Guest Columnist Beth Hall
Citizens of Winter Park: beware the Trojan Horse.
Before she “left the building,” retired planning director Dori Stone may have deployed one. The Orange Avenue corridor is in developers’ cross hairs. Rumors even include a possible new rail station.
Apparently unwilling to develop their sizable Orange Avenue holdings under the strict limits imposed by our current land use laws, Stone said that over the past 18 months, owners of larger properties along the corridor have approached the city about opening the door to development of greater intensity.
With property owners anxious to make big changes to the corridor, planning staff has brought forward to the commission the idea of a “mixed use overlay.” Once in place, this alternative zoning would give land owners the option to develop parcels they own on a scale that will vastly exceed the existing zoning parameters. In return, they would give back to the city in a way that benefits all residents. Is this the rumored train station?
Video obtained of the duly noticed “mixed use workshop” held at City Hall on July 10, 2018, shows the city planning director exhorting the commission that as a “legislative body” they have a responsibility to the community to “make this happen” and to “let the community know what this corridor needs to look like.”
Stone insisted the 2017 comprehensive plan must be a “fluid” document, one that “changes with the times,” noting that some of Winter Park’s most “iconic places” are examples of “mixed use” development done before the city had a comp plan or stricter land use laws. Does this mean the comp plan is now an obstacle on the path to progress?
Taller, more massive buildings would “make a statement.” Land holders on the avenue could choose to re-develop under the new mixed-use guidelines or use existing zoning guidelines. An urban design expert should be hired to devise a master plan for a “mixed use overlay. “
Stone cited the Medical Arts District rising around Winter Park Hospital as an example of this idea. Orange Avenue would serve as a test case.
There was no mention of the fact that Orange Avenue is already a thriving mix of shops, businesses and eateries. City ownership of a large parcel on the Orange Avenue corridor was noted. The mayor’s ownership stake in four other parcels was not. Also, omitted was the fact that West Fairbanks has seen the deployment of many millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements, which the City could begin to recoup.
If you think you might like to hear the discussion of mixed use that took place or if you want to hear for yourself how individual commissioners viewed the idea, I fear you’re out of luck.
The audiotape of the meeting posted by the city is very poor quality and the city says enhancement efforts have proven unsuccessful. Had I not obtained a video of the meeting independently, I could not have written this piece. I would not be aware that the posted minutes from the meeting do not accurately reflect city staff in attendance . . . omitting as they do a city attorney who spoke and gave advice.
Mixed use — Trojan horse or manna from heaven? Only you can decide, but as of this writing, becoming informed will not be a simple task.