On December 2, the Planning & Zoning Board met before a standing-room-only crowd of St. John’s Lutheran Church parishioners and other Winter Park neighbors to hear the application of Sentio Investments LLC to build a 73,000 square foot Assisted Living Facility (ALF) on 1.88 acres fronting 17-92. The vacant acreage hosts the Halloween pumpkin sale each year and is known locally as the Pumpkin Patch.
St. John’s Faces Hard Times
In recent years, St. John’s has fallen on hard times financially and is facing the necessity to sell the adjacent land facing Hwy 17-92. According to City Planning Manager Jeff Briggs, the ALF proposed by Sentio, “per square foot, for the property it’s on, would be the largest building, at 90 percent floor area ratio, [on the entire Winter Park section of the] 17-92 corridor.”
Winter Park resident Wendy Anderson, President of the St. John’s Church Council, told P&Z that the church has “a very large mortgage which we frankly cannot afford. If we cannot sell this property, there is a good likelihood that St. John’s will close its doors.”
“No More Monsters”
Many residents of the Mead Gardens community were present to oppose the project. One concern was the amount of cut-through traffic, which would be added to traffic already clogging the area as a result of commuter rail and the density of development along both 17-92 and Denning. Another concern was the sheer size of the proposed building, which far exceeded anything currently allowed under the existing zoning.
Using the location to build a facility for assisted living and memory care did not pose much of an issue. Though church spokesmen said the use would be compatible with the mission of the church, they acknowledged that the proposed ALF was a for-profit enterprise and was in no way faith-based.
Residents Speak Out
Winter Park resident Sara Brady spoke for many of her neighbors when she stated that while they were not opposed to development or to the church selling the land, “We want smart, compatible development.”
P&Z Denial Unanimous
When the chairman closed the floor for public comment, P&Z Board Member Peter Weldon spoke first. He said he respected the situation in which the church found itself. However, “What’s before us is not the condition of the church,” he said, but questions of land use policy. He stated that he would not be opposed to a similar project at that location, but one that was much smaller. “I’m going to vote no,” he concluded.
Board Member Tom Sacha pointed out that over preceding months, P&Z has set a precedent with other developers who came before them asking to put large structures on land previously zoned for low-density single family dwellings. P&Z has denied those developers on grounds that if they acquired land with a particular zoning, the new projects should fit within the existing zoning. Sacha, too, voted against the Sentio proposal.
The rest of the board members followed suit, and Sentio’s request failed on a unanimous No vote.