City Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel will start her third term in office this March without opposition, but Commissioner Greg Seidel faces a challenge to his second term on Seat 1: Wes Naylor, whom Mayor Steve Leary appointed to the city’s Police Pension Board five months ago.
How those developments will affect the board’s future approach to zoning and planning is anyone’s guess. Even before the election, commissioners this week showed they can act unpredictably on such matters.
Unforeseen Zoning Votes
Sprinkel, who often agrees with Leary on zoning issues, did just that with most items on Monday’s agenda. But she joined forces with Commissioner Carolyn Cooper to oppose a relatively minor lot-split request, defeating it in a 2-2 vote from which Seidel abstained because the applicant was building him a home.
Later, Seidel, who often sides with Cooper on zoning matters, found a third ally to defeat a contentious request affecting a westside neighborhood.
The applicant, Morgan Bellows, wanted to rezone a single-family lot on Comstock Avenue to higher density R2 so he could build a large single-family house. R2 zoning would give him an extra 600 extra square feet so the house could be 4,300 square feet.
Seven residents made impassioned pleas against the project because of the cumulative effect such rezonings and larger structures would have on the small westside community.
Racism an Issue?
“Inch by inch, block by block, you start changing,” said Martha Hall about her neighborhood. She recounted the history of efforts to remove blacks from west Winter Park starting in the 1800s. “You all may look at it in a different manner, but when you look at racism, when you look at discrimination, it happens. I always say, there’s a zebra and can a zebra change its stripes? You all continue to make the same decisions” on westside development.
Opponents weren’t optimistic their arguments would be heard. The Planning and Zoning Commission had voted 2-2 on the request, with board member Randall Slocum abstaining because he was working for Bellows. On Monday, city commissioners also heaped high praise on Bellows’ application and design.
Commissioner Pete Weldon even chided Hall by name. “I am sick and tired of people coming here and associating the performance, the judgment, and the thought processes of the people who serve this community as racist, and I don’t want to hear it again, Miss Hall.” Leary agreed the racism words “disgusted” him.
“You will hear it again,” a woman in the audience called out.
Then Weldon did the unexpected. He said he was voting against the rezoning, “not because the neighbors are all against it, not because Miss Hall thinks I’m a racist, but because in my judgment it is an accommodation without strategic purpose for the neighborhood or the city.”
Interviewed after the meeting, Hall, surprised by the 3-2 vote, said, “I was pointing out history and what has happened through the years and what continues to happen. I didn’t call anyone up there racist.” She said it’s important to talk about issues like racism to address them. “When a person can’t sit down and talk about it, something is wrong.”
Parking Lot Nixed
Perhaps the most unexpected vote of the evening was the commission’s unanimous denial of Phil Kean Designs’ request for a parking area in a residential neighborhood. The Fairbanks Avenue business wanted to rezone a single-family lot behind the business, making the front portion R2 and the back portion parking for Kean’s business.
Planning and Zoning had voted 3-2 for approval, and city planners argued that fencing would shield neighbors from the parking. Commissioners also heaped high praise on Kean, a luxury home developer, but Weldon moved to deny the request, with Cooper seconding. The rezonings were defeated 5-0.
In addition to the Seat 1 election, the city election on March 14 will include a charter question changing the way the city handles multi-candidate races. Currently, the city holds a primary race in February when there are more than two candidates. The charter amendment would put the first ballot in March and hold a runoff, if needed, in April.
Seidel is on the ballot again after two years because he ran successfully for the remainder of Leary’s term after Leary resigned to run for mayor in 2015. Seidel previously served on the city’s Utility Advisory Board as its chairman. He is vice president of a Winter Park-based civil engineering firm and has lived in the city 16 years. Naylor, a retired Naval officer, is president and managing partner of an Orlando consulting group serving businesses seeking military contracts. He moved to Winter Park five years ago.
After a marathon meeting that lasted well into Monday night, the Commission voted to accept a revised Comprehensive Plan. They concluded their final meeting of 2016 by voting to send it to Tallahassee for review by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The revised plan underwent further revision, much of it resulting from citizens’ expression of their opinions and wishes to the Commissioners. In the words of Mayor Steve Leary, “We listen. We may not agree, but we listen.” Clearly, they did.
‘Urban Scale’ Heights Reduced
Two major revisions agreed to by the commissioners were the removal of four-story building height on North Denning and eight-story “urban scale” buildings along Fairbanks west of I-4.
R-4 Zoning Removed
Commissioner Peter Weldon made a motion, which the Commission approved, to remove the high-density residential land use category that allows for an R-4 zoning district.
This concluded the first reading of the ordinance to adopt the new Comp Plan. The second and final reading is set for April 2017.
Monday, December 5, from 8 to 10 a.m., at the Winter Park Welcome Center, 151 W. Lyman Ave., city staff will host a Comprehensive Plan CoffeeTalk,
CoffeeTalks are informal meetings at which citizens can speak with city leaders in a casual setting. This CoffeeTalk will focus exclusively on questions related to the Comprehensive Plan. City staff will kick off the CoffeeTalk with a brief presentation, which will be followed by a Q-and-A session with the audience.
If you are someone who still has issues, questions, comments or strong feelings about the Comp Plan, this is an important meeting. You should attend if at all possible, as it will be the last of its kind regarding the Comp Plan. While discussion of the Comp Plan will not cease after Dec. 5, this meeting is being held for the express purpose of receiving citizen input. So, if you have input, this would be a good time to put it in.
Comp Plan Should Reach Tallahassee by Christmas
The City Commission is scheduled to hold the first reading of the proposed Comprehensive Plan at their only December meeting Monday, December 12. If the Commissioners approve it, the proposed Comp Plan amendments will go to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for their review on Thursday, December 22. The City expects to receive the results of the DEO review by March 6, 2017.
Comp Plan Second Reading in April 2017
City staff has tentatively scheduled the second reading of the Comp Plan before the City Commission in April 2017. For more information regarding the proposed Comprehensive Plan elements, the adoption process timeline, drafts and revisions, visit cityofwinterpark.org/comp-plan.
Examples of Changes Still Up for Discussion
Among the proposed Comp Plan changes, the City is contemplating allowing four-story construction along the west side of Denning north from Fairbanks to the northern property line of the Orange County Public School land that includes the Votech site.
Mixed use development with an urban scale of up to eight stories in height is being considered on the south side of Fairbanks, west of Formosa along Kentucky, Oglesby and Crandon Avenues.
The City is also weighing the expansion of the Central Business District (CBD) to include Orange Avenue, bringing with it additional density along that corridor.
This is about your city — how it will look – what it will be like to live here. Your opinion matters – city officials are asking you for it. Attend this forum to express it.
The City is on a fast track with their Comprehensive Plan updates, but that does not mean it’s too late for citizen input and participation in the process.
Follow this link to the Comp Plan, where you can see how it is being edited and updated.
If you have questions, or if there is something you don’t understand, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Commissioners Welcome Your Input
Commissioner Greg Seidel told the Voice, “I am in the process of gathering citizens’ questions and suggestions to bring forward at the December 12 Commission meeting. I hope everyone will feel free to contact us and to participate in this process.”
Comp Plan Meeting Dec. 5
Plan to attend the Comprehensive Plan Coffee Talk December 5, from 8:00 – 10:00 a.m. at the Welcome Center, 151 W. Lyman Avenue. City Planning Staff will be there to explain the process and answer your questions.
The Comp Plan is vitally important to all of us who care about our city. It is the over-arching document that lays out the concepts and policies governing how Winter Park will look – now and in the future. Together, the Comp Plan, the Zoning Codes and the Building Codes form a sort of three-legged stool. The Comp Plan lays out the broad policies, while the Zoning Codes specify what type of structure can be built where, and the Building Codes say how the structure must be built.
Changes Possible Until Final Adoption
Even if you are unable to attend the Comp Plan Coffee Talk December 5, your input will still be welcomed by staff and elected officials. City Communications Director Clarissa Howard assured us that citizens can submit their input and that Comp Plan changes can be made until the final adoption by the City Commission, which is scheduled in April 2017.
On schedule to meet a February 1, 2017, deadline, the final four elements of the Comprehensive Plan update arrived at Planning & Zoning on the evening of Tuesday, November 8. The meeting was, relatively speaking, lightly attended, but a few concerned citizens tore themselves away from the unfolding drama of the national election to plead special cases.
The four Comp Plan elements P&Z approved to be sent to the City Commission were Capital Improvement, Housing, Transportation and Future Land Use. Predictably, the Future Land Use element drew the most attention.
Can Anyone Keep Up?
There has been considerable commentary about the speed with which the Comp Plan revision process is taking place, especially as regards the Land Use element. Pat MacDonald pointed out that there have been 22 meetings between July and October, with nearly half the meetings taking place in October. The all-important Land Use element of the Comp Plan has been whittled from 85 pages down to 31 pages. Few are able to comprehend what, if anything, was lost in those 54 pages. And very few are able to understand or keep track of all the changes to the document as a whole.
“Ambitious, Artificial Deadline”
Private citizens are not the only ones objecting to the pace at which the Comp Plan revision has been conducted. Referring to the work session Pat MacDonald mentioned in the video above, P&Z board member Peter Gottfried wrote October 18 to the mayor and commissioners, “We were just sent the latest proposed changes to the Future Land Use Element to the Comprehensive Plan. This is a major piece of legislation that needs to be thoroughly reviewed by members of the Planning and Zoning Board as well as the citizens of Winter Park prior to our workshop this afternoon. Unfortunately, time does not allow for a review that I think is crucial.”
Transportation Element Rolls in Minutes Before Meeting
“I had the same issue with our review of the Transportation element at a workshop a few weeks ago where we were given the proposed change matrix minutes before our meeting. This, my colleagues, is no way to run a railroad or a City. There is absolutely no way I, as your representative on the Planning and Zoning Board, can provide proper review and insight to this document with this ambitious, artificial, deadline.
Is Breakneck Speed Politically Motivated?
“Please put aside opinions that we need to rush this in order to avoid political implications in the upcoming city election,” continued Gottfried. “The better way to approach this is to slow down in order to give thoughtful and careful evaluation of a document that will set the tone for the development of Winter Park for years to come.”
“Can I have your support to consider changing the implementation schedule so that we have the appropriate amount of time to consider more thoughtfully this comprehensive document.”
Last-Minute Changes Requested
Toward the end of the meeting, attorney Becky Wilson requested changes to the land use map that would benefit one of her clients, and developer Dan Bellows requested changes that would benefit him. Both were requesting expanding the Central Business District (CBD), which would have the effect of increasing density but preserving the pedestrian orientation of development in the Hannibal Square district. And, once again, the issue of haste reared its head.
Why Wait Until the Last Minute?
Why, questioned Peter Gottfried, did Wilson and Bellows wait until these elements were scheduled for adoption to bring their requests for changes? Wilson’s response, that she believed this was the meeting where her requests were meant to be heard, indicates that even an attorney as familiar with the inner workings of City Hall as Wilson is did not fully understand how fast a track this train is on.
P&Z members postponed their decision for six months to provide opportunity to study the effects of the proposed changes.
Winter Park Elderly Services LLC will go before the Planning & Zoning Board on Tuesday, October 4, to ask for variances that would enable them to build a 50-bed memory care and assisted living facility at 1298 Howell Branch Road. The location is at the intersection of Howell Branch and Temple Trail. The facility will be called Villa Tuscany.
Planning Staff Recommends Denial — For Now
City Planning staff has recommended against approval. They acknowledge the need for a memory care facility in Winter Park. The staff report states their belief that the location is appropriate, but they object to the height of the building and its proximity to Lake Temple. If the developer were willing to alter the design of the building and shift its placement on the site, the Planning Department could reconsider its position and support the project.
Between a Sink Hole and a Lake
The building site is a difficult one, with wetlands and a sink hole limiting development space. It may ultimately prove too small to accommodate the nearly 40,000-square-foot facility the applicant wants to build there. According to the applicant’s survey, the entire site is 3.777 acres, but only 2.18 acres are above the Ordinary High Water elevation. The building would be located between a sink hole and Lake Temple, as shown in the site map.
Historic Live Oaks Risk the Chainsaw
The long-vacant lot is densely forested. According to the City, there are 64 protected shade trees on the lot, 29 of which the developer proposes to remove. These include several historic live oaks measuring five feet or more in diameter. According to comments from Urban Forestry, the tree diameters indicated on the Tree Preservation plan submitted by the developer are inaccurate. “Footprint corners, drive lane, and parking corners need to be staked and determined in the field,” reads the report, “prior to actual determination of the exact trees that could possibly be preserved or those that must be removed.”
Neighbors Are Divided
This project has the attention of the neighborhood. More than 40 emails and letters have been submitted to P&Z and to the Mayor and Commissioners as of this writing. The greater number of citizens has written in opposition to the project, but a substantial minority supports it.
There Is a Need for This Service
Those in favor cite the need for this type of facility in Winter Park. They point to the fact that the applicant is a locally owned company, which also owns and operates the Alabama Oaks assisted living facility at 1759 Alabama Dr. “Alabama Oaks is most always full with a waiting list,” wrote Nurse Practitioner Kelly Higgins, “and the community should welcome the opportunity to offer this type of care to elder residents in Winter Park.”
“Winter Park’s seniors should receive care in the same community they have called home for decades,” wrote Alison Polejes. “Yet, we currently have no dedicated memory care facility.”
Facility Is Incompatible
Residents opposed to the project are concerned about the suitability of the site and the size of the building. Limited parking and the impact on traffic are also mentioned.
“This facility is totally incompatible with the overall residential nature of the surrounding neighborhoods,” wrote Karen Kaczmarek. “This project, at nearly 40,000 square feet and three stories with heights reaching over 42 feet, is just too big for the area.”
“There is a sink hole on the property and a small lake backing up to residential houses,” wrote Charlotte Schmitt. “The building is too tall, too many square feet, has too small of a parking lot and is too close to the sink hole and lake.”
Donna Render wrote, “St. Johns [River Water Management District] told us years ago they could never approve a building here. How is this being ignored?” Ms. Render went on to point out, “You can’t fool Mother Nature!”
P&Z Meets at 6:00 p.m., Tuesday, October 4, in the City Commission Chambers.