When Zoning Gets Creative

When Zoning Gets Creative

Zoning rules experienced a creative twist at the July 23 Commission meeting..

Smith Barney Building Will Convert to Condos

Developer Dan Bellows, representing Greenhouse Partnership Ltd., had a simple enough request. He sought to convert the Smith Barney office building at 338 W. Morse Blvd. into condominiums.

But Greenhouse didn’t want to rezone the property from office to medium-density residential to accomplish that. It wanted C-2 commercial zoning, even though no commercial use is contemplated at the site.

The owner got its wish, with a 4-1 Commission vote.

Why Commercial Zoning?

C-2 commercial zoning, it turns out, entitles the owner to much more than R-3 residential ever could. Building intensity can be almost twice what R-3 allows. The developer even could pave over the entire parcel — although Bellows assured commissioners that was not his intention. C-2 also would let the owner avoid the pesky city rule prohibiting short-term rentals such as VRBO or Airbnb.

Bellows said the office building will be converted to five residential condominiums, each with an attached garage that will have a second-floor guest suite. He also plans to build a new three-story building with three residential condominiums in the parking lot next to the existing building.

According to the City Planning Staff report, Greenhouse Partnership Ltd. wants the zoning change to make the property more economically viable, Even though the exclusively residential project could just as easily achieve economic viability if it were zoned medium-density residential R-3.

Staff’s Not Sure Why It’s Still Zoned Office – Except, It’s an Office

The existing two-story office building was built in 1998 and was leased to Smith Barney. In keeping with its intended use, the building was zoned O-2 for office. After Smith Barney merged with Morgan Stanley in late 2012, they moved their offices to a different location. Another tenant leased the first floor, but the second floor has remained vacant.

According to the staff report presented at the meeting: “For whatever reason, this property on Morse Blvd. was excluded from being eligible for CBD [Central Business District] future land use and C-2 zoning. The staff has no specific recollection of the rationale but assume that the authors felt the property was developed with the Smith Barney office building and did not envision another redevelopment scenario.”

The Guy across the Street Got Commercial

But right across the street, architect-developer Phil Kean is completing a townhome development that is designated CBD and C-2, although it is not clear if any of that development will include commercial use. In fact, all of the other properties on Morse, from New York to Capen, are eligible for C-2 zoning. Of course, all those properties include some commercial use, except for Park West condos, which are residential.

Staff’s Not Sure Why It Shouldn’t Be Residential

The staff report stated: “It is interesting that this project, while requesting commercial designations, is actually an R-3 multi-family project, with two variances. Unless the condo owners are planning to use their units for Air B&B’s (sic) or VRBOs, this could just as easily be done via R-3 zoning with no changes to the Comp Plan or Zoning text.”

But if Phil Kean could get CBD/C-2, Dan Bellows thought he should get it, too.

The Commission voted to change the zoning along with the Comprehensive Plan for Future Land Use, with Commissioner Carolyn Cooper casting the dissenting vote.

Discussion Resumes at the End of the Meeting

Even though they had reached a final decision, commissioners rehashed the project again in their discussion period at the end of the meeting.

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper was concerned that, by approving C-2 zoning for a residential project, the Commission had just created future entitlements that far exceed the scale and character appropriate for that section of Morse Blvd.

Commissioner Peter Weldon pointed out the need for the Commission to remain flexible to see where the market forces might take us. “The market drives to what, in the end, becomes the result,” said Weldon. ”And we, as a commission, have to be flexible to recognize where the market realistically addresses the character we’re all trying to create.”

Mayor Steve Leary also did not share Cooper’s concerns, and stated, “I believe we should have the flexibility to hear from our property owners on every one of their applications and not create any barriers to them asking the question.”

Commissioner Cooper’s response is worth watching.

  • 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

16 replies
  1. Anonymous says:

    If W P had allowed “The Market” to dictate how our city was

    developed, we wouldn’t have the city we have today. Since when has

    this city’s plan been to be market-driven. Why do we have boards &


      • J. Madison, J. Jay, and A. Hamilton says:

        Anonymous expression has been a foundation of traditional American democratic culture since the founding of our nation. The “Federalist Papers,” a series of essays urging the citizens of New York to ratify the new United States Constitution, originally appeared anonymously in New York newspapers in 1787 and 1788 under the pen name “Publius.”

        Anonymous attribution puts the attention on the message, rather than the messenger. Requiring real identities online would chill a vibrant democracy.

        Winter Park Voice moderates comments for inappropriate speech and personal attacks.

        Attempts suppress dialogue and to intimidate those who disagree with developers who want to change the traditional culture and nature of Winter Park are a problem at this site, not anonymous comments.

      • Stop 1984 says:

        Same reason why Park Avenue haberdashers allow people to anonymously purchase clothing they have for sale.

        It’s a free country.

      • Why says:

        Some people don’t like anonymous comments because they can’t resort to ad hominem personal attacks when the commenter makes a point that they disagree with. Others dislike anonymous comments because they can’t keep up with the intellectual rigor required to debate opinion in a neutral forum.

        That’s why you don’t see Pitt Warner commenting on this blog like he used to. He’s gone to Facebook where he has better luck fooling people that he has superior facts and judgement on all matters concerning Winter Park than they do. Some of the people who used to debate him there have dropped off line, which is sad because they had good points to share.

  2. Beth Hall says:

    Commissioner Cooper appears to be the only commissioner who understands, in depth, the provisions of our Comp Plan, Zoning Code and Future Land use designations and the way that they must be applied. She does the hard work that understanding these laws requires. Any other approach means that some commission members appear ill informed about the request before them, appear to favor certain applicants & owners, or to be willfully ignorant of the potential ramifications of their actions.
    A residential application such a this one should never have been approved under C-2. Weldon speaks of market forces being dispositive here. Yet, was there any evidence introduced by the Applicant that the owner had been unable to rent the space? None. Was there any evidence that there had even been an attempt to rent the space? None. And this assumes that we allow market forces to drive our zoning. That would be a poor planning tool for sure.

    • Anonymous says:

      We have special parking on Morse Blvd. for tour buses. We now will have tourists in and out of a tourist district. And exactly how did PK get a commercial rating for the very expensive townhouses? Will they be used as miniature hotels or Bed and Breakfasts?

  3. Moooooooo says:

    Next thing they will do is zone it agricultural. Build a giant office, residential, parking garage complex on the property, put a cow on it, and get a tax break.

  4. Peggy Bohl says:

    Commissioner Cooper is intelligently and well versed in zoning issues. Common sense implies that changes in zoning exacerbates future similar requests.
    Developer requests should be finely examined to determine whether the benefit goes to the community or directly into the developer’s pocket!

  5. Concerned Winter Park Citizen says:

    Sure… let’s let the whole city look like “Raw Garbage”… !!!???
    We will lose all the uniqueness of Winter Park and the value of our homes will certainly decrease!!!

    • Beginning to Wake Up says:

      That’s the whole idea. So you’ll sell your home at rock bottom prices to a developer who will bulldoze it and build a McMansion on your lot.

  6. Jeffrey blydenburgh says:

    I am sitting in a cafe in Jackson Wyoming where the per capital income is $70,000 and the median house price is $800,000.

    Yet the tallest building in the village of Jackson is 4 stories. (The majority are two stories) This market is so strong, there likely is the demand for more. But clearly the town leaders have decided that low density is fine and the way it should be. This is a town of 9,500 residents and a ton of tourists

    In winter park, we do not want the market to drive the plan. At the same time we need a rational informed discussion for the one story folks to understand that a low to medium density of 2-4 stories, selectively placed is to our benefit not detriment.

    The next step after our vision plan is a physical master plan where we the residents though our various governance channels define our city of the future. If we don’t the market will determine the outcome of our villages future,

    • JB is right.... says:

      Did you know the commission wishes for our future to be market driven?

      This is why we must change with the times…in terms of scale and in terms of parking. We must respond to the market.

      WP is mired in the past, they tell the residents. We must let market forces dictate our development….starting with Orange Ave. Adapt or die. Adapt or die.


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