Commission Okays Skinny Lots

Ignores Staff Recommendation

Commission Okays Skinny Lots

geri-2A snug row of four large homes soon will occupy what is now a vacant, tree-shaded lot on Pennsylvania Avenue. Lot frontages will average 60 feet, instead of the 75- to 85-foot minimum called for in city laws.

A majority of city commissioners at the September 28 meeting had no problem with that tight squeeze. They ignored city planners’ recommendation to deny the request and snubbed a formula that staff has used for some 30 years to come up with such positions.

Instead, commissioners agreed with their planning and zoning board’s unanimous recommendation for approval. The site’s location at the edge of a neighborhood and enthusiastic support from four nearby homeowners appeared to have swayed the advisory board more than the city’s subdivision rules, its comprehensive plan and staff’s opinion. The homeowners, who earlier had written almost identical letters of support, told the city commission they were glad to see the lot finally developed. No one spoke in opposition.

The .87-acre lot north of Tantum Avenue, owned by the Morse Genius Foundation, is more than big enough for three residential lots, but the request sought several exceptions to the rules. The applicant wanted to create room for four homes, each about 3,500-square-feet in size, to be marketed to empty nesters. Besides the narrower lots, the applicant sought a rear setback of ten feet instead of the required 15 feet to allow rear access. Rebecca Wilson, an attorney representing the applicant, noted the mixed zoning south of the site, including an industrial building, denser residential lots and the city golf course. She argued that nearby homes on Beloit Avenue had rear access and frontages less than 60 feet.

City planners said they had no choice but to recommend denial, even though by one measure the new lots exceed zoning requirements. (They will range from 9,191 to 9,985 square feet, compared to the code minimum of 8,500 square feet.) The frontages, however, would be too small by any measure, staff said. The zoning code requires 75-foot frontages in R1A areas and 85 feet for corner lots. Both the code and the comprehensive plan say a lot split should create lots consistent with homes within 500 feet.

Using a formula in practice since the mid-1980s, Planning Manager Jeff Briggs checked how well the proposal meshed with neighboring residential lots. He found a large majority of those frontages were at least 75 feet wide. The average was 69.7 feet; the median was 75 feet. Expanding the radius to include 91 homes produced similar results.

The only way for the city to approve such a deviation was through a zoning variance, said planning Director Dori Stone. “It’s not staff’s job to ask for approval of variances. It’s our job to recommend enforcement of code regulations.”

Mayor Steve Leary and Commissioners Sarah Sprinkel and Tom McMacken voted for the request, with the condition that the houses vary in appearance. Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Greg Seidel opposed it. Concerned about large oaks on the site that might be specimen trees, Seidel asked for a tree survey, but staff said code didn’t require it. McMacken said he didn’t agree with those tree rules, “but it’s the code.”

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    By: Geri Throne – Guest Columnist

    Author / Journalist
    Geri Throne moved to Winter Park with her husband and two young children over 40 years ago, after learning about the city as a reporter for the now-defunct Winter Park Sun Herald. She wrote extensively for that weekly about city issues and local politics in the 1970s.She later joined the staff of the Orlando Sentinel where she specialized in local government issues and in the 1980s served as Winter Park bureau chief. She worked at the newspaper’s Orlando office as an assistant city editor, deputy business editor and member of the Editorial Board before her retirement in 2003. A series of her editorials won a national award for educational reporting from the Education Writers Association in 2003. Geri has published several essays and short stories. She continues to pursue her interest in fiction writing with local authors and is working on a novel set in World War II.

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6 replies
  1. Shoe Horn says:

    Some readers may be aware that Winter Park has a reputation for vanity in some other parts of Central Florida. The occasional attempt to fit into clothes one or two sizes too small may be more common here. And Winter Park also has a reputation for “living large” above the means of most of its neighbors. The new “five course” homes on “skinny jeans” lots may be simply a reflection of how Winter Park is being marketed today to people who are attracted to building a new home in the city. The Winter Park “brand” as its keepers call it, has morphed into a kind of a junior “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” for folks who can’t write the check to buy a home near Trump in Palm Beach, but who have enough in their piggy bank to write one to his campaign. A 3,500 sq. ft. home may have room to spare for oodles of shoes galore, but even a Trump size shoe horn can’t squeeze the egos of some Winter Park Commissioners into the realm of common sense when it comes to approvals. A home that size really needs a quarter acre to be happy. Although I suppose it will have many laughs as Winter Park “Visions” itself in a way more like one looking into a fun house mirror than with any kind of sensitivity to scale.

    • jolyon ramer says:

      Comment is here. This page is warped. We are to guess where comment is entered?

      60 ft. wide lots are OK anywhere.
      Mine is.
      At 1800 ft. sq. per floor, just go up until all the furniture and electronics fits!
      Our population influx needs more residences, even before the migrants arrive.

      • Sharon Hartmann says:

        I just wonder about the impact of sewage, energy and environment as we stuff more indoor environment in what is still a beautiful place called Winter Park. I’ve had the big house, been there done that. Why do we need so much space? We keep taking and taking from the great outdoors. It’s sad. But I guess that’s what “the people” want even if it doesn’t fit the code structure that is there for a reason.

    • Anonymous says:

      Does the site compare with north side of Beloit between Pennsylvania and New York ave? And on Pennsylvania between Beloit and park ave?
      Their frontage is 53 feet. Looks like they made a good decision for that area.

  2. Kathryn Grammer says:

    According to the Sentinel’s Winter Park Forum this week, the Colorado-based consultant spearheading Vision Winter Park spoke of the importance of Winter Park’s beauty and elegance. Perhaps some might consider four 3500 sq. ft. homes squeezed onto four skinny lots to be beautiful and elegant. They will certainly be expensive. What they will never be, however, are homes in keeping with Winter Park, the City of Culture and Heritage. Maybe it’s time change our motto.


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