As the mayor and commissioner hopefuls near the finish line, Winter Park mailboxes are stuffed to the gills with flyers and the buzz is one everyone’s lips. Winter Park readers awoke Friday, March 6, to a Sentinel story headlined, “Development sits at core of Winter Park mayor race.”
Mackinnon Favors Re-development in WP
In this article, Cynthia Mackinnon told the Sentinel that she is “very much in favor of re-development in Winter Park . . . But we do not have to change the rules in order to attract high-end development.”
Leary Pushes Transit Corridor Plans
The Sentinel quoted Steve Leary as saying, “I’ve got experience managing development . . . and I’ve been the one pushing plans the transit corridor.”
The Winter Park Voice has teamed up with the Property Appraisers Offices of Orange and Seminole Counties to compile an update on construction currently in the pipeline for the aforementioned “transit corridor” – that is, 17-92 and vicinity.
See What’s Headed Our Way
The maps of developments that are coming our way were compiled by Kirt Thomas, CCF, of the Orange County Property Appraiser’s office, and Sara Hunsinger, Customer Service Project Specialist of the Seminole County Property Appraiser.
For links to the Orange County and Seminole County maps, click here :
10,000 Apartments Planned
The maps show that in the two counties combined, there are more than 10,000 apartments either planned or already built in the 17-92 corridor between Flea World/Reagan Center and Downtown Orlando. This is the “transit corridor” that is being pushed by Mr. Leary, whose campaign has been generously fueled by development dollars. Click the link below for campaign finance reports.
Nearly Half the Projects Are in Winter Park
The Orange County map shows that 18 projects – close to half – are located in Winter Park. Of those, ten are residential, representing approximately 700 units.
The rest of the units, both north and south of Winter Park, will eventually shelter people who will drive through Winter Park. They will likely begin driving through Winter Park about the time I-4 begins its lengthy, “Ultimate” reconstruction.
Special Election 2015 Section in The Voice
Campaign Treasurer’s Reports can be found on the City of Winter Park website at http://cityofwinterpark.org/government/city-info/election-info/financial-reports/.
Transit Oriented Density
See What’s Planned in Orange and Seminole Counties
P&Z Nixes Assisted Living Facility
Building Too Big for the Pumpkin Patch
On December 2, the Planning & Zoning Board met before a standing-room-only crowd of St. John’s Lutheran Church parishioners and other Winter Park neighbors to hear the application of Sentio Investments LLC to build a 73,000 square foot Assisted Living Facility (ALF) on 1.88 acres fronting 17-92. The vacant acreage hosts the Halloween pumpkin sale each year and is known locally as the Pumpkin Patch.
St. John’s Faces Hard Times
In recent years, St. John’s has fallen on hard times financially and is facing the necessity to sell the adjacent land facing Hwy 17-92. According to City Planning Manager Jeff Briggs, the ALF proposed by Sentio, “per square foot, for the property it’s on, would be the largest building, at 90 percent floor area ratio, [on the entire Winter Park section of the] 17-92 corridor.”
Winter Park resident Wendy Anderson, President of the St. John’s Church Council, told P&Z that the church has “a very large mortgage which we frankly cannot afford. If we cannot sell this property, there is a good likelihood that St. John’s will close its doors.”
“No More Monsters”
Many residents of the Mead Gardens community were present to oppose the project. One concern was the amount of cut-through traffic, which would be added to traffic already clogging the area as a result of commuter rail and the density of development along both 17-92 and Denning. Another concern was the sheer size of the proposed building, which far exceeded anything currently allowed under the existing zoning.
Using the location to build a facility for assisted living and memory care did not pose much of an issue. Though church spokesmen said the use would be compatible with the mission of the church, they acknowledged that the proposed ALF was a for-profit enterprise and was in no way faith-based.
Residents Speak Out
Winter Park resident Sara Brady spoke for many of her neighbors when she stated that while they were not opposed to development or to the church selling the land, “We want smart, compatible development.”
P&Z Denial Unanimous
When the chairman closed the floor for public comment, P&Z Board Member Peter Weldon spoke first. He said he respected the situation in which the church found itself. However, “What’s before us is not the condition of the church,” he said, but questions of land use policy. He stated that he would not be opposed to a similar project at that location, but one that was much smaller. “I’m going to vote no,” he concluded.
Board Member Tom Sacha pointed out that over preceding months, P&Z has set a precedent with other developers who came before them asking to put large structures on land previously zoned for low-density single family dwellings. P&Z has denied those developers on grounds that if they acquired land with a particular zoning, the new projects should fit within the existing zoning. Sacha, too, voted against the Sentio proposal.
The rest of the board members followed suit, and Sentio’s request failed on a unanimous No vote.
Change in Development Rule Likely
Downtown Core and Wetlands at Risk
Comes now a tale, wonky and dry as a bone, about a seemingly simple piece of bureaucracy that could forever alter the face of Winter Park. You may want to wade through these words to find out how Monday’s vote could affect the city.
Rules Change Proposed for Downtown & Wetlands Development
City commissioners appear poised to change the rules for approving buildings in wetlands and in the core of downtown. A commission hearing at 3:30 p.m. Monday will consider eliminating the current requirement of a 4-1 super-majority vote to allow downtown and wetlands development, reducing the requirement to a simple majority of 3-2 votes.
The proposed change may appear minor compared to votes on looming projects such as the huge Ravaudage development. Arguably, however, it could have long-term effects.
Vote Requirement Change from 4-1 to 3-2
If it is approved, developers who want to build three-story buildings downtown would need to win over only three commissioners instead of four. The same would hold true for someone wanting to build in the city’s floodplain between Lake Sue and Lake Virginia and those north of Lake Maitland. The current city commission often votes 3-2 in favor of development, with Mayor Ken Bradley and Commissioners Steve Leary and Sarah Sprinkel voting in the majority.
Historically, Winter Park has held the line on tall buildings and wetlands construction. The super-majority requirement was a safeguard to ensure that proposals for downtown and wetlands developments have broad community support.
City Staff: Change Would Bring ‘Consistency’
Most of the current commissioners, however, have little love for 4-1 votes. It stripped most of them from its books after City Attorney Larry Brown issued an opinion that they conflicted with the city charter. Brown said a better way to handle concerns about development would be to word land-use policies more strongly. No such stronger language is under consideration, however.
Left on the books at the time were the requirements for 4-1 votes dealing with wetlands and downtown. Brown said those conditional-use votes did not conflict with the charter. But at the October 13 commission meeting, City Planner Jeff Briggs said their removal would bring “consistency” to the code.
Cooper: “There May Be Times a 4-1 Vote is Desirable”
Most commissioners said they liked that idea, but Commissioner Carolyn Cooper opposed it because she said there may be times a four-vote majority is desired. As a compromise, Commissioner Tom McMacken proposed toughening those reviews by increasing the number of public hearings required from one to two.
P&Z Shoots Down McMacken Compromise
The Planning & Zoning board, however, on October 28 unanimously recommended against that change. Advisory board members said two hearings would run “counter to the city’s desire to streamline the development review process” and would delay some requests.
Mayoral Candidates: Lukewarm Toward Super-majority Votes
In interviews with the Voice, neither Cynthia Mackinnon nor Commissioner Steve Leary, the two candidates in the current mayoral race, expressed enthusiasm for super-majority votes. Mackinnon noted they “are relatively rare,” but added she was “not in favor doing a bunch of piecemeal changes” related to land use before the city finishes its upcoming visioning process. “To me, the best approach to any changes in the code is to finish the visioning first,” she said.
Commissioner Leary dismissed the idea that a simple majority vote could make it easier for development to occur in wetlands and downtown. “It’s never as simple as, if you’re doing this, you’re making it easier,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s going to be an issue.”
Monday’s vote is the first of two. The second and final hearing on whether to eliminate the super-majority vote is likely to be held in December.
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Westsiders Win Fight for Low-Density
Developer Abandons High-Density Plan — Offers Single Family Homes Instead
A Winter Park icon, the Mt. Vernon Inn, will close its doors forever on November 1. Long beloved by locals as a place to gather in the morning for breakfast or in the evening for drinks, the Red Fox Lounge will be replaced by three upscale restaurants boasting a combined total of 590 seats.
Rather than hotel rooms, the new establishment, to be known as The Luxe, is slated to have 53 apartment units with rents of $3,000 a month, according to the developer, Unicorp National Developments president Chuck Whittall. At a projected 223,940 square feet, the Luxe will be more than double the size of the Mt. Vernon and will require Unicorp to request a sort of hybrid zoning – a blend of the existing commercial C-3 zoning and a “planned development” category known as PD-1.
If the city grants it, this will be the first PD-1 zoning in Winter Park. A planned development is one that combines residential, retail and commercial establishments and is generally characterized by a high level of density.
Unicorp Needs Upzoning to Build The Luxe
Unicorp’s Chuck Whittall, who will be developing The Luxe if his deal to purchase the Mt. Vernon Inn goes through in early November, is entitled to ask for this blended zoning. The Winter Park City Commission, however, is in no way obligated to grant his request.
The issue is slated to come before Planning & Zoning on November 4, and then before the City Commission on December 8.
Unicorp: 7 Parcels on 17-92
Mr. Whittall has amassed an ambitious amount of real estate along Highway 17-92. In addition to Mt. Vernon/Luxe property, Whittall has Lakeside Winter Park, home to Trader Joe’s, Gardens at Ravaudage, the Fleming’s Steak House property, the former Wazzabi property, the Cold Stone Creamery / Math building and Winter Park Terrace, the former site of Starbuck’s – a total of seven holdings.
‘T.O.D.’ Hits 17-92
What we may be seeing is one example of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), which was described in a regional study created between 2007 and 2010 by the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, entitled “The East Central Florida 2060 Plan.”
The East Central Florida region includes 68 cities in six counties – Orange, Osceola, Volusia, Seminole, Brevard and Lake.
2060 Plan: ‘Stop Urban Sprawl’
Creating a model by projecting current development patterns into the year 2060, the Planning Council found “a less than desirable and consumptive outcome that promotes sprawl . . . including irreversible damage to our environment and economy.”
The 2060 Plan is an attempt to avoid “development [ in ] the most critical ecosystems, [ promote ] denser growth in transit planned corridors, and [ to redevelop ] existing urban centers.”
East Central Florida boasts one lone corridor, comprised of three parallel arteries – 17-92, a portion of I-4 and SunRail. According to the 2060 Plan, “Aligning transportation and land use is essential to the success of corridors. The 17-92 corridor will be a transit oriented development that “feeds” SunRail . . . .”
“Transit Doesn’t Work Without Density.”
Transit Oriented Development is described in the 2060 Plan as, “. . . a strategy to manage growth by planning for ‘moderate to high density development, located within an easy walk of a major transit stop, generally with a mix of residential, employment, and shopping opportunities.”
Fred Milch, Transportation Planning Manager at the Central Florida Regional Planning Council, told the Voice, “Transit doesn’t work without density.”
Orlando Area Apt. Construction Jumps 56%
Chuck Whittall is not the only developer who has jumped on this bandwagon. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the current pipeline of apartment construction activity in the Orlando metro area is the highest in the state.
It has gone from 3,640 starts in the second quarter of 2013 to 5,685 in the second quarter of 2014.
Listed below are developments — planned, under construction, or completed — along the Maitland-Winter Park-Orlando portion of the 17-92 corridor. Together, they represent 2,253 apartments, 63 townhomes and an estimated 1.4 million square feet of commercial and retail space – all worth in excess of $500 Million.
Florida Hospital Promotes TOD
Winter Park Mayor Kenneth Bradley’s employer, Florida Hospital, has been at the forefront of TOD promoters. In a letter dated May 12, 2011, Florida Hospital President and CEO Lars Houmann wrote to Governor Rick Scott, “Florida Hospital will work cooperatively with businesses and municipalities all along SunRail to enhance ridership and development.”
Mayor Bradley announced today in the Winter Park Observer that he would not seek another term as mayor. His current term expires in March 2015. Noting the sacrifices involved in holding public office, Bradley said, “I’ve done what I feel like I came to do.”
No Gain Without Pain
Metroplan Orlando’s Executive Director Harry Barley is optimistic about the prospects. “This is an important regional corridor,” said Barley, “and it will fit with our regional vision for growth.” But the transition to TOD does not come without a price.
In Winter Park’s immediate future, 17-92 congestion and declining SunRail ridership are on a head-on collision course with the looming six and one-half-year reconstruction of I-4. According to one developer, “It’s going to be painful.”
SunRail Ridership Plummets
If the objective of TOD was to get us out of our cars and onto a train before I-4 construction began, that effort has failed.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, SunRail ridership has steadily declined. For example, Florida Hospital’s Health Village is a huge mixed-use complex that exactly fits the “Florida 2060” model. It has approximately 17,000 employees, their own rail stop which was financed by the hospital, and a subsidy for employees who ride the train to work.
In August 2014, the Florida Hospital stop had an average of 181 SunRail riders per day.
No Coordination Among Corridor Cities
Asked if anyone was addressing the cumulative impact on the infrastructure along the corridor, Central Planning Council Executive Director Hugh Harling confirmed that all this new development falls within the jurisdiction of the local municipalities.
He said, “Each city operates independently.” And officials in Maitland and Winter Park, who asked to remain unnamed, said that each city is concerned with its own piece of the pie and that there is virtually no coordination among them.
They confirmed that there is no regional person or organization responsible for regional coordination or oversight.
Regional Vision vs. Local Vision
Clearly, there is a vision plan already on the books – and has been since 2010.
TOD is barreling down the tracks straight at Winter Park, and it seems to be arriving way ahead of schedule. It may be very difficult for the City of Winter Park to embark on a local visioning process without being overtaken by the regional juggernaut.
Will City Strike a Fair Deal to Buy Bowling Alley?
Some Say It’s a High Price to Pay
September 18, 2014 – High Noon. City Manager Randy Knight called a joint meeting of the Community Redevelopment (CRA) Advisory Board and the Parks & Recreation Board to discuss the purchase of the Fairbanks Avenue Bowling Alley at 1111 W. Fairbanks Ave. The two boards met at the Winter Park Country Club golf club house.
Scott Fish, of UP Developments, LLC, developer of the new Whole Foods, has contracted with Rollins College to purchase the bowling alley for $2,950,000. Fish is willing to assign his contract with Rollins to the city, so the city can buy the bowling alley property to extend Martin Luther King, Jr., Park.
City Rushes to Meet Deadline
The city will waste no time waiting until after the visioning process to seize the opportunity. The contract between UP Developments and Rollins is scheduled to close October 27, creating urgency among city staff to reach a decision. The matter will go before the CRA Board at 2:30 Monday, September 22, and will be on the agenda of the commission meeting which immediately follows.
Rollins Bought Property in 2013
Rollins purchased the bowling alley property in the late spring of 2013, when it looked like Harper-Shepherd Field would become a Minor League baseball stadium. Rollins needed space for other teams that use Harper-Shepherd. Being next to Martin Luther King, Jr., Park, the bowling alley property was an ideal location for Rollins to expand their playing fields.
When it became clear that baseball would not be coming to Winter Park, however, Rollins no longer needed expansion room and sought to sell the property. UP Developments, LLC,, stepped in and contracted to buy the property from Rollins.
Apparently, the city has been interested in the bowling alley property for some time, with an eye to expanding MLK Park and mitigating some of the traffic problems on Fairbanks. When they approached Scott Fish about it, Fish agreed to assign his contract with Rollins to the city, so that the city can buy the property from Rollins and UP Developments will withdraw from the transaction.
Purchase Will Expand MLK Park, Add Parking
City purchase of this property would expand MLK Park by approximately 1.6 acres, allowing for a non-regulation sized playing field. It would also create an additional 100 parking spaces for the park and for business establishments along Fairbanks and 17-92. Preliminary plans also call for an extended right-hand turn lane along west-bound Fairbanks at the intersection with 17-92.
Cost to City — $3.25 Million
The city proposes to pay for the property with funds from several different sources. They include:
|CRA contribution from fund reserved for debt service||$1,650,000|
|Parks Acquisition funds||975,000|
|Sale of city land at 300 Pennsylvania Ave.||625,000|
UP Development’s contract with Rollins is for $2,950,000. According to Winter Park Communications Director Clarissa Howard, the additional $300,000 the city is willing to pay would compensate Scott Fish for “real estate fees and site plan design fees associated with the property.”
“Is this a fair price?”
CRA Advisory Board member Daniel Butts asked City Manager Knight if he thought this was a fair price for the property. Knight replied, “It’s higher than market value,” but added that there has been no appraisal on the property.
Butts then wanted to know how much the city would lose in tax revenues. He pointed out that this expenditure would “wipe out the rainy-day fund” for CRA debt service. The debt he was referring to is on the Community Center in the Hannibal Square neighborhood. The “rainy day” fund would cover this debt service should property values fall again as they did in 2010-2011.
Land Acquisition Only the Beginning
Parks & Recreation Advisory Board member Janet Atkins pointed out that acquisition of the land was only the beginning, and that considerable additional funds would be required to demolish the building and to redevelop the property. It is also unclear who would pay for widening Fairbanks to create the right turn lane onto 17-92. She said, however, that “this is a great first step toward expanding this park.”
Parks & Rec Votes to Approve the Purchase
Parks & Recreation Director John Holland stated the land purchase would help meet the goals of the Parks & Rec Department in three ways. First, it would add park land, consistent with the Comprehensive Plan mandate to provide one acre of green space per 10,000 residents. “We are right on the line of meeting that level of service,” said Holland. He pointed out that there is a need for more multi-purpose playing fields. And, third, there is a current parking shortage at MLK Park.
CRA Votes Approval — with Strings Attached
The CRA Advisory Board, which voted separately, required more discussion. Daniel Butts wanted to know if the city had any other funding source. Noting that the city has reserves of $27 Million, Butts suggested the city contribute at least half of the purchase price to avoid depleting CRA contingency funds. He also urged Randy Knight and Planning Director Dori Stone to go to Scott Fish and to Rollins to re-negotiate the sale and come back with a better price. The CRA then voted three to two to approve as amended.
The measure is scheduled to go before the CRA at 2:30 Monday, September 22, and then to the Commission, which meets at 3:30 immediately following the CRA.
Yes, You Can Fight City Hall
P&Z Turns Down Request for Hannibal Square UP-Zoning
Citizen PACs Give Winter Parkers Stronger Voice at City Hall
Mayor Bradley Pushes Back Against Baseball Petitioners & “No Density” Advocates
THE ROAD TO GRIDLOCK: City Revokes BC Clinic Building Permit
Deal for Lakeside Blue Cross Clinic Parking Falls Through
City staff confirmed that they have revoked the amended conditional use permit for the Blue Cross clinic that is under construction at the Lakeside Development on 17-92, which also houses Trader Joe’s.
To grant the permit, on March 4, the Planning and Zoning Board relied on promises by Unicorp National Developments, Inc., that they had secured auxillary parking at the site of the Sweet Motel at 271 S. Orlando Avenue, below, which they planned to raze and turn into a parking lot. Unicorp has failed to close on the deal, and the sale will not proceed.
The failure of the deal leaves Unicorp short 21 parking places in an unfinished development where parking is already a nightmare. Where Unicorp will come up with the additional 21 spaces is unknown. A Unicorp spokesman was not available for comment.
Chuck Whittall to March 4 P&Z:
“What we’re doing here will be a huge enhancement to the area.”
Clarissa Howard, Winter Park Director of Communications, said the city will allow the developer to complete exterior construction on the clinic so the structure can be closed and protected from the elements. No interior work can proceed, however, until Unicorp comes up with the required 21 parking places.
BASEBALL SHOCKER: City Says Harper-Shepherd Stadium Deal Dead
Did Pressure from WP Citizens Make the Difference?
The number of potential sites for minor league baseball has just gone from four to two. The city announced late this afternoon that Rollins College Harper-Shepherd Field is no longer in play. Martin Luther King, Jr., Park was removed from the lineup earlier this week by an ordinance, the result of a citizen petition, prohibiting building a stadium in the park.
This most recent development in the up-and-down fortunes of stadium negotiations comes one day after a Rollins Board of Trustees meeting. Sources tell the Voice that a significant letter-writing campaign waged by concerned Winter Parkers was part of Trustee deliberations. How much of a role the letters — numbering in the “hundreds” according to our sources — played in Trustees’ decision to strike Harper-Shepherd from the list is unknown.
The remaining potential sites are Ravaudage and the Votech property at Denning and Webster, which is currently owned by Orange County Public Schools. Stay tuned as this story develops over the next days and weeks.
News Alert--City Schedules Vote to Encourage Developers to Build Bigger Buildings
Density-Related Traffic Congestion Not on City Agenda
On a rainy June night, after a long and sometimes acrimonious meeting, the Winter Park Commission voted three to two in favor of a sweeping amendment to Chapter 58 of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan that would open Winter Park’s floodgates to increased density and intensity along all major four-lane roads.
The same three commissioners – Steven Leary, Sarah Sprinkel and Mayor Kenneth Bradley – also voted to remove parking garages from the calculation of the allowable size of commercial buildings.
A request to make these revisions to the Comprehensive Plan will now be submitted to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) in Tallahassee. The DEO review process will take approximately three months; if the DEO approves the request, city staff has an additional 45 days to bring the revisions back to the commission for a final vote.
If that time table holds, a final vote on proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan is due sometime in mid-November 2014.
Are Winter Parkers Ready for Bigger Buildings & More Parking Garages?
The increase in density would be enabled by merging two land use categories into one high-density category designated simply “Planned Development (PD).” In the staff presentation, Director of Planning Dori Stone and Planning Manager Jeff Briggs discussed the advantages of Planned Development, explaining that replacing parking lots with parking garages would reduce the appearance of urban sprawl. They cited the strip mall parking currently fronting 17-92. A Planned Development would place a parking garage discreetly behind the building, allowing more green space and improving the appearance from the road. Removing the square footage of the parking garage from calculations of allowable building size, known as the Floor Area Ratio, or FAR, would provide more space for commercial enterprise.
Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel asked Dori Stone, “Why would someone want a PD [ Planned Development ]?”
Stone replied, “They might get a little more density and intensity . . . they might also be able to get that parking garage that would allow them to have that 200% FAR.” (Click image above for video.)
City Proposal Allows Planned Developments to Move Closer to Park Avenue
Both the commissioners and the citizens in attendance expressed mixed feelings about Planned Development. Examples of PDs are Baldwin Park, Celebration and Lake Nona. Some noted that Winter Park is not Baldwin Park and doesn’t want to be, while others acknowledged the advantages of placing Planned Developments west of 17-92 and along Lee Road in areas that need revitalization.
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper summed it up when she said, “What we are talking about here is density and intensity of land use . . .”
Cooper explained that she had worked in the past to have PDs in certain carefully selected areas west of 17-92. PDs would give the city more flexibility in negotiating with developers to achieve better projects and to get more green space. She said, at that time the city was willing to accept more density and intensity in those areas in order to get better developments. “But,” she asked, “is it really necessary to subject the community to a change in intensity and density . . . from 45 percent to 200 percent? That’s where the rub happens.”
Cooper: Surveys Show Citizens Want Development “Cautiously Controlled”
“We did surveys in those days,” she continued, “. . .and found we had a population that wanted development that was cautiously controlled.”
Prohibiting high density construction east of 17-92, especially high density for any single retail establishment, ensured among other things that there would be no ‘big box’ stores in the core of Winter Park. If the proposed revisions to the Comprehensive Plan are approved, this ‘firewall’ protection would be eliminated.
Commissioner Tom McMacken asked city staff for confirmation that the proposed Comp Plan changes would go to Tallahassee for DEO review, would come back in approximately three months with DEO comments and suggestions, and that staff would have 45 days to address any DEO concerns and to make appropriate revisions to the Land Development Codes that accompany the Comp Plan before they presented the final version to the commission for a definitive vote.
Broad Cross-Section of Winter Parkers Step Forward to Oppose Comp Plan Change
Twenty-four spoke against making such sweeping changes to the Comprehensive Plan, one spoke in favor.
It was clear from the tenor of the comments that the objections were less about Planned Development and more about the elimination from the Comp Plan of protections against commercial encroachment on residential areas.
Commissioner Leary Called Out for Possible Conflict of Interest
The second speaker, Judy Maynard, nearly derailed the meeting by suggesting that Commissioner Steven Leary, whose company recently purchased the former Thomas Lumber Company property on Orange Avenue, recuse himself from the vote. She said that because Orange Avenue is one of the four-lane roads that would be eligible for a PD, Leary would unfairly benefit from approval of the proposed zoning changes.
City Attorney Asks State Ethics Commission for Opinion on Possible Leary “Voting Conflict”
In May 2014, City Attorney Larry Brown filed a “Request for advisory opinion on behalf of a member of the City Commission of the City of Winter Park.” The May 6 filing, made on behalf of Commissioner Leary, included this summary:
“A member of the Commission of the City of Winter Park is 1 of 14 partners in a limited liability company that owns property located across the street from one of several sites the City is currently considering as a site for a minor league baseball stadium.2 The Commissioner requests an opinion whether his vote on the selection of a site for a minor league baseball stadium is prohibited as a voting conflict under Section 112.3143, Florida Statutes, because the vote would inure to his special private gain or the private gain of his business associates with whom he is involved in the ownership of the property.”
The City’s advisory request is still being considered by the State Ethics Commission. A decision is expected within the next 30 days.
State Ethics Commission Denies Leary Request to Remain Anonymous
Mr. Brown closes his letter to the State Ethics Board with this request: “We will greatly appreciate your opinion on behalf of the City of Winter Park and this individual Commissioner whose name should be withheld at his request from the opinion.”
Brown’s request was ultimately denied by the Florida Commission on Ethics attorney:
“Although no opinion will be published (placed on our website upon issuance) with the City Commissioner’s name in it unless he grants permission, we need his name for our records and in order to move forward with your inquiry; and there is no anonymity for him (for example, his name may appear in meeting materials posted on our website prior to the meeting in which the opinion request will be considered by the Commission, or a person could make a public records request and learn his name).”
Tensions Run High as Citizens Challenge Commissioners: “Who Supports This Plan?”
Tension continued to build as citizen after citizen rose to speak. They entreated the commissioners to listen to homeowners and leave the current Comp Plan in place until the city can ascertain what effect current unfinished construction, plus the imminent I-4 construction, will have on roads and infrastructure. They worried about increased pressure on public safety services that would result in longer emergency response time.
A recurrent theme was the lack of planning and opportunity for public input and the speed with which the commission was putting forward the proposed changes. Michael Spencer of Orange Avenue noted that the proposed changes are not in keeping with the vision of the Comprehensive Plan.
The city has the luxury of being in good financial shape, he noted. He urged the commission to “take a step back” and seek input from all the stakeholders before deciding to change the Comp Plan.
One after another, residents urged the commission to “step back,” “slow down,” seek public input.
Carol Lotspeich wondered, “Where are the supporters?” noting that all public comment to that point had been opposed to the proposed changes.
“You’ve been elected by the tax-paying residents of Winter Park to represent the interests of those residents.” she said.
Betsy Owens, Executive Director, Friends of Casa Feliz, rose to speak reminding Commissioners that none of the “different people representing different professions, neighborhoods, socioeconomic and racial groups throughout the city” had spoken in favor of the Comp Plan change.
Winter Park resident Pat MacDonald noted that the report from Wallace, Roberts and Todd LLC, consultants hired by the city, strongly recommended receiving input from the community. “That just doesn’t seem to have happened. What happened there?” she asked.
In his remarks stating that he would not vote to approve the proposed Comp Plan changes at this time, Commissioner McMacken appeared to endorse the residents’ requests for a visioning process.
“A visioning process goes way beyond where we are this evening,” he said. “I voted for the Lee Road extension because I believed that was necessary. This change is not necessary. At least, not at this time.”
Comp Plan Change Passes on 3 to 2 Vote
The motion to send the request to change the Comprehensive Plan to Tallahassee for their review passed on a 3 to 2 vote: Bradley, Sprinkel and Leary in favor, Cooper and McMacken opposed.
Late Night Meeting Ends With Commissioners Trading Accusations
After the chambers had cleared and only the commissioners and a few staff remained, the commissioners paused to reflect on how they thought the meeting had gone. The type of tense exchange that ensued has become commonplace on this commission.
Commissioner Sprinkel accused Commissioner Cooper of “inciting” the public with her emails.
Sprinkel, Mayor Bradley and others have complained for years about Cooper’s newsletters and the discomfort it occasionally causes for Commissioners.
“The problem is, the public never sees us discussing how we might be able to come to some sort of agreement . . . That’s what workshops and visioning could do.”
Cooper assured Sprinkel and others on the Commission that she will continue to send information to citizens: “I will continue to communicate with people . . . I will continue to say when I think it’s important that they participate.”
Bradley: I Don’t Want Visioning Sessions if These Citizens Will Be There
“I can’t let this evening go without a few comments . . . twenty-four angry people spoke tonight.
“They were vetted and baited into that . . .
“There were comments tonight made that developers are bad.
‘This is about greed’ somebody said. Greed! Where is greed coming from in this?”
Meeting Discord and Comp Plan Vote Spark Strong Citizen Response
Word of this meeting spread quickly. On June 14, Lisa Everett circulated an email in which she responded to an email from Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel in which she defended her vote for the changes. In the text of this email, Everett wrote, “We deserve to understand why the City is acting on discrete recommendations while completely ignoring the fundamental WRT recommendation that the City first ‘[ d ]evelop a methodology for conducting a 9-12 month long city-wide visioning process with ample opportunities for meaningful public input.”
Retired Judge Cynthia MacKinnon: WP Commissioners Arrogant, Dismissive, Demeaning
On June 17, retired 9th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Cynthia MacKinnon wrote in a ‘My Word’ column in the Orlando Sentinel, “City staffers and commissioners display a stunning disinterest in citizen questions and concerns about the future of our community. For a real lesson in arrogant governance, watch videos of commission meetings as commissioners dismiss and demean citizens who question commissioners’ recent vote to amend the Comprehensive Plan. . . .”
Former County Commissioner Segal: WP Officials Should Learn to “Disagree Without Being Disagreeable”
Remarking on MacKinnon’s column, former Orange County Commissioner Bill Segal wrote on his Facebook page, “. . . . I am hearing and feeling great deal of concern from people I have come to know as reasonable. I have also heard from people who have been to the meetings that disagreement is not welcome. Sure hope this board doesn’t turn the Council back over to the No growth folks because of actions and/or demeanor.”
To a friend who responded to his post, Segal wrote further about MacKinnon’s column, “On its best day, you get 2 Winter Parkers together and you get 3 opinions. . . .It also touched on the fact that we are in a time of great change in what has been a bit of a “Village”. Much of it I may agree with, but Our City Council needs to be mindful that much is happening all at once, people need to be educated, have the issues explained, and part of the job when serving on these Councils includes the tough job sometimes of having to take a punch, without punching back, and the willingness to “suffer fools”, to listen and perhaps disagree without being disagreeable. Many “Centrist” Winter Park Residents, need to feel that they are informed, and that our “Electeds” don’t take a “just trust us” attitude.”
Local Academic Explains How Increasing Density Can “Cannibalize Neighborhoods”
On June 13, Richard Reep, an architect with VOA Associates, Inc., and an adjunct professor for the Environmental and Growth Studies Department at Rollins College, wrote in New Geography “When, in the process of allowing density, a city destroys the very values that it is supposed to promote, then the city ends of cannibalizing its neighborhoods for little benefit other than the one-time gain that the developers will realize from the sale of these newly built products. Income streams are put into mortgage-holders’ pockets, and . . . one more highly localized economy disintegrates.”
At June 23 Commission Meeting City Officials Attempt More Civil Approach to Bridging Deep Divide in WP
Two weeks later, the June 23 commission meeting promised to end on a somewhat more harmonious note than its predecessor on June 9. The mayor and commissioners agreed that the city needs to provide more information to its citizens in advance of taking action on issues that will have long-term effect.
Ms. Sprinkel described a workshop she attended called “Shared Values & Shared Future,” conducted by Central Florida Regional Leadership. “If you go out to our community,” she said, “our community will tell you it’s all about how we feel. . . . We have to pay attention that whatever people feel, is reality.”
Commissioners Sprinkel and Cooper made several suggestions about information that could be posted on the city’s website. Commissioner Cooper expanded on Sprinkel’s remarks by suggesting that proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan also be posted on the city website before they come before the commission.
Until this point, the commissioners seemed to be in general agreement that there was a need for more education and transparency. Mayor Bradley, however, expressed disagreement, saying he believed the citizens are disagreeing with the vision currently in place and that the real problem lies with the Comprehensive Plan itself — that citizens are “mad” at the current Comprehensive Plan. “They’re mad at what’s being built at the DMV site” he said. “They’re mad at other kinds of developments that are being done under our current Comprehensive Plan. So I think it’s time to do a ‘touchpoint . . .” Bradley asserted that it’s time for the City to take a look at updating and revising the current Comprehensive Plan.
Bradley asked that at least two of his fellow commissioners commit to creating an agenda item calling for a “community-wide scientific process” to ascertain the true feelings of all the citizenry and to guard against the distribution of “misinformation.”
The final exchange between the mayor and Commissioner Cooper demonstrated just how thin is the veil of civility. After several interruptions, Ms. Cooper was able to point out that the only reason some of the developments citizens dislike were approved is “because we as a commission voted [ in prior years ] to make three major changes to the Comprehensive Plan.
–We voted to increase allowable building height from three to four stories.
–We changed the zoning from office or commercial (45% to 60% FAR) to R4 (200% FAR).
–And we passed a special change to allow us to increase the density by utilizing the density on the adjacent lot.”
“So it’s not quite fair to say that all this has happened under the current Comprehensive Plan as it is,” she said, “because the only way it was able to happen is because we, as a legislative body, made those changes.”
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