Will Lee Road Get the Axe?

Will Lee Road Get the Axe?

Axe-Throwing Venue Slated for Old Booby Trap Property

Two local doctors plan to breathe new life into the 0.6-acre property at 2600 Lee Road, site of the double-domed Club Harem – variously known as the Booby Trap, Club Harem, Club Rio and Christie’s Cabaret — an adult entertainment venue with a lurid history.

The contract to purchase the land from the City for $950,000 was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Carolyn Cooper casting the dissenting vote. Local vascular surgeons Dr. David Varnagy and Dr. Manuel Perez Isquierdo plan to build an axe-throwing facility where the Booby Trap once stood.

Axe Throwing?

A popular pastime in Canada and a feature in lumberjack competitions, axe-throwing is now gaining popularity in the U.S.  According to Wikipedia, indoor axe throwing is a sport in which the competitor throws an axe at a target, attempting to hit the bulls eye as near as possible. Today there are commercial locations in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom where participants can compete, similar to dart throwing. For a video of axe throwing, follow the link below.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axe_throwing

City Buys High . . .

In 2015, the City purchased Club Harem at 2600 Lee Rd. for $990,000, an amount well above market value. Then-Mayor Ken Bradley pushed for the purchase in order to “eliminate alleged illegal activity” at the location. Stories about the building with the breast-shaped roof line include a 2008 undercover police investigation at Club Harem, which led to a lawsuit by its owners against the City. The case was quietly settled in 2011 when the City issued a check for $250,000 to the aggrieved parties.

Sells Low

Explaining her vote against the sale, Commissioner Cooper noted that since 2015, the City has invested around $1 million in the property. She said she thought the City should hold out for a better price. She pointed out that property values in this area have increased by 14 percent in the four years since the City’s purchase. City Manager Randy Knight acknowledged that the City was “not hurting for money” and that there was no pressing need to sell at this time. The City’s broker, Bobby Palta, suggested the City could counter the doctors’ offer with a higher price, but the Commission chose to do neither.

Is Axe-Throwing Conducive to Better Behavior?

In his remarks, Commissioner Todd Weaver wondered if an axe-throwing venue that plans to serve beer and wine was “conducive to better behavior than what was there before.” Even though he expressed concern over mixing alcoholic beverages with axe-throwing, he did vote in favor of the project.

At the time of publication, neither Dr. Perez Isquierdo nor Dr. Varnagy responded to requests for comment.

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Why No Confidence

Why No Confidence

In WP’s Largest Public Works Project?

Guest Columnist Charley Williams

The planned Canopy project may be the largest public works project ever undertaken by the City of Winter Park. Approved in 2016, the Library, Events Center and Parking Garage referendum garnered a slim majority of 214 votes, out of over 10,618 votes cast.

 

 

Campaign Literature in 2015-16 Promised Cost Levels

New Library: $17,435,700
New Events Center: $ 3,004,943
Parking Deck: $ 3,004,943
Shared Costs: $ 8,405,496

(demolition, design/engineering, landscaping, site work)

Library Board to Raise: $ 2,500,000

TOTAL PROJECT COST $ 29,914,311 with a promised 15 percent contingency

Three years later, why does the public continue to be skeptical about the chances for success?

Why is public trust in this project, funded by taxpayer dollars, continuing to falter? The answers to these questions are not difficult. Look at the project track record over the past four years. Promises were made, then discarded. Trust evaporated. The trend line below speaks for itself.

Original Pledges

  • $29.9 million project with a 15 percent contingency
  • 50,000 square foot library
  • LEED-certified building including solar energy capacity
  • Multi-deck parking garage to ensure easy access, safety and security for patrons
  • Footprint that takes no more than 1 percent of MLK Jr Park acreage
  • A site suitable to build upon with no extraordinary contamination or soil stability issues
  • Storm water plan that could be addressed without taking more parkland
  • A transparent process open to public comment, with all commissioners kept in the loop
  • Project focus is a world class library and a community events center
  • Robust community fundraising support assured
  • CRA funds unlikely to be needed and should be reserved for other city priorities, like the purchase of the Post Office property.

The Path Forward

  • Price tag increased to $40+ million and is tilting toward $50 million
              Note: Taxpayer dollars restricted to the original $30 million bond limit
  • Greatly reduced contingency fund resulting from a challenging construction environment
  • Library size reduced to 34,400 square feet with no LEED certification
  • No parking garage, requiring consumption of more park space for parking lots
  • No traffic study of Morse & Harper to address congestion and safety issues
    Note: Plan proposed to model the entire Orange Avenue MLK Park region
  • Continued flooding of Morse and Harper with no approved storm water plan
              Note: Lake Mendsen is currently at capacity, per St Johns River WMD
  • Complex site issues with debris buried to 30-35 feet and muck.
              Note: Building site has been shifted west to avoid muck pockets.
  • Trees removed without public notice or involvement.
              Note: There is a moratorium on future tree removal.
  • Consumption of MLK Park acreage now in excess of 15 percent of park space, and
  • Lake Mendsen could be further expanded by taking 1-2 more park acres.
              Note: There is some effort to dial back the size of the project footprint.
  • Lack of Transparency — the last comprehensive public forum on the project was the April 9, 2018 City Commission Meeting approving Schematic Designs.
  • Tourism as priority pitched to Orange County Tourist Development Council (TDC) — our own “I-Drive.”
  • One commissioner was not informed of TDC meeting and the request for $6 million.
  • Fundraising from the community still not accounted for, though the deadline was April 2019.
  • CRA funds will likely be tapped to bail out this project.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr: still has not been honored as the namesake of this park.

What if This Were Your Own Health?

Citizens have not been presented with a satisfactory explanation for this list of discrepancies. This is the chance for the commission to step forward and demonstrate leadership.

If this project were a medical patient, we could say we have seen the X-Rays and indicators of a potential complication are all there.

If we wait seven more months, until January, when construction pricing comes due, we then face a crisis decision of whether to administer chemo or radiation or both. Why not take preventive measures now? Get a second opinion? If your health was at stake, what would you do?

Maybe change medical providers?

Can We Afford This Project?

For many, the fiduciary handwriting is on the wall: we cannot afford this project.

No wonder the citizenry is concerned.

Cost estimates and overruns will not diminish. Instead, they will likely increase. Change orders will become a major concern. Our Central Florida construction market is robust but stressed, increasing pressure on construction costs. That context has already been established with the I-4 Ultimate, Orlando Airport’s New South Terminal and the building boom.

Commissioners Need the Chance to Talk to One Another

At the June 10 Commission meeting, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper requested a workshop so the Commission as a whole could discuss various budget issues, including the Canopy and the CRA, without having to go through the City Manager. She was dismissed by Mayor Steve Leary, but her suggestion deserves reconsideration.

Recommendation: Give Us the Benefit of Your Shared Vision

Hold a Workshop.

Put the questions on the table and explore some answers together.

Educate a very concerned public.

How Much Can the Camel Carry?

In the case of the Canopy, it is reasonable to say that a $1,000 per square foot public works project is unacceptable. So, what is acceptable? $700 per square foot? $500 per square foot? $350 per square foot? That guide star needs to be established — or at least discussed – and the public needs to hear the discussion.

If we cannot attain that acceptable price per square foot, alternative scenarios need to be explored. When a project moves beyond 60 percent design, the time and money already invested make it increasingly difficult to say “no” or even to change tack.

Think Big: Where is Plan B?

The goal is to maximize all our assets to make this project the best it can be. For this reason, the process deserves heightened public involvement, heightened communication and heightened stewardship by our elected leaders.

Are our taxpayer dollars being wisely spent? If so, show us how.

That’s how public trust can be restored.

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Time to Party!

Time to Party!

Celebrate Community & Greenspace at the Winter Park Land Trust Kickoff

Feb. 28 – Farmers Market – 6 pm

The Winter Park Land Trust inaugural kickoff event at the Farmer’s Market on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 6:00 pm promises to be one great big party. There will be music, refreshments and something for everyone. Everyone is welcome – so come on out!

What’s a Land Trust?

Learn how land trusts work around the United States and hear about the Winter Park Land Trust’s vision to help plan, expand and protect urban parks and green space throughout Winter Park and surrounding communities.

Featured speakers from the City of Winter Park, the City of Orlando, the Alliance of Florida Land Trusts, the Nature Conservancy and, of course, the Winter Park Land Trust, will be joined by 15 groups at information tables, where representatives will be on hand to discuss their visions for urban parks and greenspace in Winter Park.

Participating Groups at Information Tables

City of Winter Park
City of Orlando
Nature Conservancy
Alliance of Florida Land Trusts
1000 Friends of Florida
Rollins College
University of Central Florida
Stetson University
Winter Park History Museum
Mead Botanical Garden
Audubon Society
Florida Native Plant Society
Winter Park Garden Club
IDEAS for Us
Winter Park Land Trust

Please forward this announcement to everyone you know who has an interest the future of parks and green space in Winter Park.

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Winter Park Land Trust Kickoff

Winter Park Land Trust Kickoff

Go Green on February 28 – 6:00 pm — WP Farmers Market

Grab your Valentine and get ready to party!

Farmers Market — February 28 at 6:00 pm
Come celebrate the establishment of the Winter Park Land Trust with friends, food and music. Find out how you can be part of the mission of creating, enhancing and connecting our urban parks and green space for everyone’s benefit and enjoyment.

What is a Land Trust?

A land trust is a private non-profit organization whose purpose is to conserve land in perpetuity. It enhances the character of the community by providing open green space for recreation, education, the protection of water and air quality, wildlife habitat, and agriculture.

Land trusts ensure lasting stewardship of conserved lands and waters by working with government to create long-term plans looking out over several generations. Land trusts connect the planning process to the public through membership in the organization. There are more than 1,200 land trusts across the U.S., ranging from all volunteer community-based organizations to large staffed land conservation non-profits with statewide or national territories.

Why Does Winter Park Need a Land Trust?

The 2015 – 2016 Winter Park Visioning Process revealed that expanding and connecting urban parks and green space is one of Winter Park citizens’ most important community values.

A community land trust plays an important role providing additional local open space, and it can supplement the ability of city government to provide and maintain green space.

Land trusts in the United States are long-lived, because they are able to transcend the everyday operational responsibilities and the changes in personnel faced by local governments. They exist solely to support a permanent framework of parks and green space in cities and towns.

Vision and Mission Driven

“The mission of the Winter Park Land Trust is to plan, finance and manage the acquisition of land and interests in land to be used for the creation, expansion, improvement, and connecting of parkland and green space within and adjacent to the City of Winter Park.

Our vision is that the Land Trust will help to ensure that Winter Park and surrounding communities will be an area with sufficient parks and open space, where the footprint of existing parks will be increased, and wherever possible, parks and green spaces will be connected in order to balance and reduce the adverse impacts of increasing development and population density. Attractive green space will then always be an important asset and characteristic of the Winter Park area.”

To learn more, go to www.winterparklandtrust.org

Become a Member

By joining The Winter Park Land Trust, you can help with the process of permanent land acquisition for urban parks and greenspace in Winter Park. You can become a member now by going to the website address above – and come to the kickoff party to learn all about it!
The Winter Park Land Trust is supported through private, tax-deductible contributions. Your contribution is an effective way of acting upon your belief in creating a lasting legacy to secure the quality of life in Winter Park.

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Saving Winter Park’s Unique Character

Saving Winter Park’s Unique Character

Guest Columnist Bob Bendick

Winter Park is becoming an island in a sea of urban sprawl.

I was reminded of this a couple of days after the recent forum on the future of Winter Park at Rollins College, when I drove to St Petersburg for a meeting. There was a lot of traffic both going and returning, but It was not just the time lost sitting bumper to bumper that made the day tiring–it was also the scale and pace of the I-4 corridor which is quickly becoming one almost-continuous 100-mile wide urbanized area.

The day’s drive and my relief in arriving back in Winter Park, and taking a walk with the evening clouds reflected in Lake Virginia, made me think more about the Rollins forum.

What is it about Winter Park that still makes it such a good place to live? From my perspective five positive attributes of our city were highlighted at the forum by the presentations of the panelists and the question and answer session that followed.

Winter Park retains a human scale

Winter Park was originally planned and continues to retain a comfortable human scale, in contrast to the increasingly large and impersonal scale of the surrounding metro area — think ten lanes of rushing traffic on the soon-to-be-completed widening of I-4.

Greenspace, lakes and trees connect people and nature

Greenspace, lakes and trees bring people into contact with nature in every part of our city. The tree canopy reduces air pollution and traffic noise. Views of the lakes are everywhere, and our parks are heavily used.

There are many opportunities for walking and biking within the city

It is possible and enjoyable to walk or bike in Winter Park, particularly to and around the downtown area. Where heavily trafficked roads decrease walkability, like the 17-92 and Fairbanks/Aloma corridors, the quality of the Winter Park experience is diminished.

Winter Park has a sense of place and history including a vibrant town center

Unlike so much of Florida today, Winter Park is not generic. It has a coherent history that is reflected in its architecture and, particularly, in Rollins College and its downtown. It conveys a sense of place — not just anyplace.

The city is a diverse community

Winter Park thankfully retains racial and ethnic diversity, which enriches the life and culture of the city. It is still a community with events that bring people together in shared experiences.
As is the case in other places around the country that have managed to retain a distinctive grace and character, people want to move here.

Winter Park is at a crossroads.

The pressure for more development and redevelopment is not necessarily negative unless that growth undermines those attributes that make the community a good and unique place to live and work. Winter Park can accommodate growth and change while planning on a community-wide basis to retain the assets that make it unique.

We need to add greenspace to balance growth

This means adding and connecting greenspace as the city grows, ensuring that new development is consistent with the scale and character of the city, resisting and, where possible, mitigating the impacts of heavily trafficked transportation corridors on our quality of life. It means creating new opportunities for alternatives to automobiles, consciously acting to retain the diversity of the community, and reinforcing the vitality of our downtown.

Planning for investment in the City will foster a robust economy

The experience of similar communities is that planning for public and private investment that further enhances the city’s character will not diminish the city’s economy, but will make it that much more attractive for quality development. Perhaps more importantly, respecting the unique assets identified by the Rollins College panel will help ensure that Winter Park will still feel like home to the generations of residents who follow us.

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Parking Code Gets the Green Light

Parking Code Gets the Green Light

Applies to Park Ave. CBD, New England Ave. in Hannibal Square & Orange Ave. Corridor

Commissioners voted Monday, Oct. 22, to approve the revised parking code proposed by the City Planning Department on the first reading. The second and final reading is scheduled for the November 12 meeting.

Code revisions apply specifically to the Central Business District (CBD) along the Park Avenue corridor, the New England Avenue commercial portion of the Hannibal Square neighborhood and the Orange Avenue corridor. The revised codes are the culmination of more than a year’s work by parking consultant Kimley-Horn.

No ‘Fee-in-Lieu’

Originally, the revised ordinance contained six elements. Before their discussion commenced, however, Commissioners excluded the element that would have created a fee-in-lieu of parking, whereby a property owner could pay for required parking within a city-owned parking facility without actually having to provide dedicated parking spaces at their property. This has the effect of leveling the playing field, eliminating any advantage wealthier developers might have over less wealthy ones.

Summary of Major Changes

Under the new ordinance, anyone converting retail or office space to restaurant use in any of these areas, including Park Avenue, must provide the increased parking required for restaurant use.

The ordinance would change the distance permitted for off-site parking from 300 feet to 750 feet. To walk 750 feet takes about five minutes.

The ordinance provides for the use of the Urban Land Institute’s Shared Parking analysis as a reference for determining when and how shared parking will be permitted.

Parking requirements for new retail and general office space will change from four spaces per 1,000 square feet to three spaces per 1,000 square feet.

Finally, parking requirements for large office buildings will be four spaces per 1,000 square feet for the first 20,000 square feet of the building, then will transition to three spaces per 1,000 square feet for all floor area in excess of 20,000 square feet.

‘Grandfather’ Clause

The ordinance will include a “vesting provision,” so that anyone already in the process of designing a project who submits site plans and/or floor plans for City approval by the date of adoption of the ordinance can continue under the current parking code, provided they apply for a building permit by Dec. 31, 2018, and begin construction by March 1, 2019.

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