The first anniversary of the conditional use approval of the Canopy project is coming up September 24, and shortly thereafter the Commission should receive the construction drawings, from which the City can finally calculate the “not-to-exceed” cost of the project. Despite anticipation of these long-sought answers, questions remain.
The proposed Canopy project is a big deal for our City. Based on the history of our current library, we may have this public building for the next 40 years.
We have to ask: Is the design compatible with our City? Is the library satisfactory in form and function to serve Winter Park citizens? Will the adjoining events center serve Winter Park’s needs for community events? Will the evolving cost fit within our budget? Will long-term maintenance and operation costs be acceptable? Will it be a desirable addition to Martin Luther King, Jr. recreational park?
Let Your City Officials Hear From You
Your City leaders need to hear from you. Let your Commissioners know your thoughts on the proposed library and events center. There is no time to waste. Act now.
In March 2016, we voted on a bond referendum for a new library. I expected a favorable landslide vote, because who isn’t in favor of a new library? The bond passed, despite controversy over vague plans and finalization of the building site. The final breakdown was 51 percent for and 49 percent against. The referendum passed by a margin of just 214 votes, foreshadowing the controversy that was sure to follow.
Initial Concept is Substantially Changed
Are the changes in building sizes from the initial concepts acceptable? The referendum language specified, “For the purpose of building the Winter Park Library and Events Center, to include library facilities, civic meeting and gathering facilities and related parking structure . . . .”
Voters were told there would be a 50,000-square-foot (sf) library, an 8,505 sf civic center and a 200-space parking garage (“Community Engagement Workshops,” ACi Architects, 10/26/2015).
Now, the plans are for a 34,400 sf library and a 13,564 sf events center. The ‘associated parking structure’ has been replaced by surface parking (City Commission conditional use approval, 9/24/2018). The Canopy library is only 400 sf larger than the current library facility. Library staff cites efficient use of space, which compensates for the reduction in size, but is this library adequate for our citizens’ needs?
MLK Park Loses Trees and Green Space
Are changes to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park appropriate? The proposed structure will reduce the MLK park area by an estimated two acres, and the storm water treatment area must be expanded, although no specifications had been developed as of May 2019 (LandDesign engineers).
What Effect Will Tourism Dollars Have?
The City secured a $6 Million Tourist Development Tax (TDT) grant in return for making the Canopy Events Center available for international tourism. At the City’s presentation to the TDT grant board, City Manager Randy Knight was asked about the extent of Winter Park citizens’ use of the event center facility. He responded that he thought Winter Park residents might use the facility during the week, but that the event center would be available on weekends for tourism activities. Winter Park voters approved the bond referendum based on an event center with the purpose of “civic meeting and gathering facilities.” However, now the intended purpose seems to be an international tourism destination. (Presentation before Tourist Tax Grant Board 3/15/2019).
No Hard Numbers, So Far
Cost estimates have been a moving target. To date, the City has provided only artistic renderings, and we are depending on bids based on construction drawings to derive hard costs. The City’s official position on cost estimate is $40.5 million, coming from $28.7 Million in bonds, $6 Million TDT grant and $5.4 Million in private donations. The estimated total budget with contingencies is $43 Million.
How many private dollars should our community contribute to this one project? Are we draining resources away from other endeavors? We have other important projects on the horizon, many of which may require private sector support, such as plans for the post office site, new parks, city hall renovations and repurposing the old library site.
How high is too high?
What final figure will cause our City leaders to pause and rethink this project? Fifty Million? We’ve heard $55 Million. Commissioners need to tell us now what they consider an acceptable figure to move ahead with the Canopy.
A Task Force to review the Winter Park City Charter is currently meeting, as they do every 10 years, to make recommendations on how we shouldupdate our City Charter to make Winter Park better.
One way we can make Winter Park better is to re-open the opportunity to serve on volunteer City Advisory Boards to all Winter Park residents. As the Charter stands, only the Mayor can appoint board members, leaving many citizens feeling their applications are ignored if they are not a friend of the Mayor or a donor to his campaign.
On August 13, I asked the Charter Review Committee to recommend a change to encourage more inclusion on City Boards. We can change one sentence in the Charter and re-open the opportunity for almost 50 percent of our residents to serve.
These Citizen Boards are incredibly important. Over 150 residents serve on the 19 Boards, which include the Planning and Zoning Board, which determines in many ways what the city will look like in years to come. These volunteer boards also include the Utilities Board, the Lakes Board and others that specialize in one area or another. These boards thrive in an environment of blended political views, diverse professional expertise and general business and community experience that promote good policy for the city.
Thanks to you, I served as a City Commissioner from 2008-2011. At the beginning of my term, all Commissioners participated in nominating Winter Park residents to various City Advisory Boards and Committees. When I started, I remember sitting on the floor sorting through stacks of resumes. I was amazed at the wide variety of qualified citizens willing to serve as volunteer board members. These people could run large public companies, yetthey were willing to volunteer their time and expertise. This process of including nominations from the full Commission had been practiced for a long time, and I assumed that would be the continuing tradition.
Halfway through my term, however, the process changed. In 2009, a sentence in the City Charter was invoked, and the nomination process started to fall exclusively to one person — the Mayor. Since then, many people have expressed their feelings that they won’t be considered unless they are a friend of the Mayor. Since mayoral election margins in Winter Park are generally pretty close, say 51 to 49 percent, almost half of Winter Park may feel excluded from serving. As a result, Winter Park is losing out on a deep pool of talented people.
If you agree that all citizens should have the right to be fairly considered for service on City Boards for which they are qualified – regardless of their political leanings — please contact your City Commissioners and consider speaking to the Charter Review Committee. Ask them to formalize an older, more inclusive practice which a) expands the pool of talent; b) allows all City Commissioners to participate in Board nominations; and c)brings Winter Park in line with almost all other Florida City governments.
This can be accomplished by removing from the City Charter asingle sentence: “He shall annually appoint members of the city boards subject to the approval of city commissioners.”
This one change opens up the process to a tremendous talent pool and is in the best interest of all Winter Park’s residents.
The next Charter Review Committee meeting is on Tuesday, August 27th, at 6:00 pm, at the Winter Park Community Center on New England Avenue. Public comment is allowed at the beginning and end of the meeting.
The City of Winter Park looks toward the future of transportation as discussion revs up at the April 23 Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Board regarding a proposed Electric Vehicle (EV) ordinance. The purpose of the ordinance is to bring forth regulations for EV charging, infrastructure and ways to handle development projects that were already in process prior to the EV ordinance.
FL Ranks in Top 5 for EV Sales
Florida ranks within the top five states for sales of electric and hybrid vehicles. In fact, a majority of buyers for electric and hybrid vehicles are located right here in Central Florida. By the year 2030, estimated annual national sales of EV’s will exceed 3.5 million vehicles, accounting for more than 20 percent of vehicle sales in the U.S.
Vehicles Running on Gas are 2nd Greatest Cause of Carbon Emissions
Currently, vehicles that burn fossil fuel – gasoline – are the second greatest cause of carbon emissions. Their replacement by electric cars will result in a reduction in the city’s carbon emissions, quieter and more livable streets and improved air quality.
WP Already Has 6 Charging Stations
Since 2011, Winter Park has installed six electric charging stations. Each charging station can charge two cars, one on either side. Stations are available to everyone, free of charge.
Electric Utility Companies Face Greater Demand for Power
For the sake of our state’s economy, infrastructure, and air quality, Central Florida must not only prepare for electric cars, but must be a leader in setting the stage for parking lots full of EVs. Utility companies, for example, will have to prepare for the increased demand for power as consumers charge their car batteries at home, at work or while shopping. Florida Power has already begun by increasing their capacity with solar panels, but there is more work to be done.
WP Ordinance Will Affect New Construction
The proposed Winter Park ordinance will require builders and developers to provide at least two electric charging stations in commercial parking lots that have more than 50 spaces. The ordinance also requires new residential and multifamily homes to include wiring built into the garage or common-use parking lot.
Incentives Are a Possibility
There may be incentives to help with the cost of wiring, such as a rebate from the utility company. An exact amount has not been determined but is under consideration. Some counties and cities provide rebates as high as $500.
WP Maintains Vision of Healthy, Sustainable Future
The above are just a few of the opening ideas which will go through much discussion. The good news is that the process has begun, and that Winter Park is staying consistent with its vision of promoting a healthy and sustainable future for all generations.
Sheila DeCiccio is an attorney with DeCiccio & Johnson. She has served on the Planning & Zoning Board for the past six years. She and her husband have been Winter Park residents since 1982. Their two children were born here and are being raised here.
Former Winter Park city commission candidate Barbara Chandler and The Friends of West Winter Park hosted a lively sharing of ideas on Tuesday, March 26 at the Winter Park Community Center. Commission candidates Todd Weaver and Peter Weldon were invited to engage directly with West Side families, elders, community leaders and small business owners in a moderated question-and-answer forum.
Chandler emphasized that this was not a debate, but an opportunity “for candidates to sit with our community . . . to learn what our issues and values are. We also want to make sure our community gives each candidate a chance to be heard.”
“Since election day March 12,” Chandler went on, “West Side Winter Parkers have been asked who we’ll be supporting in the run-off election April 9. Just like all Winter Parkers,” said Chandler, “we’ll be voting for the candidate who supports our values and community.”
Despite Chandler’s insistence that the forum was not a debate, the candidates wasted no time throwing jabs and punches. Most of the questions for the candidates dealt either with minority representation or issues specific to the West Side, such as the CRA.
Chandler’s frequent attempts to maintain decorum and her reminders to both candidates and audience to show proper respect fell victim to the emotion brought out by this hotly contested race.
Mixed Use Development Community Input Session The Community Center Thursday — March 28th — 5:30 – 7:00 pm
Please Attend this Important Event
The whole of the Orange Avenue corridor and parts of Fairbanks Avenue are up for rezoning. Thousands of square feet of new retail, residential, and office space, as well as a Sun Rail station, may soon be in the works. All of Orange Avenue, both east and west of 17-92, is included in the rezoning initiative.
Impacts on Surrounding Neighborhoods
City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson is spearheading the push to obtain public input prior to making any changes to city codes. In addition to attending the public input session, another method for providing your feedback or asking questions is to use the newly created city e-mail address OrangeAve@cityofwinterpark.org. Stephenson is making himself available to meet with residents who have questions or input about the massive rezoning.
Mixed Use Development Already Permitted on Orange
For years, owners of the largest parcels on the Orange Avenue corridor have been unwilling to redevelop their sizable holdings under the City’s existing zoning guidelines. The guidelines already permit that combination of residential, office and retail uses otherwise known as “mixed-use.”
For as many years, the same owners have approached the city about opening the doors to more intensive redevelopment. Owners include the Holler family and Demetree Global, as well as the City of Winter Park, which holds about five acres at Progress Point. Changes to the Comprehensive Plan in 2017 gave land holders even more incentive to delay, since the changes called for new mixed-use standards or an ‘overlay’ to be devised by April 2018 – a deadline that came and went without fanfare almost a year ago.
Progress Point — From Albatross to Swan?
Because the city has long wrestled with the albatross property at Progress Point, mixed-use rezoning represents an opportunity to turn it into a swan. For every new zoning entitlement bestowed there, the amount a buyer must pay for it will increase accordingly. The need to sell this city-owned property has assumed a new urgency as the city copes with the $10 million budget shortfall for the Canopy Project.
Property Owners Aim to Go Bigger & Taller
With these three owners anxious to make big changes on the corridor, city planning staff are taking initial steps toward adoption of a new “mixed-use overlay.” Once in place, the overlay would allow redevelopment on a scale that will significantly exceed what would be permitted in the absence of the overlay or adoption of new zoning district standards.
In return for being able to build “bigger,” these landholders say, they will “give back” to city residents in a way that will benefit everyone. It is unclear what these gifts to residents might be. Infrastructure improvements, parking garages, or green space are just guesses.
Roadway Changes Possible — Is This Your Commute?
In an effort to calm or slow traffic, a road diet on Orange Avenue, similar to that implemented on Denning, is possible. Realigning or vacating interior roads between Orange Avenue and the railroad tracks are also possible outcomes. Roundabouts at intersections are another option.
Former Planning Director Dori Stone Kick-started Rezoning Effort
In July 10, 2018, at a city commission work session on mixed-use, former City Planning Director Dori Stone told commissioners that as a “legislative body” they had a responsibility to the community to “make this happen” and to “let the community know what this corridor needs to look like.”
Ms. Stone insisted that the 2017 Comprehensive Plan must be a “fluid” document, one that “changes with the times,” noting that some of Winter Park’s most “iconic places” are examples of “mixed use” development done before the city had a Comp Plan or stricter land use laws.
Leary Chimes In
More recently, on January 22, 2019, Mayor Steve Leary weighed in at the Chamber-sponsored State of the City address. Winter Park must undergo significant “generational customization,” he advised, as old ideas on what is desirable are discarded so a new version of Winter Park can emerge. Winter Park is in a “gangly” and awkward stage right now, Leary opined.
Once brand-new mixed-use standards and an overlay are adopted, taller and more massive buildings will “make a statement,” according to Stone. Existing smaller land owners on Orange Avenue will have the choice to re-develop under the new guidelines or to remain as they are.
Stephenson Welcomes Public Input
Stone’s replacement, Bronce Stephenson, is very enthusiastic about the yet to be explored possibilities for mixed use. Every move he has made has been aimed at inviting the community to take this journey based on a collaborative process. The input session on the 28th is one of only two. The second session targets land and business owners on the corridor, though the public is invited. At this stage, written notice to citizens of the process is not legally required.
The city has retained or will retain urban design experts to devise a master plan for the Orange Avenue mixed use overlay. The master plan will control the future of the corridor.
Most of you know that as a result of my injury last October I have been keeping a low profile as I devote my energies to my recovery, but that does not mean I have not followed City events.
The election results on Tuesday, March 12 were most interesting. It is rare that an incumbent places second in a 3 way race, or in my opinion, would have lost if only the top two candidates ran unless he were an idiot or committed grievous acts on his own while a sitting commissioner. No one can say that about Peter Weldon. So why such a poor showing against a relatively unknown challenger?
All of you know I was a member of the group that tried to prevent the city from constructing the new library in Martin Luther King Park. The courts ruled in favor of the city and as far as I am concerned this is a settled issue.
Most of the people I speak to, however, are very upset with the current City Commission`s handling of the library project. The design of grandiose structures that do not fit into the fabric of Winter Park, the dominance of the project by the civic center — later called the events center and now perhaps the convention center –plus the desire of the commission to add on items to the project in excess of the funds approved by the voters has led to dissatisfaction among many — do I dare say a majority of Winter Park voters?
Naming the project the “Canopy” and then cutting down all the beautiful specimen trees was the penultimate insult. Finally, I listened to the Mayor`s presentation to the Orange Country Commission requesting tourist dollars and to Todd Weaver`s “Bait and Switch” video.
When did the citizens of Winter Park agree to be an Orange County Convention Center “Lite?” When was a discussion held with the residents on the West Side concerning the impact of thousands of visitors to their area?
True, many in the business community like the idea of thousands of additional tourists (translate: potential business customers) swarming through Winter Park.
During the time I was Mayor I worked hard each day to advance my vision of Winter Park as a “Premier Urban Village.” Every new iteration to this project moves us further from that goal. Putting lipstick on this pig just does not help it be anything other than a pig.
I am not a psychic who can predict the results of the run off election on April 9, but I can say this project is way off course.
The proper thing to do is swallow the current expenses paid to date, scrap the whole thing and start over. I doubt, however, that this will happen. The run off election should be interesting.
Joe Terranova was Mayor of Winter Park from 1997 – 2000.