The March 27 Commission meeting shows what can happen when a city like Winter Park tries to solve a systemic parking problem one project at a time. Things don’t work out the way everyone thinks they’re going to.
The 133,830 square feet of commercial development sent forth March 7 by the Planning & Zoning Board arrived at the City Commission March 27. The meeting, which began at 3:30 pm, lasted until nearly midnight. By 10:30 or so, many of the people who were still hanging in there were scratching their heads. The remarks in these video clips, which occurred toward the end of the meeting, tell the tale.
Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel, “We Can’t Kick This Can Down the Road Much Longer.”
Rick Frazee, “Nothing’s changed.”
Joe Terranova, “You can’t fit a size 10 foot into a size 6 shoe.”
Pat MacDonald, “This has been a very different evening than we all expected.”
Three Projects All Too Big for Their Parking Lots
Three large commercial construction projects – Orchard Supply Hardware at 2540 Aloma Avenue, Villa Tuscany Memory Care Center at 1298 Howell Branch Road, and the BFC Holdings project at 158 E. New England Avenue – shared the agenda with a presentation of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). All three construction applicants sought variances because of insufficient parking.
Orchard Strikes Out
First up was Lowe’s subsidiary Orchard Hardware Supply, to be built on the current location of the Aloma Bowl. Orchard needed a total of 135 parking spaces. They had 87 spaces on site and could lease 24 additional spaces from neighboring Panera Bread, leaving them 24 spaces short.
Strong opposition came from the bowlers, represented by Winter Park High School bowling team captain Danielle Allison. Ms. Allison and her volunteers had gathered nearly 3,000 signatures of citizens seeking to keep the facility open as a bowling alley. The sale of Aloma Bowl to Orchard was contingent on Commission approval.
Despite the Commissioners’ understanding and their admiration for Ms. Allison’s tenacity, at the end of the day, Orchard’s fortunes rose and fell on parking. After discussion and citizen commentary, the Commission voted to deny the application, pointing out that if the applicant would consider a smaller building, their parking dilemma would go away.
The following day, Ms. Allison told the Voice that she hoped Aloma Bowl would remain open for the community, but she said she did not know the owner’s plans for the building. The owner of Aloma Bowl could not be reached for comment.
Villa Tuscany – Too Big Not to Fail
Next up was the Villa Tuscany Memory Care Center at 1298 Howell Branch Road. This was to be a 41,000-square-foot memory care and assisted living project that would be built on land zoned R-3, high density residential, that sits adjacent to a single-family residential neighborhood. The neighbors had well-organized opposition, not to the proposed use of the facility, but to the size and scale, which they said was incompatible with the surroundings.
Even though residents of the facility would not have cars, plans for the facility did not provide adequate parking on site for staff and visitors. The applicant would be able to lease the missing parking spaces, but those were on the other side of Howell Branch Road.
Commissioner Peter Weldon broached the possibility of tabling the project and allowing the applicant to come back at a later date with revised plans for a smaller project. Weldon failed to receive a second for his motion, however, and the Commission voted 5 – 0 to deny the application, pointing out once again that a smaller project would obviate the need for extra parking.
BFC Holdings New England Ups the Ante
By the time attorney Mickey Grindstaff approached the podium on behalf of the Battaglia family’s 52,000-spare-foot project at 158 E. New England Avenue, tension in the chamber was palpable. While the BFC Holdings project had City staff support, P&Z had sent the project forward with no recommendation.
Staff recommended reducing the parking requirement from the four spaces per 1,000 square feet of office/ retail, called for by City Code, to three per thousand. Planning Director Dori Stone explained that staff was comfortable allowing fewer parking spaces. “In a downtown setting,” she said, “Class A Office, which is a different breed of office than we have in a lot of other places in Winter Park . . . can support three spaces per thousand, because the way they operate is different, the way their customer base is different, the way they function, look and feel is different than a typical office.”
Ms. Stone did not elaborate on what those differences might be. Planning Manager Jeff Briggs acknowledged that no other building in Winter Park enjoyed this reduction in parking requirement.
Winter Park Needs Another Parking Study
Stone recognized the need for further study of how parking functions in downtown Winter Park. “No matter how you count the spaces,” she said, “downtown Winter Park has parking issues.” Staff will embark on the fourth parking study in seven years – which those in the know believe will result in a recommendation for some sort of parking structure in the Central Business District.
Don’t Tie Parking Regulations to a Specific Project
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper admonished staff that if the City’s parking code needs to be reviewed, the discussion should take place outside the context of a specific project to avoid placing both the applicant and the Commissioners in a difficult position. “If staff truly supports a change in code,” she said, “they should bring us an ordinance, supported by data, so that we have the opportunity to evaluate a change in the parking code.”
‘How Much Longer ‘til Everyone Goes to the Mall?’
Grindstaff noted that BFC Holdings is being asked unfairly to shoulder a city-wide problem. But it is not just the BFC project that is suffering. Alan Deaver, a merchant and property owner in downtown Winter Park, collected signatures from 45 Park Avenue merchants who are being squeezed by the parking deficit and who will be severely impacted by the BFC Holdings project. “How much longer until everyone goes to the mall?” he wanted to know.
Not Ready for Prime Time
Using the new math, BFC New England would need 133 spaces for office and retail, and an additional 95 spaces for the two restaurants planned for the ground floor of the new building. The developer plans to put 57 spaces on site and to use 90 spaces in the Bank of America parking garage across the street, which they also own. The 90 B-of-A spaces would be available only by valet, as the garage is closed to the public.
Using the newly contrived formula, BFC is short 81 parking spaces. Compare this with the 24 spaces Orchard was short and the four spaces Villa Tuscany was short. It’s worth pointing out that by existing code, to which the other projects were held, the BFC project is short 121 spaces.
Mayor Steve Leary finally showed mercy on those assembled by moving to table the BFC Holdings application. His motion passed on a 5 – 0 vote. The BFC New England project will now make its way back through City Planning staff. There is no scheduled date for its return to the Commission.