Open Letter to Current Mayor & Commissioners

Open Letter to Current Mayor & Commissioners

Open Letter to Current Mayor & Commissioners

Do not blow this opportunity again. Now is the time for the Post Office!

Guest Columnist Sally Flynn / June 20, 2021

On June 9, the Orlando Sentinel published a letter from six former Winter Park mayors cautioning the current Winter Park Commission against acquiring the Winter Park Post Office property for the purpose of expanding Central Park.

I do not care what these past mayors think about how we should spend our money, and I don’t believe most Winter Park citizens do, either.

In 1886, When Charles Hosmer Morse deeded the land that is now Central Park to the City, that deed came with a restriction protecting the park from commercial use or development. For 135 years, Winter Parkers have honored that restriction and have taken pride in enhancing and expanding the park.

Protecting the Park

Over the years, City leaders have created a web of local ordinances to protect the park. In 1999, a citizens’ initiative put in place a prohibition to keep the City from building on land in or adjacent to Central Park. In 2009, the height of properties affecting the open vista of Central Park was limited to two stories. In 2011, the downtown area that includes Park Avenue, Central Park and the Post Office was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 2016 Visioning process, Winter Park residents stated unequivocally that one of their top priorities is the expansion of green space within our community.

City has long history of effort to acquire the Post Office

In 2014, then-Congressman John Mica arranged a meeting with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the City, and a series of productive negotiations commenced. The USPS agreed to allow their facilities to be separated between a downtown retail facility and a separate distribution facility. This made the project more affordable and was agreeable to both the City and USPS.

USPS was willing to move

By January 2015, negotiations had progressed. USPS Vice-president of Facilities wrote in response to City Manager Randy Knight’s suggestion of a particular site, “Randy, after completing a few layouts, we believe that the site has high potential of working for us (subject to a 30% design). I think you should proceed with your discussion with the City Council.”

City stalls negotiations

Instead of following the USPS V.P.’s recommendations to continue discussions at the Commission level, however, staff prepared an agenda item recommending the Commission delay negotiations and, instead, prepare a notice of disposition to sell Progress Point and use the proceeds to purchase the Post Office. Mayor Steve Leary moved to cease negotiations with the Post Office; his motion passed on a 3-2 vote.

CRA funding becomes available

Fast-forward to October 28, 2019, when the City Commission voted 5-0 to execute a Resolution in support of acquiring the USPS property to expand Central Park, dedicating this land to park use in perpetuity. In January 2020, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) voted to allocate funding for the Post Office acquisition in the CRA Capital Improvement Plan.

On January 27, 2020, the Commission voted to direct the City Manager to move forward to negotiate and execute a Letter of Intent to buy the Post Office Property. The City now has funds budgeted for FY 2021 and FY 2022 to bring this project to fruition.

Now is the time

Our CRA is scheduled to go out of existence in 2026. After that happens, putting together the necessary funds to acquire the Post Office property will be very difficult, if not impossible. Now is the time for our City to show it has the courage of its convictions: now is the time to act.

 

 

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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

Polasek

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 https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2021-orlando-metro

“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  https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2021-orlando-metro

or contact Bob Bendick at the Winter Park Land Trust at rbendick1@gmail.com.

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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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Special Commission Meeting Called Over Chamber Flap

Special Commission Meeting Called Over Chamber Flap

Special Commission Meeting Called Over Chamber Flap

1:00 p.m. — Thursday, February 11, 2021

by Anne Mooney / February 9, 2021

After cancelling the February 10 regular Commission meeting, because there would not be a three-member quorum physically present, a Special Meeting of the Commission has been scheduled for Thursday, February 11 at 1:00 pm at the WP Community Center at 721 New England Avenue. Virtual meeting attendance is also available by clicking https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/live-broadcasts/

This will be a Special Commission meeting. Commissioners can vote to take action, and public comment will be taken.

The Commission will discuss events from the February 5 debate between mayoral candidates at the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and whether to take action.

Loaded Question

At issue is the final debate question posed to the candidates, in which Commissioners were accused of collusion:

“It was dismaying to see the members of the city commission blatantly colluding to spike the Henderson project, which was approved by P&Z [Planning & Zoning] and was supported by the residents of Winter Park three to one over those opposing the project. As mayor, how would you ensure the commission enacts the wishes of the majority of WP residents, not just the agenda of an entitled few?”

Mayoral candidate Mayor Phil Anderson expressed his own dismay at the content of the question and stated his objection to the decision to air the question to Chamber President Betsy Gardner Eckbert.

After a brief burst of social media activity, each with its own version of events, the Anderson campaign and the WP Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors issued the following joint statement.

Joint statement issued by WP Chamber and Anderson Campaign

“Following an unfortunate incident at the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce Mayoral Candidate Forum this past Friday, The Chamber and Phil Anderson’s campaign have come to terms with the matter and look forward to placing it behind us in an effort to bring our community together. The Chamber thanks Mr. Anderson and Ms. Sprinkel, the two mayoral candidates, for participating in the Forum.”

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In Answer to ‘A Letter to Winter Park Residents’

In Answer to ‘A Letter to Winter Park Residents’

In Answer to ‘A Letter to Winter Park Residents’

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

Guest Columnist Peter Gottfried / February 2, 2021

Peter Weldon, a former Commissioner, recently wrote to “fellow Winter Park Residents” outlining his opposition to Phil Anderson’s candidacy for Mayor.  Mr. Weldon, as many of you know, ran for City Commission three times. He was elected to one term 2016-2019. He lost in 2008 to Phil Anderson, and again in 2019 to Todd Weaver.

Questionable arguments

In his recent letter, Mr. Weldon seeks to lay what he sees as the current Commission’s shortcomings at Phil Anderson’s door and to question Anderson’s character in the process. These questionable arguments deserve closer examination.

First, Weldon claims, “the actions of Commission members Weaver, Sullivan and DeCiccio bring Phil Anderson’s judgment into question.” If you think about that even for a minute, you’ll realize it’s a bit of a stretch.

Weldon’s assertions

Mr. Weldon wants you to believe that the current Commission . . .

  1. Voted to increase the property tax rate 11.5%.”

FALSE:  The tax rate (millage) did not change in 2021 and has not changed for 13 years.

  1. “Voted to “rescind” the Orange Avenue Overlay, changing our Comprehensive Plan in violation of our laws, resulting in legal action against the city (case number: 2020-CA-004388-O).ci”

MISLEADING:  Absolutely no laws were violated. In fact, the judge recently granted the City’s motion to dismiss the Orange Avenue Overlay developers’ lawsuits against the City.

  1. “Spent several hundred thousand dollars for consultants for additional Orange Avenue traffic studies and to plan a design they (the Commission) like for the City owned Progress Point property on Orange Avenue. Their plan has no professional planning input, and they offer no strategic justification for it, nor clarify who they expect will pay for implementation (you?).”

MISLEADING:  This statement is very misleading.  Professional planning input has been provided at every step through contracts to professional architectural and engineering firms; in addition, many professionals have donated their time, free of cost, to advise the Commissioners during their many work sessions.

  1. “Commissioners Sullivan and DeCiccio recently voted to spend $2,800,000 from our emergency reserves outside the annual budget process with no planning and they tried to hide the expense by “borrowing” the money from our water and sewer emergency reserves.”

MISLEADING: This is again misleading. First, there was no attempt to ‘hide’ the expense, it was openly discussed and had the support of Mayor Leary. The funds the current commission plans to borrow will be replenished with funds made available from soon-to-be retired bonds for the Public Safety Building. There is some irony in the fact that Weldon supports a mayoral candidate who gave $1million of taxpayer money to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Arts as a “donation.”  No other City in central Florida, except the center’s home city of Orlando, gave a penny.

  1. “Insisted on a “back yard chicken” ordinance. Do you want chickens in your neighborhood?”

TRUE: The chicken ordinance was limited to 25 permits on a limited two-year trial basis.  So far, two permits have been granted, a third application is still pending, but as yet, we still have no chickens. As a self-proclaimed property rights guy, Mr. Weldon might have been expected to support such a measure. Backyard chickens are already approved in Orange County, Maitland and Orlando, and all three jurisdictions report no problems so far.

  1. “Voted to diminish our city’s sovereignty by committing Winter Park’s support to an unaccountable state mandated planning agency.”

FALSE:  This regional planning initiative does not in any way affect our sovereignty. It is a Memorandum of Understanding with the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council. It requires no City funding, only cooperative planning efforts. Considering we have approximately 1,000 new residents coming into central Florida every week, why wouldn’t it be prudent to ask for regional planning assistance, especially if it is free?  Wouldn’t we want to be a part of the regional planning that directly affects our traffic, roads and water resources?

  1. They are now considering spending millions of dollars to buy land on Fairbanks to ‘improve traffic’ without having any idea whether traffic will improve or not.”

MISLEADING:  This from the same person who voted to sell City-owned land that was adjacent not only to Fairbanks Avenue but also to Martin Luther King Park.  We all know Fairbanks traffic needs improvement, and professional traffic engineering firms are actively assisting the current Commission in their planning efforts.

 

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