Golf carts are fun, but are they street-legal in Winter Park?

Golf carts are fun, but are they street-legal in Winter Park?

Golf carts are fun, but are they street-legal in Winter Park?

Here’s what to know to about legal low-speed vehicles and how to avoid fines up to $500

July 17, 2024

By Charles Maxwell

Once only used along Central Florida’s fairways and greens, golf carts are now commonplace on Winter Park’s brick roads. 

Residents like Jason Bristol find them a quick and easy way to travel to Park Avenue or even to Park Maitland School. 

“I bought my first one back in 2005, and I’ve owned a total of five,” said Bristol, who lives in Baldwin Park. “I’ve been using it so long, I know all the backroads and take it everywhere- I’ve even valeted it downtown (in Orlando).”

But not everyone is as educated as Bristol when it comes to using the street legal version of golf carts known as low-speed vehicles. 

That left city officials on a years-long campaign to make people aware of the difference and, more recently, for Mayor Sheila DeCiccio to ask the city attorney for a report on potential liability related to golf cart accidents. 

Winter Park police chief Tim Volkerson and the department are actively working to remove golf carts from Winter Park roads.

“We went through a period of time where there was an influx of [illegal] golf carts being operated on the roadway,” Volkerson said. “While I do not have specific numbers, the agency did conduct an enforcement/education period, which was successful in reducing those operating golf carts on the roadway.”

The city posted a guide for residents to help them understand the differences between the legal and the illegal versions. Drivers can face up to $500 fines for operating an illegal cart on the roadway.

The street-legal kind must have a Vehicle Identification Number and features such as a seat belt for each seat, brake lights, turn signals, side mirrors and a windshield. Owners are required to have insurance and register the vehicles and operators must have a driver’s license. 

They are permitted on city streets with a speed limit of 35 mph or less. 

Standard golf carts don’t have all of those features, can be driven by anyone 14 and older and in most cities like Winter Park, can only be used on golf courses. (Some places, like the Villages, allow golf carts on roads.)

Volkerson says there have been no cases of severe injury or death involving a golf cart in Winter Park. But DeCiccio has monitored the situation closely and heard complaints from some residents about golf carts and LSVs. 

In an article DeCiccio published last fall, she noted “the most common observation is the reckless driving and age of the drivers and occupants,” with residents claiming to have seen minors operating LSVs, with as many as six people per cart.

Bristol, who owns a street-legal cart and has five kids, said his family now much prefers taking their six-passenger LSV around town over their car. 

And he’s noticed plenty of other people seem to have the same idea. Once one of only a few residents with an LSV in his neighborhood, he’s noticed their use on the rise: “Literally everyone has them now.”

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Charles Maxwell graduated from Winter Park High School and Florida Atlantic University with a BA in Multimedia Studies. His work has appeared in the South Florida Sun Sentinel and The Boca Raton Tribune, and he is a contributing writer for Keeping it Heel on the FanSided network. He enjoys watching sports, finding new food spots, and playing pickleball with friends and family.

 

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Growing a community: Residents advocate for public garden

Growing a community: Residents advocate for public garden

Growing a community: Residents advocate for public garden

City works with nonprofit affordable housing organization to improve volunteer garden program

July 17, 2024

By Zoey Thomas

When Rolesia Barton got a call from The Meadows Apartments approving her public housing application, her life changed.

“It literally saved me and my sons from the destitution of homelessness,” she said.

The U.S. Army veteran, 44, still lives at The Meadows with her two sons eight years later. A former South Carolina resident, Barton is always looking for ways to find community in Winter Park, she said. Two years ago, she found the perfect outlet: managing a community garden.

Barton now grows plants from habanero peppers to hibiscus flowers in her complex’s courtyard for residents to pick, cook and enjoy — for free. But the project hasn’t reached its full potential, she said. That’s largely because Barton funds the garden out of her own pocket.

After a trip to City Hall last month, Barton is working with city leaders to turn her garden from a passion project into a communitywide resource.

The Meadows, just west of the Ravaudage development off U.S. 17-92, opened in 1975 to house low-income Central Florida families. The building is one of six managed today by the city-supported nonprofit Winter Park Housing Authority.

Housing Authority management invited Fleet Farming, a nonprofit urban agriculture program, to deliver nine garden beds to The Meadows about three years ago, Barton said. But after the plots were set up in the building’s courtyard, no one took the initiative to care for them, she said.

“I was walking across the garden, and me and my son were walking past the bananas, and he was like, ‘Man, these bananas are going to die,’” she said. “And I said, ‘They just need food, and they’ll be all right.’”

The building manager at the time overheard Barton’s conversation and asked if she’d be interested in taking over the garden, she said. Barton jumped at the chance.

She originally had about 10 volunteers helping her, she said. But the number eventually dwindled until only Barton and her two teenage boys remained.

Barton didn’t give up. She continued working alone, turning the nine garden beds left by Fleet Farming into a sprawling 600-square foot horticultural expanse in two years.

“I want to put my foot in where I can see there’s something lacking,” she said. “You want some basil for your spaghetti, we’ve got it out here. You want lemongrass for your tea, we’ve got it out here. You don’t have to go and buy that stuff — it just helps people to save money.”

Barton went to her first City Commission meeting to ask for support in June. She got the idea after talking with Equity Council Corp president LaWanda Thompson for advice, she said.

Thompson, 46, is a longtime community advocate. She proposed building a community supported agriculture garden in the historically Black Hannibal Square neighborhood to commissioners in 2020 and again in 2022. 

Community supported agriculture, or CSA, gardens were first developed by Black farmers in the 1950s to foster relationships between farmers and local residents. Thompson hoped to manage a mixture of staff and volunteers at her own proposed CSA. Food produced would go mainly toward feeding the area’s disadvantaged senior citizen population, she said.  

But commissioners never gave Thompson the land or financial support she requested.

“My issue with Winter Park is they care about land, developers and parking more than actually helping the community,” she said.

Thompson’s proposal was “quite ambitious,” said Commissioner Marty Sullivan in an email to the Voice. Thompson did not act on the details necessary to initiate the project, he said. 

Thompson told Sullivan the garden could operate on 0.3 acres with $120,000 in start-up funding in an email July 2022. Her nonprofit, Equity Council Corp, would manage the garden, pay staff and recruit volunteers, she said.

Because her own project never left the ground, Thompson warned Barton she wouldn’t find support from the city if she asked for help at The Meadows, Barton said. But when Barton said she wanted to attend a commission meeting anyway, Thompson joined her.

The two women spoke during public comment. Barton introduced herself to commissioners and asked their support for one of her most pressing needs: a fence to surround the garden. Thompson then urged commissioners to help. 

“When residents like Ms Barton want to power through and do more with the garden, if she needs tools, if she needs fertilizer, if she needs seeds, whatever she needs, she shouldn’t have to fund that out of her own pocket,” Thompson said. “That is shameful.”

To Barton’s surprise, she received positive feedback immediately, she said. Sullivan visited Barton at The Meadows to discuss next steps for the garden three weeks later. 

Rolesia Barton works in the community garden at the Meadows Apartments in Winter Park. Photo: Zoey Thomas

Barton’s small volunteer-based garden posed an easier target for assistance than Thompson’s community supported agriculture model, Sullivan said.

“A CSA is a group of people that contribute money for a farm,” he said. “It’s a real business operated with intensive labor and expense.”

Although Thompson’s idea never materialized, Sullivan looks forward to helping Barton with her her garden at The Meadows — a garden he didn’t know existed before she spoke up at public comment, he said.

The garden’s most pressing current needs include a fence to keep out critters and prevent theft; a better lighting system, so Barton can keep an eye on the plants at night; and a larger volunteer pool, maybe drawing from neighboring high schools. Sullivan offered to talk with city staff about making the requests happen.

All Winter Park Housing Authority buildings have community gardens, although none are as large as The Meadow’s, said Winter Park Housing Authority Interim Director Tarena Grant, who also attended the meeting with Sullivan.

Taking the lead on volunteering initiatives, especially ones that promote food security, helps tenants build self-sufficiency, Grant said. She asked Sullivan to look into also improving lighting at Tranquil Terrace and The Plymouth, two other Housing Authority properties, which both serve seniors.

“It’s about tapping into strengths of resident volunteers,” she said. “We look forward to working with the city … we’re open to however they see best to streamline the process.”

Barton, for her part, envisions a network among all Winter Park community gardens, she said. If one garden needed a specific plant or gardening tool, they could share among themselves — building community while doing so, she said.

Community gardens aren’t new to Winter Park. Our Whole Community, an organization of multiple local Christian churches including St. Margaret Mary and St. Mary Magdalen, has run a community garden just south of Depugh Nursing Center, off of Park Avenue, since 2010.

But the garden’s leader, Olive Mackey, 73, said the garden doesn’t produce enough food to feed a family — much less a community, as Barton hopes to accomplish with her own project. The Our Whole Community lot holds 21 wooden garden beds, which are rented out to individual gardeners in exchange for free compost, mulch and garden education events.

Mackey, a retired Department of Agriculture employee and UF Institute of Food and Agriculture professor, said community gardening benefits the spirit as well as the body.

“I don’t know anybody who has not felt good when they see something grow that they grew themselves,” she said.

The next step for the Winter Park Housing Authority garden will take place when Barton and her building directors meet with the city’s Sustainability Division July 24. With her garden’s future growing before her eyes, Barton said her only regret is not going to City Hall sooner.

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Your vote-by-mail request expired. It’s time to request another

Your vote-by-mail request expired. It’s time to request another

Your vote-by-mail request expired. It's time to request another

A state law that took effect in 2021 means that voters who want to cast a ballot by mail must make that request after each general election cycle

July 13, 2024

By Beth Kassab

If you haven’t requested your vote-by-mail ballot, the deadline to do so is looming.

Requests to cast a mail ballot must be made by Aug. 8 at 5 p.m. for the Aug. 20 primary election. The deadline to switch parties or newly register to vote in the primary is July 22.  (For information about what will be on your ballot check the supervisor’s site here and the Voice’s race preview here.)

The Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office reports that it has received nearly 8,000 new vote-by-mail requests since late June for a total of 82,838 requests.

But that total is still less than half of what it was in 2022, according to the supervisor’s office.

Officials think this is because voters are still learning they must re-submit mail requests as a result of a 2021 state law that says those requests expire after each federal general election. That means previous vote-by-mail requests expired on Dec. 31, 2022.

“Thanks to the great work of our staff, we have already started processing vote-by-mail ballots for the primary and will be sending them out very soon,” said Orange County Supervisor of Elections Glen Gilzean in a news release. “While there is still plenty of time to request a vote-by-mail ballot, the deadline is now less than a month away.”

Gilzean is also reminding voters to update their signatures if they believe it could have changed due to age, injury or illness. Voters can find instructions on how to update their signature on the “Vote-By-Mail” section of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections website under “Signature Updates.” 

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City budget talks kick off with modest increase in spending proposed

City budget talks kick off with modest increase in spending proposed

City budget talks kick off with modest increase in spending proposed

Commissioners will be called on to set priorities in coming weeks

July 12, 2024

By Beth Kassab

Residents got a first glimpse at next year’s city budget — a $214.6 million proposal with a 3% or $6 million increase over the current year as property taxes remain a key driver of growth in the general fund.

The plan calls for the city to maintain the same property tax rate its held for 16 years, though residents will see additional fee increases for trash pick-up as a result of a contract negotiated last year and there are signals pointing to more fee increases for other services ahead.

Public safety remains the biggest expenditure in the general fund, rising from about 35% in 2024 to more than 42% in the new budget. The increase comes with four new proposed positions, including two new firefighters/emergency medical technicians, a fire logistics manager and a police grant and accreditation manager that will be upgraded from a part-time to a full-time position.

While inflation continues to put pressure on wages and building costs, the city’s general fund will see almost 7% growth to nearly $83 million as a result of increases in home values, fees for services and Winter Park’s share of the state sales tax. Other funds are flat or seeing declines.

The city’s proposed budget shows where dollars are coming from in the general fund. Source: City of Winter Park budget documents

The water utility, for example, is expected to see declining cash flow as inflation pushes up the costs to maintain the system, according to the budget presentation. The water rates customers pay are driven by the state’s regulatory agency called the Public Service Commission, but the index for regular increases are “are likely insufficient to handle future demand for investment,” the presentation said.

In addition, the city-owned electric utility will “likely need to consider a rate increase” next year due to higher costs within the power portfolio.

Also at play is the future of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which uses a portion of county tax dollars to fund projects in a special district that covers downtown. The city is looking to the county to extend the CRA (which otherwise would sunset in four years) and expand its borders, but the Orange County Commission has yet to take up the matter.

Overall, there are about $126 million worth of projects in the city’s 25-year plan that don’t currently have a funding source attached to them. That means commissioners will need to continue to set priorities and make choices about how to manage the competing interests that come from wanting to maintain relatively low property taxes and fees for residents with improving services, infrastructure and amenities.

The proposed budget set aside a contingency of about $450,000, roughly the same as last year. The city’s reserves are expected to grow to about $21.2 million or about 27% of the recurring annual operating costs in the general fund, the proposal says. It would take about $2.7 million more to reach the goal of 30%.

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Blue Bamboo earns final approval to lease old Winter Park Library building

Blue Bamboo earns final approval to lease old Winter Park Library building

Blue Bamboo earns final approval to lease old Winter Park Library building

Mayor Sheila DeCiccio cast the only vote against the lease

July 12, 2024

By Zoey Thomas

The Winter Park City Commission voted 4-1 on Wednesday to allow Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts to move into the former Winter Park Public Library.

Mayor Sheila DeCiccio cast the sole vote against the new lease with the jazz club, although she said she wished its owners the “very best” and offered to help if the situation doesn’t work out.

DeCiccio questioned Blue Bamboo’s financial viability as a tenant during the first hearing about the lease in June. She ultimately voted for it during the previous meeting after it became clear there was not enough support on the Commission for a competing bid from Rollins College to convert the old library into an art museum. 

At least one hurdle remains before Blue Bamboo can move forward with retrofitting the library building. Commissioners must approve a zoning change for the land, a potentially controversial move because the property is zoned for residential uses and needs a new designation that allows for commercial use. 

Commissioners appeared poised to accept a recommendation from Planning & Zoning Director Allison McGillis, who said the land could be changed to a zoning called PQP or public and quasi-public.

To do so, commissioners will also need to change existing PQP rules to allow city-owned PQP properties to operate as commercial venues.

Commissioner Marty Sullivan said he wanted to avoid setting a “bad precedent” of rezoning residential buildings. But he also pointed out the property operated as a library for decades and wasn’t used for housing before that, either.

“It’s never been residential,” he said. “In this case, I don’t believe that precedent is really something that is of concern.”

Vice Mayor Todd Weaver agreed, pointing out the Alfond Inn, a hotel and event space, is next door to the building. 

But former Winter Park Mayor Phil Anderson, who left office in April, stood up during public comment to oppose the change.

Rezoning the building will allow alcohol sales on the premises and let Blue Bamboo rent office space to organizations that may or may not be nonprofits, he said.

“No matter how you cut it, this is a dramatic change in use,” he said.

The zoning change is set to go before the Planning & Zoning Board in the coming weeks and then will go back before the City Commission for final approval.

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Medical office approved on corner of Aloma and Lakemont

Medical office approved on corner of Aloma and Lakemont

Medical office approved on corner of Aloma and Lakemont

The project led by a group of physicians will bring development to the long vacant lot

July 2, 2024

By Beth Kassab

A new medical office building will stand at the empty corner at Lakemont and Aloma avenues after the City Commission unanimously approved the project with conditions late last month.

Residents objected to the height of the building and raised questions about traffic, particularly left-hand turns, but commissioners settled on conditions that they said would alleviate many of the concerns.

The nearly 18,000-square-foot proposal for the two-story building came after Verax Investments purchased the land from Fifth Third Bank earlier this year for about  $2.7 million, according to property records. Verax is a real estate development group led by a group of local physicians including Dr. Ravi Gandhi, a well-known brain surgeon with Orlando Neurosurgery.

The development will herald a major change for the last wooded parcel of the intersection.

“We all know that SR 426 is broken,” said resident Beth Hall. “Please don’t let this be the commission that breaks Lakemont.”

The developers agreed to preserve two live oak trees on the property.

They also agreed to build a 6-foot high wall on the edge of the property that backs up to residential lawns and the wall must be constructed before the building is started.

Among other conditions, the developers will also post signs prohibiting left-hand turns out of the property and give over a strip of the land to the city to eventually widen Lakemont. .

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