A Decades-Old Debate

A Decades-Old Debate

A Decades-Old Debate

by Geri Throne / February 2022

To develop or not to develop; that’s a question Winter Park has debated for decades.

These days, with little unused space left in the city, the question has more to do with redevelopment. Should a golf course be developed as a subdivision? Should a lakefront residential lot become part of a commercial project? Should a swampy parcel be filled with dirt to build a home?

How the city should deal with such questions is the subject of six city charter amendments on the March 8 ballot. Five would set a higher bar for major land-use decisions involving wetlands construction, lakefront zoning, parks, residential density and the sale of city-owned property. A “supermajority” vote of 4-1 would be required for approval in certain situations, instead of a simple 3-2 majority. The sixth amendment would require an additional public hearing if a project changes considerably after it was submitted.

Sentiment for and against the amendments is evident. E-mails are clogging inboxes. Signs are popping up all over town.

Opponents sympathetic to development say the amendments set too high a bar and would make future land-use change impossible. Supporters concerned about preserving the city’s character say the amendments wouldn’t stop growth but would result in more compromise and public involvement for major changes.

PAST CLASHES OVER DEVELOPMENT

Tension between commercial and residential priorities has a long history in Winter Park. In the 1950s, as Interstate 4 was being designed, a push to extend Lee Road to downtown Winter Park failed as a result of residents’ objections. A decade later, neighborhood opposition squelched the dream of two consecutive mayors who wanted highway bridges built over Lakes Osceola and Killarney. The mayors’ priority was to move traffic easily to the new university east of the city.

Every decade since has seen clashes over land use. In the 1970s, the battle was over building heights. In later years, it was over road widenings, new subdivisions and the expansions of such established entities as the Winter Park YMCA, the Winter Park Hospital and Rollins College.

In the late 2000s, the biggest issues were the proposed SunRail commuter train and the Carlisle mixed-use high-rise. SunRail and its downtown station prevailed. The Carlisle – a massive condominium and retail building – didn’t. The high-rise would have loomed over Central Park in the current Post Office location. A two-year fight ended with the city buying out the developer with reserve funds and residents’ donations.

THE CURRENT CHARTER DEBATE

Among those supporting the charter changes are all current city commissioners and 1000 Friends of Florida, an organization that advocates for smart growth. The nonprofit group, which endorsed all six amendments, has advocated for a decade for supermajority votes when land-use changes can affect a city’s unique sense of place. Last year, it reaffirmed its support of supermajority votes. Its president, Paul Owens, said such changes “should have the highest level of support” and deserve more than a simple 3-2 majority. You can find the 1000 Friends of Florida document here.

Other amendment supporters say a 3-2 vote is too easy for major land-use changes unlikely to be reversed. Take the sale of rare city-owned land, says Winter Park Mayor Phil Anderson. “Once sold, the opportunity to use it for vital city operations is gone.” The same irreversibility applies to rezoning parks, he says, noting that currently it would take only three commission votes to decide to sell the West Meadow of Central Park and rezone it for offices and condos.

Anderson notes the importance of carefully considering land-use changes that could affect property values and alter the city’s quality of life. For such changes to pass with a 4-1 vote, commissioners would have to discuss them thoroughly and reach consensus. Compromise would be likely.

Opponents of the charter changes include former mayors Steve Leary and Ken Bradley and former commissioners Pete Weldon and Sara Sprinkel. Weldon filed last month to create the Winter Park Governance political action committee, which mailed out fliers against the amendments. The bulk of the PAC’s budget was contributed by real-estate developer Allan E. Keen’s company, Keewin LLC, which gave $10,000.

Weldon’s posts online describe the issue through the lens of past commission decisions. He accuses the current commission of being afraid that its use of Progress Point on Orange Avenue as a park could be overturned in the future. He sees the amendment on lakefront lots to be tied to the since-abandoned proposal for a hotel on Lake Killarney. The amendment dealing with residential density increases arose from the Orange Avenue Overlay debate, he says.

The amendments “will deter investment, paralyze Winter Park, and make serving on the city commission meaningless,” Weldon said in a Jan. 6 post.

SUPERMAJORITY VOTES NOT NEW

Central Florida is no stranger to supermajority votes. Neighboring Seminole County, for example, recently required them to dispose of natural land that the county obtained for conservation.

Supermajority votes aren’t new to Winter Park either. Previously, the city code required them for such decisions as changes to the city’s comprehensive land-use plan. But that requirement was dropped in 2013 when Ken Bradley was mayor. All mention of supermajority votes was scrubbed from the code.

Dropping the code requirements was easy because code changes need only the vote of three commissioners.

Changing the city charter, however, is much harder. Commissioners must ask voters for approval. So, if a majority of city voters approve the amendments this election, it would take a majority of city voters to remove them in the future. Think of the charter as a local constitution. It defines the essentials of how a city government works, its organization, powers and functions. Voters alone can amend it.

In the March 8 election, Winter Park voters will decide whether to set that high bar for major zoning and land-use changes in the future.

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Will City Hall Be Designated a Historic Landmark?

Will City Hall Be Designated a Historic Landmark?

Will City Hall Be Designated a Historic Landmark?

Commission Will Vote on Resolution at Jan. 26 Meeting

by Anne Mooney / January 23, 2022

The Historic Preservation Board has brought forward its unanimous recommendation that the City of Winter Park add Winter Park City Hall to its Register of Historic Places. The Commission will vote on the resolution at the January 26 meeting. Readers are urged to let Commissioners know their thoughts by writing mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org

Designed by Unique Architects Collaborative

Built in 1964, Winter Park City Hall was designed by the Winter Park Architects Collaborative, a group of local architects with national reputations. They were George Tuttle, Jr., John Langley, James Gamble Rogers II, Nils Schweizer, Gordon Orr, Jr., Clifford Wright and Fred Owles, Jr.

Mid-Century Modern Architecture

The City Hall building is a classic example of Mid-Century Modern architectural style. The two-story scale is compatible with the village scale of Park Avenue. Generous setbacks from Lyman and Park Avenues mirror the open green space of Central Park.

Roof Raised in 1978

Originally, the west wing of City Hall was one story, but in 1978 that structure was increased to two stories by raising the 80-ton roof some 14 feet to create the City Hall we see today.

City Hall Meets the Criteria for Historic Designation

To be designated a historic landmark, a building must possess “a quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture. . . .” The building also must fit at least one of the following additional criteria:

  • An association with historic events, or
  • An association with the lives of significant persons, or
  • Possess high artistic values, or
  • Represent a significant and distinguishable entity . . . .

A great deal of history has been created within those walls over the past 57 years. The Architects’ Collaborative is a unique effort and the style of the building they created is significant, especially to those of us who live in Winter Park.

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New WPPL Opens for Business

New WPPL Opens for Business

New WPPL Opens for Business

by Anne Mooney / December 15, 2021

On a cloudless Florida morning, December 11, Winter Park dignitaries were joined by an estimated 1,500 men, women, children, and dogs for the Ribbon Cutting ceremony officially opening the new Winter Park Public Library at 1052 W. Morse Blvd.

The speeches, which always come before everything else, included remarks by the architect, Sir David Adjaye, who was present for the ceremony. Following the speeches, the ceremonial book transfer from the old library to the new took place as Mikayla Miller rode in on the Book Bike, escorted by a marching band.

Once the ribbon was severed, more than a thousand people flowed through the doors of the new library, where there was something for everyone – from roving Marvel superheroes and Star Wars storm troopers to virtual reality and a live discussion between Sir David Adjaye and Library Director Sabrina Bernat.

 

Architect Sir David Adjaye

 

Crowd takes in opening remarks.

 

Mikayla Miller transfers the ceremonial book from the old library to the new.

 

Architect Sir David Adjaye and WPPL Director Sabrina Bernat discuss the new Winter Park Library.

 

Making sure everyone’s safe.

 

Superheroes – always there to help out.

 

Meanwhile, on the second floor in the children’s section . . .

 

Kids section is not just for short people – although they’ve made their mark.

 

Checking out the Computer Lab.

 

Kids’s section filled with mulit-media.

 

The new library is now a reality — virtual and otherwise.

 

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Local Author Geri Throne to Discuss Debut Novel at WPPL Virtual Author Salon

Local Author Geri Throne to Discuss Debut Novel at WPPL Virtual Author Salon

Local Author Geri Throne to Discuss Debut Novel at WPPL Virtual Author Salon

Co-hosted by the Winter Park Library and the Winter Park Voice, the library’s new online “Virtual Author Salon” will feature local author Geri Throne as she discusses her debut novel, Secret Battles, on Tuesday, December 7, 6:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Throne, now retired from a career as a reporter and editor at the Orlando Sentinel, is a frequent contributor to the Voice. Secret Battles is her first work of fiction.

In Secret Battles, a work of historical fiction inspired by Throne’s parents’ World War II experience, Throne explores war’s toll on faith and truth as a young couple, separated by war for more than three years, struggles to choose which secrets to keep from each other and which truths to reveal.

The author’s talk, moderated by Winter Park Voice editor Anne Mooney, will be followed by a live audience Q & A.

To join the Zoom meeting:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84268843877?pwd=amRIbTAvak1Dei9wcnBzekc4ZTZ4Zz09

Meeting ID: 842 6884 3877

Passcode: 947331

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Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

Love ‘em or Leave ‘em?

by Janet Hommel / October 4, 2021

If the reverie of your peaceful morning walk has ever been shattered by the reverberations of a leaf blower, or if you’ve been jolted awake when your neighbor’s lawn crew fired up, or if your Zoom meeting was drowned out by a landscaper working directly beneath your office window, help could be on the way.

Hundreds of cities across the country have significantly curtailed or even banned the use of landscaping tools powered by noisy two-stroke gas engines.  Leading the way were cities in California, beginning in the 1970s.  Places in the northeast followed suit.  Now even municipalities in Florida have jumped on the bandwagon to improve the quality of life for their residents — cities like Palm Beach, Key Biscayne and Naples.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way . . . but is there the will?

Recently, the City of Winter Park emailed residents a comprehensive survey about leaf blowers. The survey is still on the City website, and the link will be live through October 6. If you haven’t yet completed the survey, you can do so by clicking here.

The Keep Winter Park Beautiful and Sustainable Advisory Board created the survey to gauge residents’ sentiments regarding the possibility of imposing new restrictions on the types of leaf blowers used and/or the hours of operation.

If the will is there, citizens must take the lead

If the use of gas leaf blowers is to be curtailed in Winter Park, citizens must lead the way. City leaders generally have little appetite for imposing new restrictions unless residents are clamoring for them. It is up to all of us to educate ourselves, understand the tradeoffs and tell City leaders what we think.

What’s so bad about leaf blowers anyway . . . besides the awful noise?

The source of the problem is the antiquated two stroke engine design which has little improved since the early 1900s. These relics of the past slosh around a mixture and oil and gas then spew out up to one-third of the fuel mixture in a toxic aerosol. Ever notice that scent of benzene wafting in the air near a lawn crew? This is even more dangerous for the worker than it is for the environment.

Jim Fallows wrote in the April 2019 Atlantic magazine, “By 2020, gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and similar equipment in the state could produce more ozone pollution than all the millions of cars in California combined. Two-stroke engines are that dirty. Cars have become that clean.“

The noise is inescapable

Gas-powered leaf blowers are demonstrably too loud. It is not unusual for backpack blowers to register up to 110 decibels near the operator. This is not safe. OSHA permits exposure up to 90 dBA for an 8-hour day. For each 5 dBA over that, exposure time must be cut in half. Do the math — OSHA does not permit workers to be exposed to the level of noise emitted by backpack gas blowers for more than 30 minutes a day. Studies show work crews will experience hearing loss after about 10 years of use.

Gas-powered blowers emit a low-frequency sound that seems to follow you everywhere.  Unlike high pitched noises, like drills, the racket from gas blowers travels a long distance and penetrates walls and windows. There is no escaping this noise unless you get in your car and drive to Starbucks, praying that they too are not seizing the opportunity to blow clear the premises.

If gas-powered blowers are bad, why do landscape contractors love them?

Three guesses. It’s the bottom line. The fastest, and therefore cheapest, way for a landscape contractor to move debris is not with a rake and broom or with an electric blower, it’s with that ear-splitting, particulate-spewing gas blower. And if the majority of Winter Park residents are more worried about the size of their landscaping bills than they are about worker safety, the environment and the general quality of life, we might as well stop talking right now.

Are battery-powered blowers quieter?

Electric blowers are much quieter, but don’t expect silence. They still create some noise, just not that wall-piercing low-frequency noise generated by the two-stroke motors in gas-powered leaf blowers.

How does performance stack up to gas?

While the performance of battery-powered equipment is catching up, they are not yet able to blow 200-MPH winds out the end of the nozzle. They are great for clearing dry clippings, but moving heavier wet debris may take longer. And time is money.

The biggest problem with battery blowers is the initial capital expense for contractors.  The batteries are expensive.  And with the current state of technology, a contractor will either need to invest in multiple batteries or use a generator.

Naples, FL is currently undergoing the transition to battery-powered blowers. David Mahl, a Naples-based landscape contractor with a 10-man crew explained the tradeoffs of switching to electric. He said it cost him about $10,000 to buy new equipment. He is not happy with the monetary costs of the switch, but understands it is the wave of the future and that all landscaping tools will eventually be battery operated. He had feared clients might find the results not as tidy but, so far, clients are happy with quieter blowers. He hasn’t decided if needs to pass along a price increase.

Sound off

Two-stroke engines have been regulated out of use in almost all other applications. Lawn equipment for homeowners is already trending toward battery power, but landscape contractors are dragging their feet. No one wants to incur the expense of switching when the competition can keep using cheap, noise-polluting equipment.  That’s where Winter Park has to step in.

If you want some peace and quiet, let your Mayor and Commissioners know. Write  mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org

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City Adopts COVID Vaccine Policy

City Adopts COVID Vaccine Policy

City Adopts COVID Vaccine Policy

Protects City Workers & Residents

by Anne Mooney / September 9, 2021

On Sept. 9, the Orlando Sentinel reported a story titled “Unvaccinated employees face firing.”

In fact, termination of employment would be the last resort, and would not take place without due process. The City’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing policy is clearly laid out in a document in the September 8 Commission Meeting Agenda Packet. Highlights of that policy are below, and are anything but draconian.

COVID-19 Requirements

The City’s COVID-19 testing policy states, “All City employees are required no later than September 20, 2021 to either (a) establish that they have been fully vaccinated . . . or (b) produce weekly negative COVID-19 test results . . . . Vaccination and/or testing is required even if an employee previously tested positive for COVID-19. . . . To facilitate employees receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, the City will allow employees to attain the vaccine while on duty. . . .”

Testing Procedures for City Employees

City policy goes on to state: “Employees who do not provide documentation establishing that they are fully vaccinated shall be required to undergo diagnostic testing once weekly. . . .”

Testing will be scheduled by the City, paid for by the City at a City-approved location during the employee’s working hours. An employee who prefers to be tested off-hours at their own expense must use an FDA approved PCR or antigen test and provide the results to Human Resources.

Employees who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to quarantine in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Failure to comply

Effective September 27, employees who do not provide proof of full vaccination and who fail to provide a negative COVID-19 test weekly may be placed on unpaid leave until they provide proof of full vaccination and/or a negative test result. These employees may be subject to discipline up to and including discharge from employment. Employees seeking medical or religious accommodation should contact Human Resources. Falsification of immunization documentation, test results or accommodation request will be grounds for dismissal.

City falls short of 65 percent goal

On August 2, the City announced a voluntary employee COVID-19 vaccination incentive to encourage unvaccinated employees to become fully vaccinated by September 20. Education and incentives, however, failed to convince enough employees to become vaccinated. At the September 8 Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight reported 218 City employees had submitted proof of full vaccination – 35 employees short of the 316 employees it would take to reach the 65 percent threshold of 316 employees.

Acknowledging its responsibility to its employees to provide a work environment conducive to the safe delivery of City services, the City has implemented the policy outlined above.

What is ‘herd immunity’?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) website, herd immunity occurs when a given disease ceases to spread among a population. In terms of population percentage required, herd immunity is different for each disease. Herd immunity for measles is 95 percent, while for polio the threshold is 80 percent. No one yet knows what herd immunity is for COVID-19, only that we’re nowhere near it.

Asked for his opinion about the current vaccination policy, Commissioner Marty Sullivan had this to say. “From a personal standpoint, polio extremely affected our family when my sister got it in 1948. After that, there was no question about vaccines. When they became available, we just did it. No questions asked.

“The Salk vaccine eradicated polio in this country because, all at once, everyone got the vaccine. If we had all gotten vaccinated against COVID-19 early on, we could have avoided the Delta variant breakthrough.

Sullivan went on to explain, “The Salk vaccine was released in 1955. By 1957, after mass vaccinations, the number of cases recorded annually in the U.S. fell from 58,000 to 5,600 cases. By 1961, the U.S. recorded only 161 cases. We will be living with COVID-19 for as long as people refuse to get vaccinated. Not a good prospect for us.”

 

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