The proponents of property rights went toe-to-toe with the advocates of neighborhood compatibility in a Planning & Zoning (P&Z) Board meeting Tuesday, March 7, which lasted well into the night. An overflow audience packed the Commission Chamber and spilled out into the elevator foyer. Tempers flared and rhetoric grew heated as citizens, applicants and P&Z Board members aired conflicting views.
At the end of the day, P&Z sent forward for Commission approval a total of 133,830 square feet of commercial development, with requests for variances for around 300 parking spaces.
Three Controversial Projects
At issue were three large commercial developments, two of which had been to P&Z before.
1. Villa Tuscany Memory Care Center, 1298 Howell Branch Road — 41,352 square feet, requesting a variance for 4 parking spaces.
2. Orchard Supply Hardware Store, 2540 Aloma Avenue (on the site of Aloma Bowl) — 39,877 square feet, requesting a variance for 45 parking spaces.
3. A Three-Story, mixed use building at 158 E. New England Avenue — 52,601 square feet, needing a parking variance of 200 spaces, more or less. The issue of how many parking spaces is hotly disputed, but everyone, even the applicant, agrees they need more.
Villa Tuscany Memory Care
Winter Park Elderly Services, LLC, first brought this project before P&Z in October 2016. The proposal was for a 50-bed, 34,986-square-foot memory care and assisted living facility at the intersection of Temple Trail and Howell Branch Road. The building site fronts Lake Temple and there is also a sinkhole on the property. The proposed height of the original building was more than 35 feet, requiring an 85-foot setback from Lake Temple. Staff recommended denial.
At the October meeting, P&Z voted to approve the use for a memory care facility, but tabled the request for building variances. They asked the applicant to return with a plan for a smaller facility. Instead, the applicant returned with a request for a larger facility — 6,366 square feet larger, with 51 beds — but it is only 35 feet high.
It’s Still Too Big
The neighbors weren’t buying it. “It is still too big,” they said. “It’s not compatible with the neighborhood.” Residents Barry Render and Nancy Freeman, representing 13 area HOAs, offered petitions with more than 200 signatures of people opposing the project and a Powerpoint presenting 10 reasons why P&Z should vote to deny.
But Not As Big As It Could Be
The incompatibility argument having been heard, attorney Becky Wilson, representing the applicant, returned to the podium with the property rights argument. The applicant was requesting a building about half the size he was actually entitled to under City code, warned Wilson.
P&Z Sides with Developer
Bob Hahn began the board’s discussion of the project by objecting to “accusations of profiteering.”
After a short discussion, the P&Z Board voted unanimously to approve the application and send it forward to the Commission.
Orchard Supply Hardware
Lowe’s subsidiary Orchard Supply Hardware seeks to build a second store within Winter Park City limits. The first slightly smaller store (32,355 square feet) is going up on 17-92. This project will sit on the present site of the Aloma Bowl, which has been sold to developers.
Real Estate Bubble?
Steve Miller of Miller’s Hardware spoke about the impact of commercial development on traffic and the general quality of life in Winter Park. “We may have a real estate bubble going,” he cautioned.
Lamenting the Loss of Aloma Bowl
A large group of citizens dressed in blue “Save Aloma Bowl” t-shirts protested the loss of the bowling alley, which has provided a family-friendly athletic and social outlet for generations of Winter Parkers of all ages. The Winter Park High School Bowling Team Co-captain described its importance in her life.
Once again, individual property rights collided with the interests of the common good. Becky Wilson, attorney for the applicant, explained it this way.
P&Z members sympathized with the residents, but explained that it was not within their purview to save the bowling alley. Shelia De Ciccio asked for understanding from residents in the audience.
After a discussion about signage and parking, the P&Z Board voted unanimously to approve the application and send it forward to the Commission.
158 East New England Avenue
BFC New England LLC first appeared before P&Z in November 2016 requesting approval for a three-story mixed-use development in the downtown core of Winter Park. The second and third floors would be occupied by Class A office space, while plans for the ground floor included retail space and two restaurants.
In a word . . . parking. Especially daytime parking.
The November staff report cites City parking code at 4 parking spaces per 1,000 feet for office and retail, and 1 space for every 4 seats in a restaurant. At the November hearing, BFC Holdings proposed 40,000 square feet of office and retail, requiring 162 spaces. They agreed to a total of 380 restaurant seats — an additional 95 spaces, for a total requirement of 257 spaces. BFC plans to put 57 spaces in the new building and to use another 90 spaces in the Bank of America garage across the street, which they own. Using these rules, they are short 110 parking spaces.
Now, City staff proposes to reduce the parking requirement to 3 spaces per 1,000 feet of retail/office. By those rules, BFC would need 133 spaces for office/retail, plus 95 for restaurant, totaling 228 spaces, leaving them only 81 spaces short. Bear in mind, this building will go up on a parking lot that currently holds 60 to 80 cars. The loss of those spaces will put further pressure on an existing parking deficit.
For daytime office and retail use, the 147 available spaces might be okay, especially since the two restaurants in the Bank of America building, Luma and the Wine Room, are currently open only in the evening – but nothing prevents them from opening for lunch.
Valet Parking in the Loading Zone
What if the two restaurants planned for the new building open for lunch – even with limited seating? Since parking for those restaurants would be in the Bank of America garage, which is closed to the public during the day, how would cars get in? Well, valet parking could get them in, but where on New England Avenue does one put the valet? Daniel Butts, speaking for BFC New England, proposes to put them in the loading zone.
P&Z Kicks the Can Down the Road
Following lengthy discourse on the relative merits of various parking scenarios, presiding P&Z chair Ross Johnston called for a vote. The vote ended up in a 3 – 3 tie, James Johnston having recused himself. As P&Z was unable to reach a decision, City staff will now take the proposal before the Commission, explain the rationale behind the opposing votes, and the decision will be up to the Commissioners.
Those present at the meeting left with a number of unanswered questions. Though they are not questions that can or should be answered by P&Z, they are still left hanging.
Where Will the Green Space Go?
With a robust economy, commercial development is surging to satisfy pent up demand. As the favorable economic climate nurtures larger projects, infill developments test their boundaries. Traffic approaches gridlock — and parking? Forget it. Sidewalks, bike paths and especially, green space risk becoming a distant memory.
Is Everyone Playing by the Same Rules?
Conflicts occur at boundaries. In the interests of perpetuating the human race, our forebears found it advantageous to create a set of rules that allow Party A and Party B to preserve the integrity of their territory and still live peacefully side by side. But how well do the rules work if they are not always the same for everyone?
For instance, with Park Avenue merchants already losing business because of a downtown parking deficit, is it wise to create a special set of rules for large commercial projects?
Should We Hit the Pause Button?
Just this past January, Maitland Mayor Dale McDonald hit the Pause Button on high-density residential development in order to take a more global look at where his city is headed and what will be left of it when it gets there.
Might it be time for Winter Park to take a page from that book and pause to examine where we are headed with all this commercial development? After all, no developer comes to the City saying, “I want to build a bad development.” But how many big box stores does it take to make this too much of a good thing?
Are Individual Property Rights & the Common Good Mutually Exclusive?
City Fathers Chase and Chapman had it right when they drew up their plans for Winter Park in the 1880s. We still prosper from their vision. They began with a good plan, they codified it and they wrote it down for everyone to see and to follow. To this day, our Charter and our Comprehensive Plan provide a context within which neighbors can settle boundary disputes.
These documents also give us a way to achieve a balance between individual property rights and the common good.