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.

  • author's avatar

    By: Anne Mooney

    Anne Mooney has assumed the editorship of the Winter Park Voice from founding editor Tom Childers.

    Mooney got her start in New York as a freelance line editor for book publishers, among them Simon & Schuster and the Clarkson Potter division of Crown Books. From New York, she and her husband and their year-old toddler moved to Washington, D.C., where the two ran a newswire service for Harper’s magazine. “We called it Network News,” said Mooney, “because it was a network of the Harper’s writers, whose work we edited into newspaper style and format and sold to papers in the top U.S. and Canadian markets. We were sort of like a tiny UPI.”

    The newswire ceased operation with the death of Mooney’s first husband, but Mooney continued to write and edit, doing freelance work for Williams Sonoma cookbooks and for local publications in D.C.

    In 2005, Mooney moved to Winter Park, where she worked as a personal chef and wrote a regular food column for a south Florida magazine. She took an active interest in Winter Park politics and was there when the Winter Park Voice was founded. She wrote occasional pieces for the Voice, including the Childers bio that this piece replaces.

    The Winter Park Voice is one of a large number of “hyper-local” publications that have sprung up across the U.S. in response to the decline of the major daily newspapers and the resulting deficit of local news coverage. The Voice’sbeat is Winter Park City Hall, and its purpose is to help the residents of our city better understand the political forces that shape our daily lives.

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28 replies
  1. Eduard Gfeller says:

    The constant complaint of Park Ave merchants and a few Commissioners is parking. Why would the Commission approve a project without adequate parking?

    Reply
  2. Toni Saunders says:

    Would someone please explain the problem with P&Z and the Commission? In March, this project did not meet the city requirements for such a building. It still doesn’t. Why are we continuing to try to bounce this flat ball? In addition to the Commisioners , none of the public citizens who spoke at that mtg were in favor of such an albatross being hung around the neck of downtown W P. Aside from the parking issue, which is huge, it goes against what is in keeping with the character of downtown. Something smells rotten here. Are there certain entities in WP that are granted “special favors” . It seems so or the answer would have been a resounding NO!

    Reply
  3. Sally Flynn says:

    Ed..Why would the commission approve a project without adequate parking?

    As Shakespeare would say, “that is the question?” I guess we will find out

    Monday at the commission meeting.

    Reply
  4. New Reader says:

    I am fascinated reading about Winter Park development here in The Voice, and I have a question.

    Fifty thousand square feet for the new library. Fifty thousand square feet for the New England building. What magical powers does this Mayor Leary person have that he can divine what the residents want better than the residents themselves?

    If I wanted to buy a new car for $40,000 and have a new home constructed for me for $700,000, do you think it would be wise for me to find a prophet similar to Mayor Leary to give my money with the instructions, “I trust you. You pick the lot, choose the design and the home builder, and buy whatever you want. You pick the make, model, and year car you think is best for me. Because I know that you know what I want more than I do myself.” Since all I know of Mayor Leary is what little I read and hear, is this a good idea?

    If not, maybe what Winter Park residents really need is a charter amendment to prevent ” Leary The Magnificent ” and all the future Mayors from building any public building and approving any large private buildings WITHOUT PRIOR RESIDENT VOTER APPROVAL!

    Reply
  5. Bacon Park says:

    Ed, because three of the 5 Commissioners receive great benefits from these corrupt developers. This family’s pattern of ignoring rules, threatening neighbors who don’t give in to their haughty demands, and sense of entitlements (when the majority of WP developers are respectful of the community), continues their neighbors’ private disgust of them. No one is surprised by their grand children’s behavior. Karma is a bitter pill.

    Reply
    • Pitt Warner says:

      writing nonsense and hiding behind an anonymous name does nothing but create division and acrimony. Very bad form.

      Reply
      • Cigar says:

        Monday’s vote will make it very clear to everyone how confident, or unconfident Leary is about his 2018 re-election chances.

        Approving a no-parking / cave parking, super-sized building that provides no, zero, nada benefits to the residents, can mean only one thing. Namely, that Leary has calculated that either 1) he has no chance of winning re-election, or 2) his only chance for re-election is to amass an enormous campaign war chest from developers. And that he fears not approving the project will result in insufficient funds to defeat any challenger.

        We’ll see how the vote goes. But folks, that’s what Leary’s vote will be all about. “Yes” means he’s shaking in his boots about re-election. “No” means he’s confident of re-election.

        Sprinkel will, as usual, vote per orders from her benefactors – which means “Yes.” Weldon will vote “Yes,” but not because he’s bought. Weldon is not bought. Weldon is an ideologue. Look at how much he gives in campaign contributions to candidates running for federal offices sometime if you want an education. Weldon believes development makes all boats rise, regardless of its impact on residents, traffic congestion, or neighboring businesses.

        The vote to watch is Leary’s. A “Yes” vote from Leary will show weakness. And in politics, weakness always produces challengers. Very AGGRESSIVE challengers. A “No” vote from Leary will mean he’s learned from his 2015 campaign, and that he understands it’s the residents, not the developers, who actually do the voting in Winter Park.

        Reply
  6. Beth Hall says:

    Battaglia (BFC) is seeking a HUGE parking concession from the city. Not only that, Battaglia seeks to be given a full YEAR within which to formulate an answer to the significant parking shortfall it would like the City to absorb. That’s right. BFC wants approval today and to be given 12 months to explain just how the parking mess can be worked out.

    The required parking for a CBD project is 4 spaces per 1000 sq feet of development. The Applicant is asking to be allowed to provide 25 % less than this. Our zoning code specifies that this is not to be done. The code states that where new floor space is constructed, new parking for that amount of floor space must be provided. Existing parking is not to be used to satisfy this requirement. The Comp Plan fully reinforces this provision in Policy 1-G-7 under the heading “Enforce Land Development Code Parking Requirements.” In contravention of our codes and the comp plan, this highly experienced developer/applicant is asking permission to use existing parking to help meet the requirements of the new project. The answer should be no.

    What is the Applicant offering the City in return for this extraordinary parking concession? Nothing.

    Does anyone remember the Popeye cartoons of yesteryear? As I read this application I couldn’t help but think of WIMPY. Wimpy was a notorious mooch. He loved hamburgers but he could never pay for them. Wimpy was often successful in conning others into feeding him. He did this by promising to make good in the FUTURE. His famous line? “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Unlike Wimpy, this applicant isn’t even making the pretense of offering something in return for what it wants.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30knrJBeyr0

    Reply
    • Pitt Warner says:

      I hope this comment of mine is not received as if it’s a verbal caning; it’s merely an alternative viewpoint. A HUGE parking concession is your opinion if you think offices are organized as they were in 1974 when codes were created. I think city staff realizes and the developer understands, dedicated parking is a requirement to charge Class A rates today. If all employees of the building have to park in the garages, I think it’s reasonable to allow 3 spaces per 1,000 sf. Again, just my opinion. If developer makes an error, they won’t be able to lease their space, the building will be vacant and no additional cars will descend on Park Ave. Maybe you should push for 3/1000. (that’s a joke) Also, your question about what is this project offering to WP? At least 90, highly paid, skilled office workers who will shop, dine and hopefully, spend a lot of time in WP, 5 days a week from 9-5. They aren’t here on weekends or after hours. We also will get a couple of restaurants that will likely be pretty good. The city receives quite a lot. I understand 90+ new people on the street will create more traffic, but arriving at 8 and leaving at 5 is OK with me. Just my .02 to “what is applicant offering the city?” question.

      Reply
      • Beth Hall says:

        Alternative viewpoints are essential and always welcome from where I sit.
        I find the Pat Estes comment compelling and don’t buy the Class A justifies 3 spots argument. Two other projects were denied, at least in part, due to parking issues on the night this one was tabled. I thought the commission acted prudently then.
        The parking deficit per our codes is significantly greater for this project. The CBD has stringent requirements for parking. They should be applied here not ignored here. The downside of getting it wrong here is great.

        Reply
  7. Nettie Potter says:

    A 3-story project in the heart of our city?

    The answer is NO! Easy.

    Shame on the Commission

    . . . and well, our P&Z is just a liaison for indiscriminate development. TskTsk

    Reply
  8. CJ Williams says:

    This has been played before as long ago as 100 AD by the Greek philosopher Epictetus–The story of the Frog and the Scorpion. Direct parallels to our City Fathers (the frog) and those wishing to develop minus any accompanying stewardship (the scorpion).

    Scorpion asks frog to take him across the lake. Frog asks, “You won’t sting me?” “Why would I do that?” asks the scorpion. “Then we would both drown!” Frog agrees, takes scorpion across the lake on his back. Once on shore, scorpion stings him. “Why did you do that?” asks frog. Replied scorpion,”Because I’m a scorpion. It’s what I do.”

    City of Winter Park: Be a wiser and more savvy frog. Get the parking right for 158 East New England. It’s what we (should) do.

    Reply
  9. Pat Estes says:

    Dear Mayor and Commissioners –
    I just wanted to add another perspective to help you make the decision to deny the variance request for the parking deficit on the Battaglia project. This is from my real life experience.

    Our family owns a 48000 sf class A office building in Pinellas County – one of the most densely populated counties in the state. When we purchased the building about 12 years ago it was 100% occupied. Some tenants have moved. We have a 4.5 per 1000 parking ratio. Our broker is struggling to fill the vacant space because prospective tenants want 5-6 spaces per 1000. Please consider how important a parking deficit can be – even in a class A building. I urge you to deny the requested variance.
    Best regards –
    Pat Estes
    (A resident of Winter Park for 40 years)

    Reply
  10. Problem Reaction Solution says:

    Leary and company are deliberately creating a parking deficit, so that they later can roll out the “solution.” Their “solution” of course is the construction of public parking garages paid for by tax increases to residents.

    Don’t bite into the “We need more parking” hook. We need LESS large scale development.

    Reply
  11. Chicken or Egg? says:

    Public parking garages always precede development. Public parking does not alleviate parking scarcity. Public parking will not relieve traffic. The only reason additional public parking is approved is to support more of the kind of development being proposed.

    Don’t be hoodwinked. Public parking garages will mean MORE massive scale development. At least three commissioners are on the record as supporting the construction of PUBLIC (i.e. you pay for it in your taxes) parking facilities in downtown Winter Park.

    Public parking garages SUBSIDIZE development. They do not “soften the impact” of development. Public parking garages STIMULATE development.

    Just say “NO” to public parking garages in Winter Park!

    Reply
  12. Just the Facts says:

    Sometimes it helps to look at the facts.

    Fact: Winter Park ranks in the 96th percentile of Florida cities in population density (100% being most densely populated and 1% being least densely populated).
    Fact Winter Park ranks 17 out of 444 Florida cities in population density
    Fact: Winter Park has 3,549 residents per sq. mile

    Is it any wonder why Winter Park feels so crowded?

    Add to that the misguided growth policies of not only the current City Commission but the many preceding before it, and you see why residents object to the New England building.

    Residents may need to start another petition for a development moratorium charter amendment, until such time as commissioners begin to take the problem seriously. Traffic gridlock is only one symptom of an ever growing nightmare for all residents. Yet, commissioners continue to encourage visitors by the thousands to come to Winter Park, rolling out the red carpet for them, so that they can take residents parking spaces, spots in line for restaurants and doctors appointments, peace and quiet, and of course tax dollars. Big budget components of city government are police and fire, and it’s the residents who subsidize with property tax dollars the visitors that generate police and fire calls.

    Worse yet, NOBODY on the commission gets this entirely. NOBODY. A couple understand the concept of how overcrowding makes Winter Park less desirable for residents. But NOBODY understands how BIG the problem really is.

    Out of 444 Florida cites, 427 have LESS population density than Winter Park.

    And that’s JUST residents. That doesn’t even include the hoards of tourists and visitors that clog our streets and exhaust city resources. Added together, Winter Park could be in the vicinity of MOST densely populated Florida city.

    Winter Park residents are riding the “chump train,” being sold a bill of goods that commercial development is good for them. Every ADDITIONAL sq. ft. of commercial development diminishes the quality of life for Winter Park residents.

    Here’s the link with the data. Read it and weep (oh I can see you already are weeping, never mind just read then).

    http://zipatlas.com/us/fl/city-comparison/population-density.htm

    Reply
    • Echo says:

      There are 3 schools of thought on commercial development and parking. Each school frames the debate differently. Here’s what’s really going on.

      1) School # 1.
      Three commissioners, City staff, Chamber, developers. Debate frame: What city codes can we gut in order to maximize commercial development?

      2) School # 2
      Two commissioners, most commenters in The Voice. Debate frame: How can we assure that when a developer wants to build a 50,000 sq. ft. building that they bring their own parking?

      3) School # 3
      Overwhelming majority of Winter Park voters.
      Debate frame: Who will run for mayor who will give me what I want: no more additional commercial or multi-family residential square footage approved until you can fix the traffic mess, the over taxing, the crumbling infrastructure, the crime etc.?

      Reply
    • Pitt Warner says:

      Your facts are a little skewed. The chart you reference shows WP population to be 75,000 people-WP is 1/3 that size. City Commission decisions can only affect 28,000 residents. WP population has increased about 10% in the last 30 years. The city limits are essentially the same as in the 1970’s-8 square miles. WP can’t grow. And if you’re going to blame tourists and visitors for your inability to get a table or a doc appointment, you might want to consider the growth of C. Florida. I’d also suggest you call the fire chief and ask how many emergency calls are for visitors compared to residents.

      Reply
      • Just the Facts says:

        Two zip codes in the chart. 32789 and 32792. In case you hadn’t noticed, there is no gate at the city limits. Every new commercial building within the city becomes an attraction for neighbors near and far.

        That’s why you like ’em and we don’t.

        Ask the police chief and you might learn that the crime is caused by non-city residents.

        Ask the fire chief when his guys respond to a DUI mess in Winter Park because of the party destination you and others have made Winter Park, how often the drunk driver lives somewhere else.

        I don’t know how you can sleep at night creating all this chaos and trouble for our first responders and your fellow residents by the municipal policies you endorse.

        Reply
  13. Beth Hall says:

    Kudos to the Commission for denying the Battaglia/BFC application ! It was clear that they loved the project but could not see any way to circumvent our code driven parking regulations to achieve a positive result. Thank you !

    Now what?

    Expect to see a “staff” driven push to REVISE our development codes which govern parking requirements. The proposed changes will be aimed at lessening the number of spaces required for Class A office space and/or allowing existing off site parking to be used in the calculation of what is required for newly developed space.

    Staff recommended approval of the project to the end. Battaglia is not going to retire from the field.
    Another way to skin this cat is required.

    Reply
    • Pitt Warner says:

      Sooooo, the commission had no choice but they’ll push staff to change code so they can finally get that building constructed. Is that what you’re saying?

      Reply
      • Beth Hall says:

        Pitt,

        Pitt,

        My thanks to the entire commission is genuine and sincere.

        My choice of the word “circumvent” was poor in my previous post. I think”ignore” or “disregard” would have been a better word choice.
        The commission thoughtfully deliberated and could not get comfortable with the parking deficit for BFC New England.
        I am grateful to them for this outcome.

        However, I stand by my prediction that in the not too distant future we will see a “staff driven” push to revise our development code and regulations governing parking for new Class A projects as outlined above.

        The clearest way that I can think of for folks to get an idea of how individual commissioners viewed the BFC project and whether they wish to see it come to fruition would be to watch/listen to both of the meetings at which the project was discussed.

        Staff clearly wished to see the project approved and were on the record stating that. Parking was not an issue for staff.

        Reply
        • Pitt Warner says:

          The question for WP taxpayers is whether they want a millage increase, a cut in services or allow building of more commercial buildings in the area off Park Ave. Not Park Ave. skyscrapers or buildings in excess of 40-45′. Keep downtown small scale and unique. Randy Knight has made an interesting case in his overview of the budget. The charts show the costs of running the city vs. the reality of property tax revenue. We can pretend it’s not an issue but in 5 years there are going to be some hard choices. It’s like a retirement quiz: save more today to live better in the future or keep on spending and hope for a magic bullet (tax increase) to save you.

          Reply
          • Choice says:

            The choice is a millage (tax) increase, reduce city services, allow enormous commercial construction, OR elect a new mayor.

          • Beth Hall says:

            We really don’t have to guess about this at all. We have a case study going on right under our noses just to the north. We can wait a while and see how well it works out for Maitland, ie the ever bigger, higher and denser.

            As it is I can see the Park Avenue blocks abutting Central Park being placed under a glass dome- on display as a glittering remnant to remind us all of the way we were. We can charge admission to enter the dome.

  14. Dictionary says:

    A guide to Commission speak:

    Restaurant: A bar that serves food.
    Valet Parking: A service designed to park the cars of restaurant patrons too intoxicated to steer their car between the white lines and stop before hitting the curb.
    Adequate Parking: Zero parking spaces per 1,000 square feet for Class A, and increasing to zero spaces per 1,000 sq. ft for Class B and zero spaces per 1,000 sq. ft for Class C respectively.
    Move to deny: If approved it may mean incumbent commissioners would lose at next election
    Move to deny: Sometimes a ploy to make time to scheme how commissioners can do something at a later date even more foolish than the original proposal
    Class A: Office space where offices have been replaced with airline coach seating to maximize people occupying the building

    Reply

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