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.

Read & Input Comments

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.