Heaven on Wheels

Grant Chapel Hijacked Again

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

Heaven on Wheels

Guest Columnist Jan Hommel

Dan Bellows has hijacked Grant Chapel once again.

Hannibal Square developer Dan Bellows has managed to obtain the City’s okay to operate a commercial enterprise in a building zoned O-2 (office). Since the matter has not been before either the Planning & Zoning Board or the City Commission, one can only conclude the approval came through City staff.

Grant Chapel Served West Side Community Since 1935

According to the Friends of Casa Feliz website, Grant Chapel was built on Winter Park’s West Side in 1935 and served as a house of worship for the predominantly African American population for almost 70 years. When the congregation outgrew its location, Bellows recognized the development potential of its prime Hannibal Square location and purchased the building.

For a few years, Bellows rented the property to Suzanne and Steve Graffham, who operated it as the “Winter Park Wedding Chapel.” They ran a photo studio and used the chapel primarily for destination weddings.

Grant Chapel on the Move

In 2013, Bellows struck a deal with the City to move Grant Chapel from its original home on New England to its present site on Lyman Avenue close to the railroad tracks and across from the Farmer’s Market. At the time, Bellows assured the Commission that if they up-zoned the Lyman Ave. Chapel property from R-1 to O-2 (office), he would place the Chapel on the Historic Register as soon as the move was completed.

Grant Chapel Headed for Historic Preservation?

Delighted, the City Commission approved the Chapel’s R-1 zoning change to O-2. Its use as a wedding chapel and photo studio fit neatly into O-2 zoning. It looked like another historic Winter Park property was saved from the wrecking ball in the “move-it-or-lose-it” historic preservation strategy of those days.

Or Not

A funny thing happened on the way to the Historic Preservation Board, however. After its December 2013 move, the chapel was remodeled to include the addition of a basement with two staircases descending from the front façade. The landscaping on Lyman featured elaborate hardscaping, in stark contrast to the humble leafy lot where the chapel originally stood. By the time Bellows’ application reached the Historic Preservation Board (HBP), the board refused to add Grant Chapel to the Historic Registry.

Another ‘Golden Egg in an Unguarded Nest’

And once a listing in the historic registry was no longer a consideration, Bellows made even more changes to the building. Meanwhile, the historic landmark has been lost.

No More Grant Chapel

Now, Grant Chapel has been rebranded as Hudson’s Chapel & Cellar in Hannibal Square. This facility is prominently advertised in the newspaper and on its website as a “stunning venue for any event.” The website proclaims Hudson’s is suitable for parties of up to 60 guests, with catered food and beverages. While wedding ceremonies are welcome in the Chapel, Hudson’s promotes itself as perfect for all types of events — holiday parties, corporate events, birthday celebrations, etc.

But, wait. Hudson’s Chapel and Cellar, greater than its original size and with no additional parking, is still zoned O-2.

According to the City’s Land Development Code, (Sec. 58-73,) O-2 zoning means offices. There is a very short list of permitted uses. When the Commission approved the O-2 zoning, they were given to understand that the intended use of Grant Chapel was as a Wedding Chapel and photography business – two uses that fit neatly within 0-2 zoning.

Disturbing the Neighbors?

Types of business that are not permitted in buildings zoned O-2, because of the potential to disturb the neighbors, are “private and semi-private clubs, lodges, halls, and/or social centers and restaurants or lounges.”

Comp Plan Conflict – No Commercial on West Lyman

City approval of Mr. Bellows’ use of Grant Chapel as an event and party venue in O-2 zoning clearly requires up-zoning to C-1 (commercial). Hudson’s is now a Commercial Establishment . . . on West Lyman Avenue, which the Comp Plan says is to remain forever residential.

“But Everyone Knew. . .”

City Manager Randy Knight stated the Commission knew they were approving a party and event venue when they gave approval for the then-Winter Park Wedding Chapel to operate from the Lyman Avenue location as part of the O-2 zoning process.

Even Though There Was No Public Notice

Yet, the Winter Park Wedding Chapel did not operate as a party and event venue at either the New England or Lyman Avenue location. There is no evidence of a publicly noticed discussion of Bellows’ intent to turn Grant Chapel into a party and event venue. If the Commission intended for Bellows to operate a party and event center, why was the property not up-zoned to C-1?

Parking Rears Its Ugly Head . . . Again

Hudson’s Chapel already has minimal parking – parking that any city official, elected or otherwise, who has a critical eye might find inadequate for an event venue with a capacity of up to 60 guests. . .parking that will be further eroded by Bellows’ upcoming development of the Blake Yard property.

Bellows has hijacked Grant Chapel once. Shame on him. If we let him hijack it again, shame on us.

Contact your elected representatives to insist that the use of Grant Chapel remain consistent with its 0-2 zoning.

Jan Hommel is a resident of the West Side neighborhood of Winter Park.

  • 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.

  • author's avatar

11 replies
  1. Beth Hall says:

    ‘Winter Park is MY oyster!” This has got to be what Dan Bellows thinks every time he departs the commission chambers or the city planning division in WP.

    I was in attendance at a commission meeting months ago where at least one neighbor to the chapel (speaking for herself and other similarly situated) reported on a large night Bellows party/revelry at the newly renovated facility. She was in disbelief that such a thing would be allowed with the noise, parking issues, etc in a quiet neighborhood.

    She expressed her fears that this large and raucous party was a harbinger of things to come. LITTLE DID SHE KNOW!!!! Everyone seated on the dais ….city attorney, city manager, commissioners …just kind of looked at her as though she were a new arrival from a different planet.

    Now the rest of the tale is known.

    Thank you, Jan Hommel, for an illuminating piece.

    • Jan Hommel says:

      Beth, I wrote the letter about the raucous party. Bellows didn’t get the required permits for the party. He was ultimately given a slap on the wrist and a letter from Fire Chief White. Bellows was told he could have up to TWO special events/ parties per year at the Chapel, provided proper permitting was obtained.

      That was so last year. Now City Staff has granted him carte-blanch to profit from catered parties and events . Neighborhood be damned… full-steam ahead for the Venue party center.

      Why bother with Code? If Staff requires Bellows to up-zone to Commercial (as any other for-profit party/event venue would be required to do), P&Z and particularly the Commission, may present a few speed-bumps.

      A full-public notice of what is going will surely create some head-aches for Bellows’ venture. Neighbors’ concerns will be heard.

      The issue of the shortage of parking would have to be dealt with. The Venue recognizes they don’t have ample parking for 60 partiers, plus catering staff . entertainers, catering trucks etc. Their solution? Park on the street. That’s a cheap solution for Bellows, but not so great for the residents of W. Lyman who already have a difficult time navigating the street with cars parked on both sides.

      Maybe a sharp-eyed Commissioner will also raise a question or two about the potential the Venue will have to disturb the neighbors. Commercial establishments serving alcohol are not allowed in close proximity to residential neighborhoods. There are many good reasons for this. The potential for disturbing neighbors is higher when alcohol is involved.

      An Event Venue…. where people have come to celebrate and party…. increases the likelihood that the neighbors will be disturbed. People having a good time get loud, their music tends to get loud, they gather outside and get a little raucous. That’s great, party-on… just do so in an area zoned for it.

      Please request that the Mayor and Commission look into Staff’s decision to let Bellows open a commercial party venue in a building zoned O-2. Please request that they instruct Staff to enforce O-2 zoning rules or require Bellows to apply for Commercial Zoning if he plans to proceed with opening Hudson’s Cellar Event Venue.


    • Sally Flynn says:

      I am sitting here absolutely stunned! How is it that Mr Bellows can get anything he wants. If the staff approved this then the City Commissioners had better step up and do what is right for Winter Park. Shame on anybody who allows this use of this property.

  2. Jennifer Anderson says:

    Jan, thank you for writing this so everyone can better understand this broken system. We need to find a way for P&Z to better represent our community. Right now they are ALL appointed by one person, the mayor. The city staff seems to be pro-development st any cost — even if they have to break the rules (comp plan and/or codes.)

  3. Defined says:

    Insanity is doing the same things and expecting different outcomes. The parties will continue until they become the “norm.” By then, people in Winter Park will have forgotten what a quiet neighborhood even is.

    Except perhaps for those Winter Park residents who have fled to lakefront homes in Altamonte Springs, 10 minutes from Park Avenue, at prices one-tenth of some Winter Park lakefront homes.

    Altamonte Springs has a law prohibiting noise. Every city that cares about its residents has such a law and enforces it.

  4. City of Parties says:

    This is what happens when a City Commission aspires to be the party capitol of Florida.

    The politicians got rid of the long time Winter Park motto, “City of Homes” not long ago. We should have seen it coming.

    Welcome to Winter Park – City of Parties.

  5. concerned says:

    Seems the Commissioners would be concerned about competition. Our City is loaded with “event centers.” On tap is the $30 million 11,000+ sf Adjaye event center and 35,000 sf library with an auditorium, Rice Family Event Center at Rollins, the Winter Park Towers and Mayflower are building event centers, most of our churches have newly minted event centers (Methodist, All Saints, St Margaret Mary), Women’s Club, Ideal Women’s Club, Community Center, Farmer’s Market, Golf Course Club House, University Club, many restaurants. Most are in appropriate locations zoned for such activities. Much was made of limiting the hours for business in Hannibal Square and promises made to the West side community to not disturb the neighborhood. Mr. Bellows does a nice job on his projects, proportions, materials . . . but this is not the place to have an event center.

  6. The Sign Says says:

    A common sense solution would be for the City to post signs on the neighborhood streets saying “Hudson Chapel and Cellar Parkers Will Be Towed 24/7”

    That’s what cities that value their residents do.

    But commissioners don’t like signs. So if you live in the neighborhood, buy yourself a pair of sneakers because you’re going to need them to walk home from the nearest open parking space you can find, a mile away.

    • Martha Bryant-Hall says:

      I was a Community Outreach worker in Grant Chapel. I have a question for all those that say they believe in Jesus. What would Jesus do? What would Jesus say about His house being used as a party house. There is a day of Judgement for each of us.


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