Howell Branch Chain Saw Massacre

Howell Branch Chain Saw Massacre

Howell Branch Chain Saw Massacre

by Anne Mooney / June 5, 2021

Once again, 1298 Howell Branch Road is in the news. There is no memory care facility this time, just four lots for single family homes. Sound simple? We’ve been here before.

Developer changes course in 2017

After the Villa Tuscany Memory Care Center failed in 2017 to receive approval, the developer,  Villa Tuscany Holdings, LLC, revised its request and received City approval to divide the property into four single-family lots under the current R-3 zoning. The 3.77-acre property, of which only 2.09 acres is buildable because that is the portion above the Ordinary High Water elevation of approximately 66 feet, is located between two bodies of water. The larger to the south is Lake Temple; to the northeast is an unnamed sinkhole.

Four lake-front lots planned

Since all four are lakefront lots, new home construction must be reviewed and approved by the Planning & Zoning (P&Z) Board. The P&Z review focuses on tree preservation, storm water management, making sure plans are compatible with the grade of the lot and maintaining lake views. Each individual plan involves a negotiation with Urban Forestry Department, especially if a specimen tree is involved.

Developer begins work in May 2021

When the developer obtained a permit to begin work on the property in May, a 54-inch oak tree was to be preserved. In addition, a silt fence was erected to prevent clearing along a 50-foot margin from the lakefront to protect neighbors from noise and light pollution from Howell Branch Road.

54-inch oak takes the fall

On May 14, according to Parks and Recreation Director Jason Seeley, who oversees the City’s Urban Forestry Department, a subcontractor arrived with heavy equipment to clear the land. As the clearing began, the crews, unsupervised by the developer, proceeded to take down the silt fence, clear all the way to the lake front and cut down the large specimen oak.

Even after a Stop-Work order and a Code Violation were issued, City staff observed the contractors continuing to clear the land. The City contacted the developer directly, the Stop-Work order is still in place and work on the premises has halted.

Draft tree preservation ordinance planned

A draft Tree Preservation Ordinance has been approved by the Tree Preservation Board and is awaiting review by P&Z in July or August. Changes contemplated include a matrix that uses a range of species, conditions and sizes to generate a mitigation number. Mitigation is strengthened in some areas. For instance, the ordinance proposes separating residential from commercial and increases mitigation requirements for trees on residential property.

Most trees lost to residential development

We lose more trees to residential development than we do to commercial,” said Jason Seeley. “The biggest impact on trees over time is with residential development and building codes. When a small house is torn down to build a McMansion, we lose about 60 percent of available space for plantings on those residential lots. You just can’t plant your way out of that problem.”

Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio pointed out how important it is for alert residents to keep the City informed. “We have a very small Urban Forestry staff,” she said, “and they can’t be everywhere at once. In the case of the Howell Branch property, City staff was responding to neighbors who reported unpermitted activity on the site.”

In an email blast sent June 1, DeCiccio wrote about the proposed tree preservation ordinance. “This revision has several more steps to go through before it reaches a final form to be voted on by the City Commission,” she wrote. “The ultimate aim is to codify an easy-to-understand mitigation / compensation scheme reflective of the value that the citizens of Winter Park place on their trees.

“The tree canopy is an integral part of what makes Winter Park so special. The more we know, the better we can protect this precious resource.”


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Open Letter to Mayor and Commissioners

Open Letter to Mayor and Commissioners

Open Letter to Mayor and Commissioners

We Need More Quiet Zones – Protect Progress Point

by Guest Columnist Charley Williams / May 26, 2021

A friendly reminder. Just a few steps away from the Progress Point site sits Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, which has been stripped of well over 20 percent of its natural green space to make way for the Library-Events Center.

You have a chance to even the score and sooth sore feelings by using Progress Point to restore to our community some of that lost passive green space. Yet, it’s beginning to sound like you plan turn it into some sort of Church Street Station retail-a-palooza.

The entire length of Orange Ave is already a retail zone, and half of Progress Point is already slated to become parking.

How about using what’s left for a park bench with shade trees, bike racks, yoga mats, a drinking fountain, and a pond or fountain? But, please, a park bench without a discarded paper taco tray sitting on it, without a half-full soft drink can underneath it and without a nearby trash can overflowing with IPA cans. And without canned music spilling from a food court.

We do not need to be entertained 24/7. Parks, by definition, don’t need to be “activated.” What we need is the viewshed. What we need is some relative peace and quiet. We need to able to hear ourselves think. We would like to enjoy the natural light.

We have only one Progress Point. For the sake of the soul of our city and the souls who live here, honor it by keeping it green.

Please urge your designers to do better.

With appreciation for all you do.

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$13 Million in Stimulus Funds Earmarked for Winter Park

$13 Million in Stimulus Funds Earmarked for Winter Park

$13 Million in Stimulus Funds Earmarked for Winter Park

by Anne Mooney / May 11, 2021

Winter Park stands to receive almost $13 million in federal stimulus funds earmarked through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), providing us a rare opportunity to rebuild from the pandemic and to shape future programs.

Tomorrow’s Commission discussion is one you may want to tune into, as it could directly affect many people and organizations in Winter Park.

Commission will decide where to spend the money

At its Wednesday, May 12, meeting, the Commission will undertake to prioritize the allocation of ARP dollars, which they anticipate will arrive in two payments. The first payment of $7,426,723 should arrive this month, May 2021; the second payment in the same amount should come in May 2022. The ARP requires all funds to be expended by the end of 2024.

Some dollars are restricted

Although guidance from the Feds is oblique (surprise!), City staff estimates about $3 million may be spent on any purpose the City decides, as these funds are intended to replace losses incurred as a result of the pandemic. A suggestion in a federal document reads, in part: “(1)(A) “. . . assistance to households, small businesses, and non-profits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality.”

The remaining $10 million will be subject to restrictions imposed by the legislation. Clearly allowed are transfers of funds to non-profits, economic development studies, water and sewer enhancements and internet improvements.

Other infrastructure dollars under discussion at the federal level

Less clear is whether the City can use these funds for transportation improvements. City staff is monitoring discussions at the federal level of a separate $2 trillion infrastructure bill, as that money could fund transportation improvements that are not eligible under the ARP.

Thoughts from the April 28 workshop

On April 28, the Commission held a workshop to discuss setting priorities for ARP funds. Funding that can only be spent on eligible categories fell into four broad categories: 1) recurring non-profit partners, excluding Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center, 2) households and small businesses, 3) tourism, travel and hospitality, and 4) broadband.

Interesting among the categories was the discussion around “recurring non-profit partners.” First was the exclusion of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center, which will still get its promised $100,000, but no extra money from the ARP pot of dollars.

Local organizations will receive extra ARP dollars

Commissioners discussed using the ARP funds to add 50 percent to current City funding levels for each of the following non-profits. For further detail and exact dollar amounts, click here: Local Organizations

Winter Park Public Library

Historical Association

United Arts


Mead Garden

Winter Park Day Nursery

Blue Bamboo

Welbourne Day Nursery

Enzian Theater

Winter Park Playhouse

Depugh Nursing Home

Heritage Center (Crealde)

WPPL – just another non-profit?

The Winter Park Public Library, currently the recipient of the largest tranche of City dollars, could garner an additional $828,000 through the ARP – if it is treated the same as the other non-profits that receive City support. The question of whether or not to make the library a separate line item or to include it with the rest of the non-profits has yet to be answered.

“Apples and peaches,” says Weaver

“I would prefer the Commission discuss library funding from the ARP as a line item separate from the other non-profits,” said Commissioner Todd Weaver. “I don’t think we can compare the effect the pandemic had on the library with the effect it had on the other non-profits, which are dependent on sales or attendance at events. They are apples and peaches.”

Sullivan is of like mind.

“I am in favor of continuing the funding, which is approximately two-thirds of their budget,” said Commissioner Marty Sullivan. “However, it seems apparent that financial impact of COVID on the library would be less than on the other non-profits, because they already rely primarily on the City for their funding, whereas the others do not.”

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper said she thought it might be a good idea to consult one of the City Advisory Boards as to the appropriate allocation of funds among these groups.

Tune in tomorrow to find out.

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Join the ‘City Nature Challenge’ April 30 – May 3

Join the ‘City Nature Challenge’ April 30 – May 3

Join the ‘City Nature Challenge’ April 30 – May 3

Grab Your Phone, Take a Walk and Help Winter Park Plan Its Green Future

Guest Columnist Bob Morris / April 27, 2021

Walking around our neighborhood the other day, on the outskirts of Mead Botanical Garden, I spotted a couple of bright red fruitlike things growing on a scraggly vine in a stormwater ditch. They looked sort of like plum tomatoes but were tinier than my thumb. So I took a photo and uploaded it into my trusty sidekick of late – the iNaturalist app.

I’m not typically an app-grabbing kinda guy. Why accumulate more attention-sucking novelties when life is too cluttered as it is?

But the iNaturalist app? It’s free, and it’s one of the coolest things going. Especially, if like me, you enjoy walking around Winter Park, traipsing through our parks and along our lakes, taking in all the gorgeous stuff that deserves to be taken in and, much of the time, having absolutely no idea what you’re looking at. With iNaturalist, all you do is take a photo, load it into the app-osphere and up pops, if not a definitive i.d., then at least a solid suggestion based on similar sightings and reviews by a community of bona-fide naturalists, botanists, zoologists and scientists of every sort.

Sign up! Join in! The City Nature Challenge is April 30 – May 3.

More important: the iNaturalist app is an essential tool if you’d like to join in the upcoming City Nature Challenge (April 30-May 3), an international survey of urban biodiversity that Winter Park will be taking part in this year for the first time.

Let me put that in stronger terms: Sign up! Join in! Because keeping track of what’s living around us now will help determine how we all live in the future.

Discover our smaller Winter Park residents.

“Truth is, most of us don’t know and appreciate the pieces of nature that are all around us because our urban parks and green spaces are too often overlooked,” says Bob Bendick, of the Winter Park Land Trust, which is helping to organize identification of as many plant and animal species as possible within Winter Park as part of the City Nature Challenge. “Greenspace in cities is important habitat for a diversity of plants and animals.  Discovering that gives added meaning to our enjoyment of the outdoors and added direction to the conservation of our open space here in Winter Park and in other cities”.

What is the City Nature Challenge?

Launched in 2016 as a friendly competition between Los Angeles and San Francisco to see which city could tally the most sightings of plants and animals, the City Nature Challenge has grown into a worldwide event with tens of thousands of participants – most of them rank amateurs, like myself. Despite restrictions from Covid-19, the 41,000 participants in the 2020 City Nature Challenge still managed more than 815,000 observations and identified some 32,000 different plants and animals, plus 1,300 rare or endangered species. And this year, Winter Park and the rest of Orange County will join more than 300 participating cities around the world, from Adelaide, Australia to Zagreb, Croatia with places like Kisumu, Kenya and Tulsa, Oklahoma in between.

“Information collected during the City Nature Challenge will provide baseline data that will help form conservation and development guidelines for years to come,” says Christianah Oyenuga, of the Nature Conservancy in Florida, who is helping direct overall efforts in Orange County as part of the City Nature Challenge. “We count on community members of every age and background – our citizen scientists – to get out there and let us know what they see.”

Volunteers are still needed.

In Winter Park, volunteers in the City Nature Challenge will be roaming around a half dozen parks and green spaces taking photos of what they see over the course of the four-day event-– Mead Botanical Gardens, Martin Luther King Park, Howell Branch Preserve, Kraft Azalea Gardens, and Lakes Virginia and Mizell.  A team from Rollins College will be searching the Genius Preserve which is not open to the public. The City of Winter Park’s Parks Department is encouraging this survey and helping to support the City Nature Challenge event. To sign up, go to

“Winter Park residents are particularly sensitive to maintaining and improving the quality of life that we enjoy here. The City Nature Challenge is a great way for people who love Winter Park to take part in something that will add to the long-range vision, inform our elected officials and help guide our city,” says Steve Goldman, chair of the Winter Park Land Trust board of trustees.

Using the iNaturalist app

Using the iNaturalist app, I’ve discovered that among the many non-descript “weeds” that might otherwise go unnoticed on my walks is Calyptocarpus vialis, which has recently begun sporting the dainty yellow flowers that contribute to its common name – Straggler Daisy. And that strange pink earthworm I plucked from the caladium bed last week? Turns out it was actually a Florida Worm Lizard (Rhineura floridana.) They are the last living members of a family of legless, burrowing lizards that eat spiders and termites and are found only in Florida. Let’s just say, I didn’t put it on a hook and go fishing with it.

As for the bright red fruitlike things I spotted in the stormwater ditch? The jury is still out on that. “We are not confident enough to make a recommendation, but here are our top suggestions,” the iNaturalist app told me before going on to list a few possibilities – a Butcher’s Broom perhaps, or maybe a Christmas Berry. For now, though, I’m content to let it remain a mystery. It makes those walks around the neighborhood all the more interesting.

Volunteer now!

For more information about the City Nature Challenge and to sign up, please visit

or contact Bob Bendick at the Winter Park Land Trust at

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Killarney Estates – No Longer the ‘Forgotten Triangle’

Killarney Estates – No Longer the ‘Forgotten Triangle’

Killarney Estates – No Longer the ‘Forgotten Triangle’

Can the City Reunite the Neighborhood?

In late January, plans to build the Henderson Hotel in the triangle bordered by 17-92, Fairbanks Avenue and Lake Killarney, known as Killarney Estates, ran headlong up against Comprehensive Plan Policy 1-J-9, which reads, “Protect Single-Family Residential Use in the Killarney Neighborhood from Non-Residential Land Use Encroachment. The City shall preserve and protect the single-family residential land use within the Killarney neighborhood from commercial and office encroachment . . . .”

Just before midnight on January 27 — before the Commission could vote on Commissioner Marty Sullivan’s motion to deny – attorney for developer Adam Wonus withdrew the application to build the hotel. It was Game Over.

Killarney Neighborhood’s cut-through traffic

Despite the outcome for the Henderson, Adam Wonus’s two-year effort to win approval for his project produced some positive results for this neglected corner of Winter Park by shining a light on serious traffic problems and general infrastructure neglect by the City. For years, Killarney residents had been plagued by cut-through traffic trying to avoid the major intersection of 17-92 and Fairbanks Avenue, and the development of way-finding apps has only made matters worse as Waze and others direct drivers going from 17-92 to Fairbanks (or the reverse) through the back streets of the neighborhood.

City Planners to the rescue

When Adam Wonus began meeting with the Lake Killarney neighbors about his proposed hotel, they described their traffic woes and Wonus alerted City Planners to their need for help. Commissioners and City staff met with the neighbors and decided to field test a traffic barrier on the southern leg of the intersection of Killarney Dr. and Fairview Ave. The City also created a permanent physical separation of Grove Ave. from Dallas Ave. and Broadview Ave. Adam Wonus even paid for the planter bollards that formed the barrier at Killarney Drive and Fairview Ave.

The traffic calming measures worked, cut-through traffic has slowed to a trickle and most Killarney neighbors are living happily ever after.

Unintended Consequences – A Neighborhood Divided

The demise of the Henderson project, however, has left what would have been the commercial hotel property separated from the rest of the neighborhood. The successful measures to tame cut-through traffic in the residential area southwest of Fairview now separate that part of the neighborhood from the portion north and east of Fairview.

The northeast part of the neighborhood is a mix of residential, commercial and office, and part of it fronts on 17-92, but there are still residential lakefront parcels in that area which most of the Killarney neighbors and the all of the City Commission wish to protect from commercial development.

How to put the neighborhood back together?

At a special Commission meeting February 11, 2021, the Commission directed staff to come up with additional options to protect the residential lakefront property and to reintegrate those properties into the existing transportation network. City staff also has initiated negotiations with mapping companies to eliminate cut-through routes through the Killarney neighborhood.

Decisions on traffic solutions must be based on future land use

At the March 24 Commission meeting, Planning Department staff presented 12 possible solutions to the remaining traffic problems.

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper quickly pointed out how the cart may have gotten ahead of the horse. “There are very different possible traffic solutions, depending on what the land use is,” she said. “Before we talk about zoning, let’s talk about what future land use really makes sense on these five or six parcels. The traffic solution must be based on a resolution of future land use by this Commission.”

Commission agrees to future workshop to discuss future land use

Of the possible solutions to the traffic problems, the City’s first option describes measures that either are already in place or well into the planning stages. It includes the planter bollard barrier at Fairview and Killarney Dr., and a small park area that would cut off the connection between Broadview, Dallas and Grove Avenues. This area already has been cordoned off with temporary barriers and cones. The only thing missing was a funding source. To build the “parklet,” as it is called, the City had to find $165,000 in additional funds.

CRA or Parks Acquisition Fund?

Since the intersection of Broadview, Dallas and Grove falls within the CRA, money could come from CRA, or because it’s a ‘parklet,’ the money could come from the Parks Acquisition Fund.

Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio made a motion to move forward with this option, to leave the bollards as they are, build the ‘parklet’ with $165,000 from the Parks Acquisition Fund and to hold a workshop to discuss future land use and a more permanent traffic solution based on the future land use. Commissioner Todd Weaver seconded. Weaver amended the motion to add approximately $3,600 to reimburse Adam Wonus for the cost of the bollards, with a second from Commissioner Marty Sullivan.

The main motion, as amended, passed on a 5-0 vote.


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