his way to establishing himself as a gifted and troublesome local legend. Over the many years that Bellows has worked with Winter Park’s politicians and regulators, he’s established a reputation as a hard driving, but persuasive negotiator in his interactions with city staff, board members and commissioners.

The Orlando Sentinel’s Scott Maxwell just re-posted an old news story on his blog that details Bellows’ history including a tribute to his ability to get his projects approved under the most trying circumstances, including the time Bellows “got into a physical fight — during a planning and zoning meeting at Winter Park — and still won 3-2 approval on the project he was seeking, even after the police had been called.”

Sometimes, however, Bellows’ intensity backfires, as illustrated in a recent Observer story featuring Maitland Councilwoman Bev Reponen accusing Bellows of attempting to “bully” the Maitland city council and staff in recent Ravaudage-related negotiations.

Even though Bellows’ property acquisition tactics and political maneuvers sometimes rub city residents and politicians the wrong way — he has often succeeded in convincing Winter Park’s P&Z members and city commissioners that what’s good for Dan can also be good for the city.

The most recent case in point is Bellow’s successful bid to get the city of Winter Park to rezone his properties on Lyman Ave, a few blocks from city hall. Even though the developer did not get all he asked for, he did manage to get the city to change several westside single-family residential lots to R-2 multi-family zoning.

Westside Express — First Stop: Planning & Zoning Board

Bellow’s first stop in his attempt effect this change was an appearance before the city’s Planning and Zoning board. He managed to win over one or more reluctant board members by insisting that his plan to get the westside property rezoned was the only way he could seal a deal to sell the properties to another developer. One reluctant member, architect Randall Slocum, had trouble understanding why Bellows needed to rush the approval, instead of waiting for an upcoming review of city-owned property adjoining Bellows’ properties. Board chair, Sara Whiting, voiced the same concern.

Board interest in waiting for the review appeared to be an attempt to better understand whether Bellows’ plan to introduce multi-family housing into the historic single-family-zoned westside neighborhood would be a good fit with plans to develop adjoining properties. However, any reluctance on the board was overcome shortly after Bellows sat in the almost-deserted commission chamber loudly repeating over and over that any delay would “blow the whole deal.” Board member Tom Sacha took Bellows’ plea to heart and repeated it on the dais as he advocated for a quick decision by fellow board members that would approve the rezoning and send it on to the city commission for final approval.

Soon after, the P&Z board endorsed the rezoning of the Lyman Avenue property in 6 to 1 vote, with Sara Whiting casting the only “no” vote.

Westside Express — Second & Final Stop: City Commission

When the rezoning proposal moved to the city commission for approval, Bellows once again encountered — and once again overcame — reluctance to approve his request. One of the reluctant commissioners was Sarah Sprinkel who, at the start of the hearing, declared “We’re talking about changing the rules to all these families . . . they are all single-family homes . . . we’re impacting those people and I just don’t want to do that. I just think that’s wrong . . . What if this happened in my neighborhood? . . . I would be fighting it tooth and nail.” But after many comments by other commissioners, pro and con — and impassioned pleas from Bellows and a Bellows opponent — Bellows once again worked his magic: Sprinkel reversed herself and joined Commissioner Leary and Mayor Bradley in approving Bellows’ multi-family re-zoning request on a 3-2 vote.

WPV requested comment from the Mayor, Commissioners and P&Z board members. None were received as of press time.


3/22/13 Story Update:

Earlier today, the Voice officially confirmed whispers within the community that the plan to build a new baseball stadium at Dan Bellows’ Ravaudage has fallen apart.

In an interview with the Voice this afternoon, City Manager, Randy Knight, stated simply that “The group interested in bringing minor league baseball to Winter Park has decided not to locate at Ravaudage.”

Who Put the Kibosh on Ravaudage?

City officials have not been at liberty to reveal which team has been negotiating with the city and developers for the new stadium. However, an article in Ballpark Digest suggests that it is the Brevard County Manatees: “It’s no secret the Manatees have laid the paperwork and groundwork for a move to the greater Orlando area . . . The plan from developer Dan Bellows calls for a new $12-million ballpark to house both the Rollins baseball program and the Manatees, replacing Alford Stadium at Harper-Shepherd Field for the Tars and Space Coast Stadium for the Manatees.”

The Digest admits that the plan was “not written in stone” and now it appears that the focus is shifting elsewhere in Winter Park, or beyond. City Manager Knight remains hopeful, adding that “We’re looking at other locations” within the city.

The Voice will publish more Ravaudage news and analysis soon. Stay tuned.


3/17/13 Story:

Longtime Winter Park developer, Dan Bellows, has been assembling a 54 acre patchwork of properties on the corner of Lee Road and 17-92 for well over a decade. And now, after talking to City Hall for years about his Ravaudage development, he’s within weeks of securing a Community Development District (CDD) “partnership” with the city.

This partnership will provide significant infrastructure funding for Ravaudage. The CDD and an accompanying “Interlocal” agreement would set up the CDD – which will be controlled by Bellows’ development company, Benjamin Partners, Ltd. – to receive/raise close to $70 million in tax revenues, fees and bond money generated by the district over a span of 30+ years. These funds will be earmarked for infrastructure development within the district, but will not exceed the actual cost of development and/or bond debt, according to Randy Knight, Winter Park’s City Manager. Infrastructure includes parks, recreational facilities, water, sewer and power lines, traffic lights and other similar structures.

City’s Ravaudage Workshop Set for Tomorrow at 4:00 PM

This coming Monday, March 18, at 4:00 PM, the City Commission has scheduled a workshop that kicks off the final stretch of hearings required to give Bellows and his development company the permissions and revenues he’s requesting from the city. These City Commission hearings are tentatively scheduled for March 25 and April 8.

In an interview with the Voice on Friday, City Manager Randy Knight characterized the proposed CDD as a sort of “Homeowners Association” writ large – “a governmental entity” with “certain powers” including the authority to “assess properties within that district for infrastructure . . . and only within the district. No properties excluded from the district can be assessed. It can build infrastructure; it can bond using tax-exempt debt, which is a huge
advantage . . . they will have a board, just like a city commission.”

This board will be comprised (initially) of the current property owners, Bellows’ Benjamin Partners. Eventually, however, other businesses and residents of the Ravaudage district will take positions on the governing board.

Knight pointed out that regulatory powers including the right to issue building permits will be retained by the city of Winter Park. And, according to Knight, Ravaudage is still responsible for paying development-related impact fees to the city, which will not be shared with the CDD, should it be approved by the commission.

Documents created by the city’s Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) on December 18, 2012 show that the development will include:

–489 residential units
–320 hotel rooms,
–323,100 sq. ft. of retail space and
–891,000 sq. ft. of office space.

What Happens If City Doesn’t Approve Funding?

City Commissioners could decide to approve the CDD, but not the Interlocal agreement. Without an approved Interlocal agreement and the millions of dollars it obligates the city to share with Ravaudage developers, Bellows and Benjamin Partners would have to raise funds by selling tax-exempt CDD bonds and by other conventional means on the open market. City Manager Knight commented that this approach would undoubtedly slow – but not stop – the pace of development at Ravaudage.

CDD Defaults Trigger Closer Scrutiny in Florida

CDDs are a tool used by developers throughout Florida to obtain upfront financing for their projects. In recent years, use of this tool has become controversial – primarily because a significant portion of these CDDs have gone into default leaving someone other than the developer liable for CDD debt.

Industry newsletters, press reports and other sources indicate that market declines in recent years have affected the CDD default rate – which is pegged variously at 15 to 25%. Richard Lehmann, a widely quoted analyst with the Income Securities Advisor investment firm, noted in 2011 that “there are presently 168 CDD districts in Florida which are in default on over $5.1 billion in bonds.” Lehmann, who also writes a newsletter for Forbes magazine, estimates that Florida is home to approximately 600 CDDs.

The questionable health of some Florida CDDs is a sticking point for some city residents who have expressed concern that the city may be “on the hook” for Ravaudage CCD payments if the developer defaults at some point in the future.

In his interview with the Voice, City Manager Randy Knight stated unequivocally that the city would not be liable if the Ravaudage CDD were to go into default: “There is no risk to the city at all.” Knight added that if the CDD defaults on it bonds, “The bond holders cannot come back to the city and say ‘We want our money’ . . . There is no way they come back on the city . . . We’re not putting the taxpayers of Winter Park at risk.”

How Are Funds Generated for CDD Developers?

The City Manager explained that the city’s deal (should it be approved by the commission) will involve two funding elements: the first being a CDD that will give Bellows and the Ravaudage principals the right to raise funds using tax-free bonds. The second element is an Interlocal agreement wherein the city will agree to hand over to Ravaudage developers a significant portion of taxes and other revenue the city receives from businesses and individuals residing INSIDE the Ravaudage development district for the next 35 years – not unlike the CDDs formed to fund Baldwin Park, Celebration and the Millenia Mall.

According to Mr. Knight, businesses located inside the special district will also be responsible for paying a Public User Fee or “PUF” to the developer that amounts to 1% of their revenues. These businesses usually pass on the 1% “PUF” assessment to their customers. PUF funds will be used for common area maintenance within the development. The City Manager noted that developers have the right to require this fee whether or not a CDD is created.

Knight: CDD shares in city taxes and fees collected only INSIDE the boundaries of the CDD

In response to community concerns noted during our interview with Knight, he stressed again that the city will only contribute to the CDD a share of taxes and fees collected from new businesses and new residents INSIDE the boundaries of the CDD – not from city revenues collected elsewhere in the city.

Knight confirmed that development inside the boundaries of Ravaudage, as currently envisioned, will include a mix of commercial/retail business, office buildings and Baldwin Park-style housing. Bellows, Rollins College and the city are also discussing the possibility of partnering on a baseball stadium that could house a professional minor-league team part of the year and also accommodate the Rollins team. The Voice requested documentation of stadium discussions, but was told that documents pertaining to that negotiation are not yet available for public review. Other sources tell the Voice that these documents are being shielded at the request of Rollins College.

How Will Ravaudage – With or Without CDD Approval – Impact City Life?

It is expected that upcoming Ravaudage hearings will give city officials and citizens an opportunity to address a number of concerns expressed in recent Voice interviews with city residents, including:

–Traffic impact
–Impact on city services including police, fire and other vital services
–Whether independently-owned businesses and homeowners currently residing inside CDD boundaries will face forced sale through eminent domain if city approves CDD
–How the city plans to thoroughly vet those who will be running the CDD

A review of city documents that are available, including meeting minutes and other files, reveals the depth of detail and many pieces of the puzzle that Mr. Bellows and the city have been assembling since at least 2009. Some of those files can be viewed by clicking the buttons shown below.

Interlocal Agmt    CDD Agmt/Staff Review    2011 City Workshop

The following language is excerpted from the proposed Interlocal agreement sent to the Voice by the city on Friday, March 15. The entire agreement can be viewed by clicking the “Interlocal Agmt” button above.

From the Interlocal Agreement, Article 5 “Economic Incentive Payments” (EIP):

The value of EIP for each Fiscal Year shall be computed in the manner set forth in this Section 5.02.

(A) Construction of the Project and its various components as described in Section 5.01, as supported by the District’s publicly funded capital infrastructure, is projected to generate substantial economic benefits to the City. EIP will be made by the City in proportion to the volume of the existing and future development located inside the City’s boundaries and inside the District as described below. The valuation for existing development within the District shall be determined in accordance with Section 5.04. EIP will be equal to the sum of the components listed below (and any other taxes levied by the City pursuant to Chapters 161, 202 and 206 Florida Statutes (or similar state law) and franchise fees:

1) An amount from the City’s general fund equal to a percentage of the increase in the City’s annual ad valorem property tax revenue attributable to the Project’s development and collected from properties located within the District. Such property tax increment shall be determined annually and shall be that amount equal to seventy-five percent (75%) (for the first full five years after the establishment of the District, changing to fifty percent (50%) thereafter) of the difference between:

a. The amount of ad valorem taxes levied each year by the City, exclusive of any amount from any debt service millage, on taxable real property contained within the geographic boundaries of the District and subject to the jurisdiction of the District; and

b. The amount of ad valorem taxes which would have been produced by the rate upon which the tax is levied each year by the City, exclusive of any debt service millage, upon the total of the assessed value of the taxable real property in the District as shown upon the most recent assessment roll used in connection with the taxation of such property by the City prior to the effective date of this Agreement.

c. Nothing herein shall require the City to establish a particular rate of millage except as provided or required by general law or previously existing bond covenants unrelated to District bonds.

2) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s 6% public service tax for electric service attributable to properties contained within the geographic boundaries of the District and subject to the jurisdiction of the District, to the extent such taxes are paid to or received by the City.

3) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s electric service franchise fee equivalent attributable to properties contained within the geographic boundaries and subject to the jurisdiction of the District.

4) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s 10% public service tax for water service attributable to properties contained within the geographic boundaries and subject to the jurisdiction of the District, to the extent such taxes are paid to or received by the City.

5) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s 10% public service tax for metered natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas both metered or bottled, and manufactured gas tax attributable to properties contained within the geographic boundaries of the District, to the extent such taxes are paid to or received by the City and it is reasonably determined that such taxes are generated by properties within the District.

6) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s public service tax for fuel oil, and any motor and other vehicle fuel taxes, attributable to properties contained within the geographic boundaries of the District.

7) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s local communications services tax attributable to properties located contained within the geographic boundaries of the District.

8) An amount equal to 1/2 of the City’s garbage waste franchise fee, if any such fee is collected by the City, from properties contained within the geographic boundaries and subject to the jurisdiction of the District.

(B) In each calendar year, the District will submit a Progress Report to the City outlining the volume of Completed Project Components in the previous Benefit Determination Year, as provided in Section 5.04.

(C) The City will compute the EIP based on the Progress Report according to the EIP Calculation as provided in Section 5.02.

(D) The City shall provide at the time of payment each year a report outlining all EIP revenues identified in Sections 5.01 and 5.02 of this Agreement as generated by properties located within the District. The City shall show within the report the revenues received per category and based upon the Progress Report submitted by the District, the EIP payments made as a percentage of revenues generated within the District. The Finance Director for the City shall certify the accuracy of the report to the District and remit said report to District with a sworn statement as to the accuracy of the report.

The Voice has asked Dan Bellows and all City Commissioners and the Mayor to comment on this story. None have commented as of press time.

This article has been updated to include more recent CDD default information.

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Leary & McMacken: Lead Players in Park Avenue Zoning Drama

Leary & McMacken: Lead Players in Park Avenue Zoning Drama

Think of the Park Avenue story as a much-loved play that never closes. The show goes on year-after-year running through directors, cast and crew who strive to keep the play fresh — and producers who struggle to keep investors happy. When times get tough, producers may replace the star or maybe just repaint the lobby. Sometimes they drop ticket prices. Sometimes the public responds well. Sometimes they don’t.

This year’s twist on Winter Park’s long-playing zoning drama is the furor produced by city efforts to revitalize one corner of the “Avenue” – the block between Fairbanks and City Hall. All recent zoning-change proposals submitted by city staff — including the current proposal to change rules for Avenue restaurants — have been poorly received by Winter Park merchants and residents who are deeply suspicious of any changes to Park Avenue zoning.

In an attempt to better understand the city’s current proposal – and to find common ground –Commissioners Tom McMacken and Steve Leary agreed to meet last week. The December 4 meeting was publicized as required by Florida’s Sunshine Law and attended by the two commissioners, staff and a handful of city residents and merchants.

Jeff Briggs, Director of City Planning, has pointed out again and again that rule changes on the Avenue are nothing new. Historically, city leaders and staff have responded to changing times (and fortunes) by tightening and loosening city ordinances regulating Park Avenue commerce. Recently, city staff worked hard to accommodate Burger Fi, a popular new player at the south end of Park Avenue. Public response to the restaurant has been good, but now, city staff and the restaurant are in hot water over “Fine Dining” rules that were bent, then broken.

The latest proposal to recast Park Avenue — and the tepid support it has received — raises the question of whether city leaders will once again pull back their proposal in deference to the fears of the stars and established cast on the Avenue who are clearly worried that the wrong sort of player could spoil the show.

The video clip shown above is an excerpted record of the meeting between the commissioners. This video is one of a series that will showcase city meetings at which proposed ordinances, initiatives and city policies are developed and vetted. Readers who want to access full-length coverage of these events can often find audio recordings of the meetings on the city’s website here.

Commissioners, board members and other meeting participants who wish to correct or expand on WPV coverage of these meetings are welcome to submit comments, articles and columns for publication in the Voice.


YMCA Showdown -- Phelps Park Neighbors Fight to Keep Y Corralled

YMCA Showdown — Phelps Park Neighbors Fight to Keep Y Corralled

Is the Winter Park YMCA a neighborhood center — hoping to expand so they can offer enhanced services to local families? Or, are they an ever-expanding fitness empire intent on pumping up their regional membership revenues — regardless of the impact on their neighbors?

Proponents of both points of view faced-off at the Winter Park Planning and Zoning hearing on November 6. At issue is the YMCA’s latest plan to add a parking lot and a new shallow, “zero-entry” pool. A similar plan was submitted to the city by the YMCA in 2010, but was withdrawn by the Y after it was denied by P&Z.

A few years before the 2010 denial, the Y had purchased two adjacent Palmer Avenue homes and held the property – in the apparent hope that their expansion plans would be better-received by the city’s P&Z and City Commission at some point in the future. Despite their failure to secure city approval in 2010, the YMCA continued to hold their properties on Palmer and waited until 2012 to re-submit their expansion request to the city.

This time the current P&Z board proved to be more sympathetic to the YMCA’s plan. On November 6, the board approved the request and sent it on to the City Commission, which will start hearings on the matter on November 26.

UPDATE: In the City Commission meeting on November 26, the Commission approved the YMCA’s request to modify the legal status of the Y’s two residential properties on Palmer Avenue. The vote was the first of two votes required to clear the way for the Y to expand its parking lot farther west on Palmer by changing “. . . the existing designation of Single Family Residential to Institutional and [by changing] the existing zoning designation of Single Family Residential District to Public Quasi-Public District” as reported by the city’s newsletter, citE-news.

The Commission also voted to approve the construction of a new YMCA swimming pool without a slide and a new parking lot with 30 spaces. As noted in the hearing, the pool could be built on property already zoned for that use, but the parking lot cannot be built unless the Commission approves the re-zoning in a second vote.
The Commission held 6 votes in all on related issues including whether a slide could be built at the pool, whether to re-zone the property as a parking lot only vs. the PQP designation and whether to create a perpetual 5 foot easement between the newly re-zoned property and a Palmer Avenue residential property abutting the YMCA’s property. The 5 foot easement — which was created as a possible barrier to further YMCA expansion — was approved.

YMCA Asks City to Ignore Their 1997 Promise to Stop Expanding

Most, if not all, prior WP YMCA expansion requests have encountered neighborhood opposition. The Y’s latest expansion plans have got their neighbors in the Phelps Park area crying foul — claiming that the Y’s purchase of the two homes next to their Palmer Avenue parking lot violated an agreement they signed with the city in 1997.

The Development Agreement signed by the YMCA was specifically crafted to earn city approval – and quell neighborhood opposition — for one last significant expansion by the Y in 1997. The city approved the expansion in return for the YMCA’s guarantee that they would not attempt any further expansion or purchase additional land for that purpose.

The YMCA’s attorney, Frank Hamner, argued the Y’s case in front of the P&Z board, questioning the constitutionality of the Development Agreement and challenging the idea that such agreements are perpetual and unchangeable over time.

Hamner then turned to the community benefits offered by the Y and the additional services the proposed facilities would provide, including a new zero-entry (shallow) swimming pool for young children, seniors and disabled people who are not well-served by the Y’s current, deeper lap pool.

Does Winter Park Need Another Pool & Additional YMCA Services?

Opponents of the YMCA’s expansion point out that the city of Winter Park provides numerous swimming pool alternatives for children and special-needs citizens including the Crosby Center and Cady Way pools, as well as the brand new Winter Park Community Center facility and zero-depth pool that is open to all residents. The city’s website states that the Community Center is

“. . . 38,000 square feet and offers recreational opportunities for all ages. Amenities include a state-of-the-art fitness center, two regulation basketball courts, media center and banquet space . . . In addition, the community center has an outdoor stage overlooking Shady Park and a multipurpose pool with zero-depth entry and lap lanes.”

Also at issue is the impact on the neighborhood surrounding the Y. Neighbors claim that night-time and early morning car alarms, congestion, horn-honking and ambulances providing frequent emergency services at the Y are eroding the quality of life in the Phelps Park area. They point out that increased parking and another pool will create more members, additional traffic and boost noise in the area.

The YMCA counters that these inconveniences are more than compensated for by the services they provide the community including swim lessons for young children and the Y personnel who staff the city’s Cady Way pool at no cost to the city. YMCA representatives claim that more than a third of the population of Winter Park are members of the YMCA – and point with pride to over six million visits to the Y over the last twenty years.

The pros and cons of YMCA facility growth have been discussed at length in various forums. Winter Park Voice offers readers video clips featuring extensive testimony from YMCA representatives, Y members and Winter Park residents – including (below) exclusive WPV video of a neighbors who expressed their views on YMCA expansion and chronicled their day-to-day experiences living near the YMCA.


Will Park Ave Zoning Change Plan Be Revived?

Will Park Ave Zoning Change Plan Be Revived?

The city’s Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) is looking to inject a bit of life into the semi-deserted Park Avenue block just south of City Hall — by adding businesses that used to have a hard time getting approved for the avenue.

A recent P&Z staff report supported the EDAB recommendation characterizing the five retail spaces on the avenue between Comstock and Fairbanks as inhabiting a “difficult” block that doesn’t quite fit in with the look and feel of the rest of the avenue.

On July 23, the city commission tabled he controversial proposal, which now sits in limbo at city hall waiting for commissioners to revive it — or kill it. At the commission meeting, the proposal ran into stiff opposition from citizens and commissioners. The citizen group included Park Avenue merchants who were angry that the city did not notify them of the proceeding — and who opposed allowing businesses on the avenue that do not fit a “shopping and fine dining” profile.

If revived, the proposal could alter the city’s C-2 zoning rules that currently discourage certain businesses from locating on Park Avenue — businesses including travel agencies, banks, government & medical offices, design studios, hair and nail salons, real estate offices, and licensed massage therapists. Some of these businesses are now located on the second floor of Park Avenue buildings, a use that is permitted under current rules.

It was the fast food-ish BurgerFi restaurant — approved for that block and just now opened, that convinced P&Z to consider changing the rules. The original P&Z staff report submitted to the P&Z board explains, “The city recently approved a new BurgerFi restaurant in that block . . . [BurgerFi has] table service and also an order counter for take-out. The experience has made the planning and economic development staff believe that in this one block, the zoning rules should be changed to allow all types of restaurants to be a permitted use.”

Planning & Zoning Board Approves Changes. City Commission Backs Away.

Continued from Home Page… On July 10, the Planning & Zoning board voted unanimously to change the zoning rules, but choked on the inclusion of fast food restaurants. Consideration of these restaurants was sent back to staff for further study. Since this change is technically an ordinance onto itself, a two-step process is required to secure final city commission approval — assuming that the commission decides to reconsider the proposal.

What exactly was the proposal tabled by the commission? According to Jeff Briggs, Director of Planning & Zoning, commissioners were being asked to vote to allow these businesses to apply for occupancy under “Permitted Use” rules. Technically, these businesses have always had the right to be considered for approval, but zoning regulations had forced them to apply under “Conditional Use” rules. Conditional Use is a longer, more arduous multi-step process that involves hearings and approval by Winter Park’s Planning & Zoning Board and the City Commission. These businesses must also verify that adequate additional parking is available to accommodate staff and customers. Park Avenue’s limited available parking is a high barrier of entry to these types of businesses.

Panera Bread, a casual dining, counter-service restaurant is one notable exception. Panera’s Conditional Use application was approved by board members and commissioners because the popular restaurant provides parking for customers in an adjacent parking garage — and because it was felt that they would be a good fit in their north Park Avenue location. Had Panera Bread been a “Fine Dining” restaurant with table service provided by servers, they likely would have qualified under the city’s zoning ordinance as a Permitted Use and could have avoided the hearings and special approvals. An important difference between Permitted Use and Conditional Use applications is that the Permitted Use classification does not require the city to give notice to the community — or seek community input — prior to approval of the application.

Because the proposed zoning change was tabled instead of being approved or denied, the matter remains an open question. Is a zoning rule change the best way to revitalize the neglected tail-end of Park Avenue? If approved, will this “open the door” to changes on the rest of the “Avenue”? These questions may never be fully explored in a future commission hearing, but will almost certainly be discussed down the block at Park Avenue’s popular new restaurant, Burger-Fi.