Keep the Park in Winter Park

Guest Columnist – Bob Bendick

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

Keep the Park in Winter Park

The “Greenspace Connectivity” article published here is a useful continuation of the discussion in our community about the need to update Winter Park’s ten-year-old Parks and Recreation Plan.

While there remains some uncertainty about the exact questions to be answered by a plan update, it has been encouraging to see the support among elected officials and others for continuing investment in parks and open space in Winter Park.

WP Vision Focuses on Parks & Greenspace

A number of the recommendations of the 2008 plan have been implemented. This, in itself, demonstrates the value of park planning, and this progress provides a good base for additional improvement. Careful stewardship of our parks reflects the views of the great majority of Winter Park residents, as expressed through the city’s recent Visioning Process. The Vision plan recommends:

• Investing in a sustainable future that encourages and supports lifelong learning, healthy living and a daily connectivity to the natural world.

• Enhancing walking, biking and recreational activities through a connected and integrated network of open space.

• Fostering sustainable public and private parks and open spaces using state of the art practices and techniques.

Revise Parks Plan to Address Today’s Needs

So why is a revision of the city’s parks and recreation plan a practical and useful step toward achieving the elements of our shared community vision? First, a revised plan would reflect the preferences of today’s Winter Park’s residents. For example, activities such as lacrosse and paddle boarding hardly existed here ten years ago, but now have grown to become popular uses of our parks.

Reduce Cost and Conflict

A carefully wrought plan would provide a much-needed cohesive framework for making decisions about expanding, adding or modifying individual parks. The decision-making process would become more cost-effective and the City would realize a reduction in the lost time and conflict that results from ad-hoc decision-making.

Avoid Duplication

A thoughtfully revised plan would reduce duplication of facilities and activities, thus improving the delivery of recreational services to the people of Winter Park. It might also introduce innovative ways for private citizens to contribute to the natural and scenic character of our city.

Introduce Updated Management & Maintenance Practices

An updated plan would introduce state-of-the art techniques for management and maintenance of park facilities. A specific, achievable menu of desired projects would enable the City to take advantage of strategic opportunities for implementing the plan through public infrastructure programs, private donations and amenities in commercial and residential development projects.

Connect Our Parks

An updated plan would show how our parks can be connected with walkways and bikeways to provide a green framework for the city’s future. Connectivity among our parks would enhance opportunities for outdoor recreation for citizens of all ages while affording opportunities for safe, non-motorized transportation. We can achieve all this through coordination with the City’s bicycle and walkway planning.

No Need to Re-invent the Wheel

The city’s 2008 parks plan is a sound, useful document. There is no need to start over or to undertake a lengthy and complex planning process. We can take a practical, creative approach to discover ways to further enhance and connect our city’s natural assets of parks, lakes, private open space, walkways and bikeways.

Such an effort is well worth the investment of time and money. Having a clear, overarching vision of the city’s specific open space needs and priorities will save us in the long run, and will encourage the partnerships and creative ideas that are central to park planning and management in today’s world.

We owe it to the next generation to keep the park in Winter Park.

Green Space Connectivity

A City In Search of a Unified Parks Plan

Green Space Connectivity

Among the drawers, shelves and stacks of notebooks, leaflets and books storing visions, plans and master plans sits the Winter Park Parks & Recreation Master Plan. As that plan nears the age of 10 – it was last updated in 2008 — Commissioners, staff and citizens have concluded the time has come to give it some much-needed attention.

Outdated Information

Many of the national statistics used to support the 2008 plan date from 1999. In 2008, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), upon which we now base much of our data, did not exist. According to GIS data, since 2008 the City has added 50 acres of parkland – some of it under water, but most of it visible to the naked eye.

In addition, some significant developments have occurred in the past 10 years that do not appear in the 2008 plan – projects in Mead Botanical Garden and plans for the new library-event center in MLK Park, for example.

Parks Plan Needs Life Support

Solid reasons exist to resuscitate the plan. Both the City’s Comprehensive Plan and the Vision Plan require the City have a current Parks & Recreation Master Plan. Actually, Comp Plan Policy 6-2.5.4 states the plan should be updated every five years. Second, the City must have a current Parks & Recreation Master Plan in order to retain accreditation under the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA).

There’s Talk, but No Action Yet

Toward that end, the Commission took up the question of updating the Parks & Recreation Master Plan at their August 28 meeting, with the stipulation that they intended to take no action at that meeting.

At the outset, it’s important to know three factors which could stand in the way of a speedy conclusion to this effort. First, with the recent retirement of former Parks & Recreation Director John Holland, no Parks & Rec director is in place to guide the update process. According to City Manager Randy Knight, the search for a new director has not yet begun.

As of August 28, there is no money in the FY 2018 budget for a plan update, although that could change. Finally, the scope of work is vague and the proposed schedule, which exceeds 12 months, is not set to commence until March 2018.

What Do We Know About WP Parks?

According to the 2016 Comprehensive Plan, Winter Park boasts 346 acres of publicly owned park, open space and conservation lands. There is no distinction between active park space, for instance the Farmer’s Market and Azalea Lane tennis courts, and passive green space like Central Park or Mead Botanical Garden.

Of the 346 total acres, 27.58 acres comprise 36 ‘mini-parks.’ Some mini-parks provide peaceful sightlines onto small gardens or lakes, while others are little more than a park bench in a roadway median.

Howell Creek Conservation Land to be Added

In addition to the existing inventory, the City is in the process of purchasing 55.57 acres of conservation land along the Howell Creek Basin. The properties were appraised at $166,000. The agreed-upon purchase price plus commissions will come to $304,500. Approximately half this amount will come from a grant from the State of Florida. The remainder will likely come from the Parks Impact Fee Fund, which currently has a balance of more than $1 million.

The package deal includes seven separate parcels. Of these 55+ acres, two parcels totaling 12.23 combined acres are within Maitland City limits, and 7.71 acres are submerged.

Maitland Gets a Piece of the Park

According to minutes of the August 14, 2017 Commission meeting, staff plans “to work with the City of Maitland on a joint planning agreement to transfer the one piece of property that is in their city limits and adjacent to our park into [Winter Park] city limits and to transfer ownership of the other parcel to Maitland.”

Once this wetlands area has been reclaimed, invasive plants will be replaced with native species. The City plans to create a recreation area that will feature boardwalks, nature trails and a kayaking “blue way.”

Questions Remain — How Do We Anticipate Future Costs of Park Ownership?

Parks & Recreation accounts for approximately 15 percent of the City’s budget. To date, more money has been devoted to parks acquisition. As our parks age, however, the lifecycle costs of ownership and maintenance increases. Is the City prepared to create a Parks & Recreation Master Plan that accurately reflects these costs so we can anticipate out-year budget requirements – and budget for them?

How to Develop Connectivity Between the Park Spaces?

In their August 28 report to the Commission, staff highlighted the need for connectivity between our existing parks and green space. Their recommendation was endorsed by Commissioner Greg Seidel, who cited the need to weave in GIS data points to evaluate feasibility and to accelerate the connectivity portion of the Parks & Recreation Master Plan.

Should We Distinguish Passive Park vs. Active Park?

As urban sprawl presses on our borders, our active parks and passive green space frequently find themselves in the same footprint and in direct competition with one another. The resulting frustration for any visitor is that neither the active nor the passive functions can be adequately realized.

Charley Williams’s ‘Official Quiet Zones’

Elected officials, City staff and Winter Park residents are embarking on a difficult task – one that will take time to complete. In the meantime, Winter Park resident Charley Williams offered the following thoughts that might form a context and a way to think about these issues. In this spirit, we share his musings with you.

 

Charley Says . . .

Leash your dog
Take your bike for a walk.
Enjoy the garden.
Leave the flowers on their stalks.

Take a deep breath
. . . .and take one again.
Smell the dirt and
The scent of the air after the rain.

Sit on a bench, relax, listen.
Remove your sunglasses.
Feel the shade.
Close your eyes – smile, feel your thoughts fade.

Watch the clouds.
Enjoy the sunset.
What bird call was that?
Are the owls waking up?

Come tonight for a meteor shower.
Bring your blanket to lie on.
Feel our natural rhythms
In the low light of our park after dark.

Charley Williams has lived in Winter Park and Central Florida for over 25 years. When it comes to sports and rec, he’s proud to say he still has good knees.

City to Reconsider Memory Care Center

Villa Tuscany Back on the Agenda

City to Reconsider Memory Care Center

map-asstd-living

In April 2017, Villa Tuscany Holdings (VTH) sued the City of Winter Park, challenging the Commission’s March 27 denial of their application to build a 41,000-square-foot memory care center at 1298 Howell Branch Road.

Under the jurisdiction of a Special Magistrate, the City, represented by City Manager Randy Knight, has drawn up an agreement with Villa Tuscany Holdings to enable VTH to submit plans for a revised project. To read the entire document, click here.

According to the mediated settlement agreement, in early September VTH will submit plans for a re-designed memory care center to the City planning staff. After it goes through the Planning Department, the Commission will review the new application, which will include the mediated settlement agreement. The Commission will consider the agreement and the plans as one item.

What’s Changed?

The proposed agreement calls for a reduction in gross square footage from 41,352 to 30,896.

Although the redesigned building will be two stories instead of three, the maximum height will be reduced by only three feet. The number of on-site parking places will increase from 23 to 25 – which still represents a variance from the required 27 spaces.

The number of patient “units” drops from 51 to 46. Despite a significant reduction in rooms and in square footage, however, the number of patient beds is reduced by only one – for a total of 50.

Commission May Review in October — Date Flexible

The date has not yet been confirmed, but it is tentatively scheduled for the first Commission meeting in October.

News Update: New England Ave. Project Denied

News Update: New England Ave. Project Denied


by Anne Mooney

On a 5-0 vote last night, the Commission denied BFC Holdings’ application to build a 52,600 square-foot mixed use complex at 158 E. New England Ave.

Fuzzy Parking Math Still Not Cleared Up

The basis for denial was the applicant’s failure to offer sufficient mitigation for the 80- to 100-space parking deficit (the exact number depends on who’s counting and how). Even though the City was prepared to grant an unprecedented concession of requiring three parking spots per 1,000 square feet of office/retail space – all other Class A office buildings in Winter Park are required to provide four spaces per thousand – BFC Holdings still came up short.

CBD Parking Study Now in Progress

When this project was tabled at the March 27 Commission meeting, Planning Director Dori Stone observed that the City’s parking studies needed updating. The City has since hired a consultant, Kimley-Horn, who is now in the midst of a parking assessment of the Central Business District (CBD). Commissioners suggested that allowing this project to go forward with such a large parking variance before they have the study results would be premature.

If the Parking Code is Wrong, Why Is It Still In Place?

Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel objected to the Commission being asked to grant what amounts to a change in the parking code for a single applicant. “Why is the code still in place, even when you are now telling us it shouldn’t be?” asked Sprinkel.

‘Class A Office in the CBD Is Different’

At the March 27 Commission meeting, Planning Director Dori Stone asserted that Class A office space in the CBD operated differently from Class A office space in any other part of Winter Park and could, therefore, be supported by three spaces per 1,000 square feet.

‘What Is Class A Office, Anyway?’

At the July 10 meeting, Planning Manager Jeff Briggs stated that staff “was having difficulty coming up with an agreed-upon definition of Class A office space.” Parameters for size and other characteristics of everything from hallways to conference rooms, which would set ‘Class A’ apart from Classes B or C, apparently do not exist.

Can Valet Parking Promise Be Enforced?

Referring to the applicant’s assurances that all visitors to the new complex would be required to use valet parking, either in the New England Avenue building garage or in the Bank of America garage across the street, Commissioner Greg Seidel questioned how the requirement to use valet parking would be enforced.

Unless the applicant enforces the valet parking, it probably will not be enforced at all, since Winter Park employs only one parking enforcement officer for the entire City.

Time to Close This Chapter

Commissioners asked the applicant for compromise. “The building is lovely,” they all agreed, “but it’s too big.” Commissioner Peter Weldon said he thought it was time to “close the chapter” on the application in its current form, and he moved to deny. The other four Commissioners agreed.

Duck the Summer Heat & You’ll Miss All the Fun

BFC Holdings is Back with New England Ave. Project

July 8, 2017 / by Anne Mooney

BFC Holdings will return to the Commission on Monday, July 10, with their proposal to build a 52,600 square-foot mixed use building at 158 East New England Avenue.

BFC Wants Big Variances

The proposal came before Planning & Zoning and then the Commission in March of this year. Neither body was able to reach a decision regarding the project, which requests variances for building height, third-floor setbacks and a significant parking deficit.

P&Z Can’t Decide

After hearing the application on March 7, P&Z was evenly divided, with a 3-3 vote. Rather than tabling again – as they had at the November 7, 2016 meeting — or denying the application, P&Z kicked it forward to the Commission.

Commission Can’t Decide

On March 27, the Commission couldn’t decide either. They were okay with the variance for 45 feet of building height, rather than the 40 feet permitted in C-2 zoning. They were also willing to go along with a vertical façade along Knowles Avenue with no setback or terracing on the third floor to break up the vertical mass of the 45-foot-high wall. But they just couldn’t solve the applicant’s fuzzy parking math. See Winter Park Sings the Parking Blues.

‘Back to the Drawing Board’

Concluding a meeting that lasted well beyond 10:00 p.m., the Commission unanimously voted to table the application, advising the applicant their project “was not ready for prime time,” and to “work things out” regarding the parking variances.

What’s Changed Since March 27th Meeting?

According to the July 10 Agenda Packet, City staff has “discussed parking issues and suggested changes with the applicant based on comments made by individual commissioners at the public hearing. However, the application is unchanged since the March 27th meeting.”

Only the Weather Has Changed

Apparently, the only things that have changed are the weather and the requirement for public notice. According to City Code, after a tabling the only people required to receive notice in the mail of a public hearing are property owners within 1,500 feet of the subject property. The hearing is, however, publicly advertised, as are all public meetings.

Form, Not Content

The application contains a draft Developer’s Agreement that was not included in the March 27th application. According to the Agenda Packet, the agreement incorporates approvals needed and commitments from the applicant made at the March 27th meeting. The draft, however, contains changes recommended by the City Attorney only “as to form but not content.”

Two Hearings Required for Approval

Since no decision was reached at three previous hearings, BFC still has to clear the hurdles. As a request for Conditional Use for a three-story building within the Central Business District, BFC’s application requires two more hearings. A July 10 Commission decision to approve the project would result in a second hearing July 24.

MLK Game Changer

Will Rollins Stadium Disappear from MLK Park?

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

MLK Game Changer

Guest Columnist — Charley Williams

At a June 15 Parks and Recreation Advisory Board workshop, the attending parks consultant stated that Rollins College and the City were contemplating moving the Rollins softball stadium out of MLK Park. Communications Director Clarissa Howard told the Voice that Rollins officials had indicated “a willingness to discuss the possibility,” though she could not confirm that such discussions are currently underway.

Whether these discussions occur now or in the future, if it turns out the stadium can be removed from its present location, a primary reason for relinquishing the bowling alley property would also be removed.

Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel wrote in a June 14, 2017, email: “The perpetual agreement Rollins has for the 3 million dollar (their money) lease for the softball stadium is not an attractive structure to view and disallows a long range view of the park. That is not within our purview to undo and would make extremely costly space.”

Costly or not, the stadium has outlived its usefulness. It is no longer regulation size and cannot support sanctioned play or host tournaments.

From Bowling Alley to Grand Allee

The possibility of removing the stadium opens up a whole new dynamic for MLK Park. If the bowling alley property were retained and added to the mix, it would create unobstructed sight views — a dramatic ‘view-shed’ from the planned library/events center on the north end of the park all the way to Fairbanks on the south. Winter Park would have a gateway feature with a Grand Allee, leading to a world-class library-event structure with green space in between. 

I hope the Mayor, Commissioners and City Manager do engage in discussions with Rollins to remove the stadium from the MLK footprint, and that they will reconsider the opportunity to create that unobstructed view through the park.

In the presence of such a possibility, would it not be wise to slow things down, to assume a wait-and-see stance? That kind of game changer would be a win for everyone.

A Masterplan to Nowhere

Guest Columnist – Charley Williams

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

A Masterplan to Nowhere

One week ago, the Winter Park City Commission voted 3-2 to move forward with the sale of a gateway property contiguous to one of the city’s benchmark parks: MLK Park, future site of the new Library/Events Center complex. The 1.5 acre parcel, known as the Bowling Alley property, could have become a functional green space entranceway to our city. But a gateway argument did not capture this Commission’s imagination.

Illustration Courtesy of Michael Planning

Citizens are now left with serious questions about how all our expensive studies, workshops and summary reports can come together to form a cohesive plan for parks, ball fields, green space, partnerships, trails and connectivity, supported with the necessary implementation budget.

Our Parks Masterplan (2008 Wade-Trim) is now 10 years out of date. This is the document which should be guiding our next steps, not only with current decisions surrounding MLK Park, but all our future parks discussions. First things first.  Let’s hope the City Commission adopts a budget for this badly needed roadmap (estimate: $120,000) and expedites implementation. We are coming late to this party.

If you are not familiar with the 2008 Parks Masterplan, I invite you to take a look: Scroll down to the very bottom of the page:
https://cityofwinterpark.org/departments/parks-recreation/administration/publications/

Other questions which merit attention: Will Winter Park have a “Great Park” one day? Where is that plan?  What is the vision? What green space parcels has the City acquired in the past 2 years? 4 years? 6 years? Are we keeping pace with need and more importantly, with our required 10 acres of park space/per 1,000 resident formula, now that our population has reached 30,000?

The 2008 Parks Masterplan states that “seventy-nine (79) acres of additional parkland are required by 2028 (note: that’s in 10 years) to meet existing and projected demand for parks and recreational facilities” (Recommendation 3.1).

Where will this new park land come from? At what price?

According to Wade-Trim, “The estimated cost to meet projected demand for parkland by 2028 is $41.3 million. This would require approximately $13.1 million of land acquisition every 5 years, or approximately $2.6 million annually.” (Section 7.2, Estimated Costs Associated with Projected Demand)

The report also highlights an 8 multi-purpose playing field deficit for our children by 2028. (Recommended Action 3.4)

And let’s not forget this recommendation. “City of Winter Park Parks and Recreation Masterplan should be updated at least every 5 years to reflect any shift in development trends and desires of the community.” (Recommended Action Step 3.5)

It would appear that we are making decisions in a vacuum. The budget for the MLK Park future usage exercise with GAI consultants is in the range of $50,000 in CRA monies. Yet there is apparently no cross-reference with our own Winter Park Parks Masterplan needs and capacity issues, because it is 10 years out of date.

Interesting as well, our Winter Park Vision plan was submitted on June 9, 2016, and has been sitting on a shelf for the past year. Why pay $200,000 for a plan we are not going to fund or implement? Are these exercises meant to be moot?

Said the Cheshire Cat to Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
From ‘Alice in Wonderland’
By Charles Lutwidge Dodgson writing under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.

Charley Williams provides the marketing for a local civil engineering firm working on such infrastructure projects as Sunrail, Wekiva Parkway, I-4 and the new South Terminal at Orlando International Airport. He has been a Winter Park resident for twelve years. 

Bowling Alley Gets the NOD

For Sale Sign Goes Up

Bowling Alley Gets the NOD

Pleas of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board and the citizens to move more slowly fell on deaf ears Monday night as Commissioners voted 3 to 2 to put up the For Sale sign on the bowling alley property at 1111 W. Fairbanks.

A 20-foot setback along Fairbanks will be retained to build a turn lane onto 17-92. The property is zoned C-3 commercial. According to Planning Director Dori Stone, the City will exclude proposals for banks, fast-food restaurants and automobile services (gas stations, repair shops, etc.) at this location.

City ‘Pre-Marketing’ the Property

The Notice of Disposal (NOD) will be publicly advertised, and bids are due 30 days from the publication date. The city realtor, Bobby Palta from CBRE, noted there was already considerable interest in the property, and that the City had been doing some “pre-marketing for the past couple of weeks” with various developers.

The property is appraised at $2.96 million, which will be the minimum bid price – $60,000 more than the City paid when they bought it from Rollins in 2016. The Commissioners will, however, maintain flexibility in their choice, giving preference to plans that include less tangible assets like tree planting and additional green space.

Skipping Steps in the Process

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper expressed her discomfort with the process by which the Commission arrived at the decision to sell. She noted the process had gone from the public GAI workshops to the Commission without first going through the advisory boards. During the GAI public meetings, the bowling alley property was not supposed to be part of the discussion, but actually played a prominent role in the discussion that occurred at both meetings. Cooper suggested the decision to sell the land be tabled and returned to the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board so they could bring their recommendations back to the Commission at a later date.

‘There’s Still Much We Don’t Know’

Cooper enumerated new pieces of information which the Commissioners had not had a chance to factor into their decision. As examples, she cited the GAI public workshops and the letter from the Parks & Rec Board requesting the City not move to sell the property. P&R letter

She noted other information the City doesn’t have yet, like an evaluation of the storm water retention requirements that will be created by the new library-event center, and new corridor design standards for West Fairbanks, which have yet to be completed.

Premature Decision

“From my perspective,” said Cooper, “we are premature, we have not utilized our boards and we are not listening to the requests of our citizens.”

Involve DOT

Commissioner Greg Seidel proposed Commissioners delay the sale to give them time to involve the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT). Instead of assuming an extra turn lane is the best solution, FDOT could do an intersection control evaluation at Fairbanks and 17-92 to give the City the benefit of their expertise. Seidel argued that the City could work to persuade DOT to prioritize a determination about what technology would be most appropriate at that location.

Cooper’s motion to table, for no time certain, failed for lack of a second. Greg Seidel then moved to table for a time certain of three months. His motion was seconded by Cooper, but failed on a 3-2 vote.

‘What’s the Rush?

Public comment, with one exception, opposed selling the property before there was a chance to weigh the consequences of this action. Former Mayor Joe Terranova pointed out, “We don’t need that cash money now. You’re going to make payroll the next time it comes around.”

Terranova went on to note, “We still don’t know what the 800-pound gorilla in the northwest section of the park is going to do,” referring to the library-event center for which there are, as yet, no plans. “How can we say what the rest of the park is going to be like, and that we don’t need that piece of land?”

‘Just How Serious Are You?’

Beth Hall argued for the aesthetics of a major City gateway. “I wish I could count the number of times I have heard the Commissioners discuss their desire to improve the Fairbanks corridor and the western gateway to the city,” said Hall. “Your efforts have run the gamut from spending large sums to improve sewer and utilities on the artery to making zoning changes to encourage development. I’d like to ask: just how serious are you?”

Don’t Resign it to Mediocrity’

“Wouldn’t converting this site to parkland further your mission?” she asked. “Adding the land to the park would signal a paradigm shift in the way our City views this gateway. Don’t resign it to mediocrity. Elevate it. Please reverse your decision to sell the land.”

‘Commercial Land — Never Meant to be a Park’

In an email sent the day following the Commission meeting, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel explained the rationale behind the vote to sell the bowling alley property. “The city purchased the property for the turning lanes,” she wrote, “did not use park acquisition dollars and never intended to turn that piece of commercial property into parkland.”

Need to Build Back the Reserves

In answer to the question of why the Commission had not sought the input of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board Sprinkel wrote, “The boards have a charge and since this was commercial property used for traffic alleviation it was not considered part of their [Parks & Rec] charge. The 3 million dollars returned to the fund [the City’s General Fund] will allow wp [sic] to continue their strong 20-25% reserves,” reserves that may play an important role in the next election cycle.

MLK Park Master Planning Still Underway

Bob Bendick pointed out that the City is in the midst of creating a Master Plan for MLK Park, and that the decision to sell land that is contiguous to the park is premature.

“Thinking has also evolved about parks planning,” said Bendick, “including the need to go beyond direct recreation needs and to better integrate parks, open space and pedestrian and bicycle transportation into the fabric of communities.”

Missed Opportunity

Bendick noted a reasonable desire among some Commissioners to recoup funds spent to purchase the bowling alley property, but cautioned that once sold for commercial development, the opportunity to incorporate the land into the park would likely be gone forever.

Parks & Rec Tells City: Land Should Not Be Sold

Rare Opportunity to Add to MLK Park

Parks & Rec Tells City: Land Should Not Be Sold

A May 30 letter from Parks & Recreation Advisory Board Chair Carl E. Creasman, who wrote on behalf of all the board members, makes an eloquent plea to the Mayor and Commissioners not to sell the bowling alley property at 1111 W. Fairbanks.

Parks & Rec Surprised

The letter states that the proposed sale of the property, which is adjacent to Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, came as a surprise to the Parks & Rec Board at their May 24 meeting.

“We write to you now to urge the City Commission to reopen this decision for review,” states the letter. “The MLK Master Planning process provides the perfect opportunity to determine the best usage of that land.”

The letter continued, “Even if the property were merely turned into expanded parking and beautification for the entrance to the city along Fairbanks, that would be a better use of the land than selling the property.”

Click here to read the entire letter.

Weldon Responds

Commissioner Peter Weldon responded to Creasman in a post on his Winter Park Perspective blog. In an apparent effort to reassure Creasman, Weldon wrote, “The vote to put the bowling alley up for sale is not the same as voting to sell the property.”

Weldon went on to explain, “The bowling alley was purchased from Rollins in 2016 based on being able to provide greater right of way on Fairbanks and, potentially, finding a use as incremental park space. In other words, the purchase decision was opportunistic, not strategic.”

To see the entire content of Commissioner Weldon’s response, click here.

Commission Meets June 12

Further discussion of the final disposition of this property will likely occur at the June 12 Commission Meeting. Stay tuned.

Keep the Bowling Alley Property - Expand MLK Park

Yellow Signs are Back

Keep the Bowling Alley Property – Expand MLK Park

Yellow signs are popping up everywhere, urging the City not to sell the bowling alley site at 1111 W. Fairbanks, rather, to use it to expand Martin Luther King, Jr., Park.

Final Decision June 12

The final vote will likely be at the Commission meeting on June 12. The meeting begins at 3:30. Public comment is usually taken around the 5:00 hour. Click here for the meeting agenda.

Bowling Alley Background

The old bowling alley property has a checkered history. In late spring 2013, Rollins purchased the property when it looked like Harper-Shepherd Field would become a Minor League baseball stadium and no longer would be available to Rollins teams. Being contiguous with Martin Luther King, Jr., Park, the property was ideal for Rollins to expand their playing fields.

Editor’s Note:  According to Communications Director Clarissa Howard, Rollins purchased the bowling alley property for use as a lacrosse practice field. She said the purchase was unrelated to Minor League baseball at Harper-Shepherd Field.

When it became clear that baseball would not be coming to Winter Park, however, Rollins no longer needed expansion room and put the property up for sale. UP Developments, LLC, contracted to buy the property from Rollins.

But the City wanted the property, too. At the time, they had their own ideas about expanding MLK Park and mitigating some of the traffic problems on Fairbanks and 17-92. In the fall of 2014, Scott Fish of UP Developments, LLC, agreed to assign his contract with Rollins to the City, so that the City could buy the property from Rollins.

That deal didn’t work out, and Rollins ended up keeping the property until 2016, when the City bought it for $2.9 million.

Editor’s note: Ms. Howard pointed out that the City did not use park acquisition funds, but instead took money from the CRA and general fund reserves, thereby avoiding any requirement that the land be used as a park.

People Want Trees & Grass – They’re Being Ignored

In the meantime, plans for the new library-event center took shape, the City created yet another vision of itself and the Comprehensive Plan underwent its seven-year cycle of massage and manipulation. The City organized plenty of public discussion around each of these activities.

Missing in these discussions was a consideration of the city’s assets as a whole – as a system. This was nowhere more evident than in the discussions about the City’s parks and greenspace — which brings us back to those yellow signs.

MLK Needs a Plan?

While the City was visioning and planning, the turf and facilities at the playing fields on south end of the MLK Park were deteriorating, and the bowling alley property stood vacant. Since the bowling alley was creating something of an eyesore on a major gateway artery, someone decided the City should have a plan — so GAI Consultants were retained to create one.

At the April 10 meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), which is made up of the Commissioners and a representative from Orange County, Hal George, GAI made a presentation about their plans for creating a Master Plan. At that meeting, the Commissioners also decided to sell the bowling alley property, retaining only a right-of-way for a turn lane on Fairbanks.

Well, Part of MLK Needs a Plan

In light of the fact that the City was in the process of retaining an architect and landscape architect for the new library-event center, and they were now planning to dispose of the bowling alley property, GAI was advised that their MLK Park Master Plan should include only those parts of the park that did not include the library-event center or bowling alley areas.

Why Sell the Bowling Alley?

According to Commissioner Peter Weldon at the April 10 meeting, “Selling the bowling alley property now gives us the opportunity to do things that are much more tangible and beneficial to the City,” – like a third story on the new library-event center parking garage, or a parking garage downtown. “For one-third the money we have into [the bowling alley] land today, we could provide 100 parking spaces to expand the parking for MLK Park,” said Weldon.

Property Sale on Consent Agenda

At the next Commission meeting, April 24, the bowling alley property sale appeared on the Consent Agenda as Item C. Items on the Consent Agenda do not require discussion or public comment. Commissioners Seidel and Cooper pulled Item C off the Consent Agenda for discussion.

Commissioner Greg Seidel said the proposed sale needed more public discussion. Commissioner Carolyn Cooper agreed, requesting the item be tabled until there had been opportunity both for public discussion and for consideration by the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, which had not had a voice in the decision to sell.

She pointed out that the City seldom had access to land contiguous with an existing park – and in this case, the City already owns the land. Once the land is gone, we can’t get it back.

Commission Votes to Sell the Bowling Alley

The motion to table, or postpone the sale, failed on a 3-2 vote, with Cooper and Seidel dissenting.

Cooper made a second motion to approve the sale contingent upon completion of the designs for the library and for MLK Park. That motion also failed on a 3-2 vote.

The motion to approve the sale of the property, minus the right-of-way for the turn lane, passed on a 3-2 vote, with Cooper and Seidel dissenting.

MLK Master Plan Rolls Out the Next Day

The next night, April 25, close to 100 people gathered at the Rachel Murrah Civic Center to discuss the Master Plan for part, but not all, of MLK Park. The GAI consultants explained that the bowling alley property and the new library-event center were not part of the discussion. Groups of people gathered around tables and used maps of the park and construction paper cutouts representing different types of public spaces to illustrate their visions of the park.

“Fix the Park and Don’t Sell the Bowling Alley”

As the various tables prepared to report out to the group as a whole, two things became clear. First, each table said they wanted the existing park facilities, especially the playing fields and water features, to be cleaned up and repaired. It would be okay, they said, to leave the rest of the park alone – just fix what’s there. “And don’t fill it up with shiny new stuff,” they said.

Second, participants opposed the sale of the bowling alley property. “Wait,” they said. “We don’t even have a completed design for the new library. What if we need that land? It’s too soon to decide what to do with it.”

Did the Master Plan Take a Wrong Turn?

GAI held a second meeting at the Civic Center on May 2. Only 25 to 30 people came, many of whom had attended the April 25 meeting. Again, the over-arching themes included the desire to repair existing park facilities and opposition to the sale of the bowling alley.

Asked if the outcomes of the two meetings would be reported back to the City, the GAI consultant replied that they “hadn’t heard from everyone yet.”

Additional meetings were to have been held in May, with a final plan due in July. According to Communications Director Clarissa Howard, the schedule for public meetings has been revised, and the next public meeting will be sometime in July.

Howard reported that GAI has, however, held focus group meetings that included “moms, sport coaches, daycare nurseries, realtors, staff and other professions.” These meetings were not public, said Howard, nor was public notice required.

“GAI will compile this input from the public forums and the focus group meetings into preliminary conceptual rendering to be presented at the meeting and on site walk planned in July,” wrote Howard.

Plans Minus Funding = Toothless Tigers

Comments opposing the sale of City land are too numerous to count, but there were some articulate ones on the subject of MLK Park and the bowling alley sale. While commenters were respectful, their comments indicated an underlying disconnect between Winter Park’s citizens and their elected officials.

In a letter to the Mayor and Commissioners dated May 10, Winter Park resident Bob Bendick wrote: “Winter Park has tended to discuss each of its parks in isolation . . . . Far more functional, and a characteristic of communities with the most successful public open spaces, is to think in terms of a system of parks and greenways that meets active and passive recreational needs and forms a green framework for the city’s future.”

Bendick went on to propose “that Winter Park move quickly to integrate its parks, lakes, greenspace, pedestrian and bicycle planning into a single document that describes a connected network . . . .” The plan will only be worthwhile, wrote Bendick, “if there is reliable funding to carry it out. And this is where Winter Park can do better.”

Bring Parks & Rec into the Loop

It is worth noting that at the May 24 meeting of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, Vice Chairman Julio de Arcos asked Parks & Recreation Director John Holland if anyone had sought his input on selling the bowling alley property. Holland replied that no one had. Advisory Board members expressed their opinion that the land should not be sold at this time.

Members of the public attending the Parks & Rec meeting requested the board write to the Mayor and Commissioners to express their concern about the sale of the property. According to an email from John Holland to one of the attendees, “The Parks and Recreation Board Chair has written a draft letter to the City Commission and we are currently getting approvals on format and verbiage.”

Still Time for Action

The sale of public land requires two votes by the Commission. The bowling alley sale will likely come up at the next Commission meeting on June 12. Any one of the Commissioners on the winning side of the vote to sell – Leary, Sprinkel or Weldon – can re-introduce the matter for the purpose of changing their vote. Click the email address to let your elected representatives know how you feel about stewardship of public land. MayorandCommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org

 

City Approves New Comp Plan

Where Is Investment Strategy?

City Approves New Comp Plan

Citizens and Commissioners gathered once again Monday night to hammer out the few remaining bones of contention in the Comp Plan. The long and often tedious evening culminated in the adoption of a Comprehensive Growth Management Plan for the City of Winter Park. Citizens who spoke gave the Commissioners and Staff high marks for their hard work and dedication to the process. They also expressed appreciation that they felt they’d been heard.

Citizens Spoke, Commissioners Listened

Commissioners considered a long list of amendments, most of them brought forward by Commissioner Carolyn Cooper.

Six of the proposed amendments were approved by the Commission, and there was a verbal commitment to bring back for discussion two that were voted down. The revised Comp Plan, in its entirety, will be posted on the City’s website within the next few days.

Highlights of Monday’s Meeting

– The City will create a Medical Arts District in the area surrounding Winter Park Hospital. The Commission deleted language that included workforce housing within that district. (Policy 1-2.4.12)

– The term “Village Character” was reinstated and now reads: “The City shall preserve and enhance the village character of the Central Business District.” (Policy 1-G-23)

– Public/Quasi-Public (PQP) zoning may only be used in Institutional land use. PQP includes such things as public governmental buildings, schools, churches, museums, etc. (Policy 1-2.4.2)

– The motion to prohibit ‘big box’ stores over 65,000 square feet within the City limits failed, but Mayor Leary supported the ban on single-tenant retail over 65,000 square feet and agreed to have City staff come back at a future date with suggestions on how best to include this language.

– Language was added to the policy regarding lot splits: “The City Commission in consideration of lot split requests may limit the floor area ratio as a condition of approval in order to preserve neighborhood scale and character.” (Policy 1-5.2.8)

– The motion to include language about the City’s intent to purchase the Post Office property also failed. The Commissioners all said they supported the City buying the property, but did not agree the language belonged in the Comp Plan.

Recognition for Hannibal Square

Winter Park resident Forest Michael proposed two policies, both of which were incorporated into the new Comp Plan. Michael’s policies are specific to the Hannibal Square neighborhood and are as follows.

– “Encourage the preservation and conservation of historic Hannibal Square Community’s cultural buildings and churches, homes and places along Welbourne Avenue.”

– “Encourage educational and interpretive walking and bicycling tours throughout the Hannibal Square Community for residents’ health.”

Comprehensive Capital Investment Plan

While current Comp Plan provisions deal thoroughly with land use, particularly regarding what developers may and may not do in a given location, little attention is given to policies addressing how the City will invest in land and build infrastructure for the City’s future.

Lip Service

Winter Park resident Bob Bendick, who is Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico Program, spoke about what he called “shortfalls in the investment part of the plan.” The message seemed to be that while the City is willing to pay lip service to greenspace and conservation, there is little actual funding to back it up.

“There are statements of policy in the Comp Plan that don’t have real meaning unless there’s money to implement them.”

Greenspace Investment

While the Comp Plan encourages greenspace in general, said Bendick, there is insufficient commitment to investing adequate City funds to restoring Mead Garden, acquiring remaining open space at the Genius estate and, more broadly, in creating a connected framework of greenspace and waterways for the City’s future.

Bikes and Peds

The Comp Plan encourages pedestrian and bicycle activity, but fails to allocate sufficient funds to construct the facilities necessary to make walking and cycling safe and enjoyable in our City.

MLK Park

“We believe the location of the largest civic investment in the City’s future – the new library/events center – is at a place seemingly at odds with . . .the proposed plan,” said Bendick.

Alternative Energy

“There is a failure in Policy 5-1.19 of the Conservation Element of the plan to propose investment in alternative energy generation,” said Bendick, “which would be an economic and environmental benefit to the City over the long run.”

Investment Strategy

Bendick suggests a re-examination of the City’s investment strategy in the public spaces and facilities that are critical to maintaining Winter Park’s quality and character in the years to come.