Moratorium on Commercial Overdevelopment
We Need One Now
March 8, 2020 by Guest Columnist Will Graves
Developers. I used to exchange Christmas cards with some of them. One donated $6,000 to a charity I championed. Another agreed to gift $21,000 for our Lisa Merlin House Golf Tournament fundraiser. One, who occasionally assists with the bread and wine at my church, prayed for forgiveness of my sins one Sunday.
Falling Out of Favor
How did I fall out of favor with these people? By publicly writing and speaking to shine a light on the existential need to preserve the unique scenic quality, historic character, architectural heritage, authenticity and property values in our pristine small-scale village of Winter Park.
Now, Florida State Senator Tom Lee (R – Hillsborough County), another with whom I used to exchange Christmas cards, wants people like me to shoulder the burden of all legal costs, should we find ourselves on the wrong side of an overdeveloper lawsuit. If that’s not enough, overdevelopment interests, seeking to economize on their tanning lotion by avoiding the sunshine, are now pushing the folks in Tallahassee to eliminate the requirement for those legal notices in newspapers that document what Winter Park citizens need to know to protect their interests.
It no longer matters what the zoning is — it’s who we know who can do an end run around the pesky public to get the variances and Comprehensive Plan changes we need, and forget those disgruntled Winter Park citizens who fear losing sight lines, driving down shadowy road-canyons and wasting time in traffic gridlock.
If you wish to continue to be able to move through Winter Park in an orderly and timely manner in the coming years, a long overdue Moratorium on out-of-scale commercial development should be enacted. Sooner rather than later. The traffic you’re dealing with today pales in comparison to what you’ll be dealing with soon. That’s what happens when Private Interests are allowed to do your village planning for you.
Be Prepared to Fight
Barbara Drew Hoffstot, Rollins Class of ’42 and Rollins Walk of Fame honoree, nailed the problem in her book, “Landmark Architecture of Palm Beach.”
Mrs. Hoffstot warned us, “Will you care very much for your country if it becomes largely one of visual concrete commercialism? The decision lies with each and every one of you, my readers. You will get what you want, what you fight for, and what you deserve. So, don’t let your very fine past be taken away . . . without your knowledge and consent. Be prepared to fight when necessary!”
Will Graves is recipient of the 2019 Individual Distinguished Service Award from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, a statewide partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A six-person statewide jury made the award decision.
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OAO Passes on 3-2 Vote
The End of a Long Week
January 18, 2020 / by Anne Mooney
After two days and 16 and one-half hours of mind-numbing debate, public comment and amendment proposals, the Commission voted 3-2 to pass the ordinances creating the Orange Avenue Overlay (OAO).
The Thursday meeting, a continuance from the 11-hour session ending at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, was a breezy six hours, lasting from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. At the final vote, Mayor Leary and Commissioners Seidel and Sprinkel voted in favor of the OAO ordinances; Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Todd Weaver cast dissenting votes.
Ordinance Will Have Second Reading at a Future Date
The ordinance changing part of the Comprehensive Plan now will go to Tallahassee for review. City Manager Randy Knight thinks that will take about a month. The measure then will return to the City Commission for a final vote.
While Thursday’s crowd was sizeable and most seats were filled, no one had to stand and none were turned away – probably owing to the fact there was only one issue on the agenda this time.
Forty-three amendments were proposed – most (but not all) having to do with the large properties at Subarea D (the Demetree properties) and J (the Holler property). Unofficially, 25 proposed amendments passed, 18 failed and one was withdrawn. Check the City website for official numbers.
Important Among the Amendments that Passed Were the Following
Orchard Supply and parcels on the east side of 17-92 were removed from the district. Commissioners agreed that those parcels are more appropriately included in a 17-92 overlay district, if one is created at some future date.
Progress Point Remains for Public Use
The OAO Steering Committee originally recommended that the City-owned Progress Point property, known as Subarea C, would be reserved as open space for public use. While agreeing to public use, the Commission revised Subarea C standards to include:
- “A building limited to a 20,000-square-foot floorplate at 2 stories with a cumulative maximum of 40,000 square feet.”
- “”A Parking Garage be constructed to provide required parking for onsite uses and additional parking to be available for area businesses and general public.”
- “1.5 acre park space”
Existing Residential Not Affected
Existing residential properties will not be subject to OAO standards unless or until they redevelop as commercial. To protect existing residential structures within the district, new non-residential or mixed use development must be set back at least 35 feet from an existing residential structure.
In addition to meeting the architectural standards of the OAO, “. . . for developments requiring a conditional use approval having a land area of more than 80,000 square feet, having more than 25 residential units, or having structures exceeding 35,000 gross square feet above grade, professionally prepared fully rendered 3-D digital architectural perspective images and elevations . . . shall be submitted to and reviewed by . . . a City-retained professional architect or by a City-established architectural review committee . . . .”
Height & Density Lowered on Large Parcels
The maximum floor area ratio (FAR) on Subareas D (the Demetree properties) and J (the Holler Properties) was lowered from 200 percent to 150 percent. The maximum number of stories on the Demetree properties is now six (down from seven), and the maximum number of stories on the Holler property is now three stories on land fronting Fairbanks Ave. and four stories on land located 100 feet back from Fairbanks.
Transportation Impact Fees
Large development projects within the OAO will pay “a proportionate fair share” of the costs of funding transportation improvements in order for the developers to use additional entitlements provided under the OAO. The City will develop a traffic model to identify needed transportation improvements and to establish a formula for calculating a proportionate fair share system.
It’s Not Over Til It’s Over . . .
The Commission has done most of the hard work on this project, but they can still make changes when the ordinance comes back from Tallahassee for the second reading.
But, For Now, All Eyes Turn Back to the Canopy
Commission Work Session will be Wed., January 22, 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at Commission Chambers.
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Marathon Monday Stretches into Terrible Tuesday
Meeting Will Continue on Thursday, Jan. 16
by Anne Mooney / January 14, 2020
Yesterday’s estimate of a five-and-a-half-hour Commission meeting missed the mark by a mile. For an unprecedented 11 hours, Commissioners struggled to make sense of two of the largest projects ever undertaken by this city – and failed.
OAO Discussion Continued to Thursday, Jan. 16
At 2:45 a.m., Commissioner Greg Seidel finally moved to pull the plug on the meeting, and the Commission agreed to ‘continue’ the Orange Avenue Overlay discussion on Thursday, January 16, at 11:00 a.m. Commissioners were advised to block out approximately four hours for the Thursday meeting.
At Thursday’s Continuance, Commissioners will vote on somewhere between 40 and 50 proposed amendments to the OAO ordinances.
As of this writing, the Thursday meeting is not on the January schedule of City meetings. Check the City website for updates or changes in dates and times. www.cityofwinterpark.org
Earlier in the evening, the Canopy project met a similar fate. After an extended but inconclusive back-and-forth with the owner’s representative and the contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie, followed by the customary back-and-forth among the Commissioners regarding the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP), the item was tabled until the January 27 Commission meeting.
Commissioner Greg Seidel requested a Commission workshop to discuss such items as the contingency fund and possible sources of funds for the project. Likely funding sources include issuing the remaining $2 Million in bonds, the CRA, and the City’s General Fund. To date, the City has raised only about $2 Million of the promised $5.4 Million in donations.
Seidel also requested the results of Brasfield & Gorrie’s latest three large projects, to compare the (GMP) with actual costs upon delivery.
How the Canopy project and the Orange Avenue Overlay ended up on the same agenda is anyone’s guess, though there must be someone at City Hall who knows. The sheer volume of discussion and the number of amendments proposed is a clear indication that neither project is at a point where sufficient information has been digested for the Commission to come to a decision. The City needs to finish baking these cakes before anyone else cuts into them.
Record Crowd – Citizens Turned Away
Hundreds of people showed up at City Hall to listen or to speak. The building, including the downstairs lobby, was at capacity, and many citizens had to be turned away. Communications Director Clarissa Howard went through the crowd in the lobby and escorted those who wanted to speak up to the Commission Chambers and, in most cases, secured seating for them.
Last night’s meeting demonstrated the folly of putting two mega-projects – especially ones around which there is a lot of positive and negative energy – on the same agenda.
The suggestion is the crafting of an ordinance that states, when a meeting is scheduled on a date certain, the meeting must be called to order and adjourned upon that date.
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Orange Avenue on Track to Become Hot Spot
December 5, 2019 / by Geri Throne
A 40,000-square-foot lakefront home proposed for Palmer Avenue—the biggest home ever in the city—is garnering the most attention outside Winter Park. But residents who crowded a city planning and zoning board meeting Tuesday had an even bigger issue on their minds: a rezoning plan to convert North Orange Avenue into the city’s next intensely developed hot spot.
After a long line of residents spoke for and against the rezoning proposal, members of the advisory board all voiced their enthusiastic support. They agreed that benefits would outweigh any negatives and voted unanimously to recommend the proposal to the city commission.
City commissioners will consider the rezoning plan at its Jan. 13 meeting.
Planning jargon aside…
Despite use of planning jargon such as “overlay district” and “placemaking” at Tuesday’s hearing, the issues surrounding the proposed Orange Avenue district boil down to familiar zoning concerns: Is growth “inevitable” in Winter Park, and if it is, how much development should be packed into an area? How high should buildings be allowed? How much extra traffic should be created? How well would new construction mesh with existing structures?
City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson said a flexible mixed-use overlay is the best way to deal with the avenue’s future growth. He defended the months-long process the city went through to arrive at the proposal, noting that residents were involved early on. An 11-member appointed steering committee, made up of people with broad ranges of opinion about development, participated in the recommendations.
“Despite what has been reported [in social media], the small-scale character of Orange Avenue has been promoted and protected throughout the process to the highest extent possible,” Stephenson said.
Residents concerned about the new zoning district, however, were not convinced. They asked the planning board for more time to digest the thick packet explaining the proposal. They noted the potential for congestion, more traffic and buildings as tall as five and seven stories within the district.
Although the number of residential units in the district would stay the same, total development in the proposed district would become more intense. Under current zoning, almost 1.9 million square feet of development is possible in the district. With the new district zoning, the total square footage possible would climb to more than 2.6 million.
The benefit, Stephenson said, would be a mixed-use plan that would improve the area visually, attract more visitors, and cure what the city sees as “economic stagnation” on Orange Avenue from Fairbanks Avenue to US 17-92. Some other pluses he cited: wider, safer sidewalks; more open space; connection with nearby Mead Botanical Gardens, and parking garages set back behind buildings. Design standards would ensure that new structures would be attractive and compatible with neighboring buildings.
Existing zoning also would allow more development, he said, and perhaps not what residents might desire. Without new and creative zoning, he warned, a Wal-Mart-sized structure could be built with a huge paved parking lot.
Some residents, however, worried that the plan didn’t do enough to honor the city’s stated commitment to cherish “its traditional scale and charm.” Resident Bart Johnson said that exceptions to that goal in most of the proposed district were big enough for a developer to “drive a truck through.”
“Citizens need more time to fully understand the implications” of the lengthy new ordinance, pleaded resident Pat McDonald, a concern echoed by other residents.
Frank Hamner, an attorney representing the Holler family, a major property owner in the area, criticized calls for further delay as having “a different purpose” than stated. Residents had ample time to attend the numerous public meetings about the proposal, he said. Their calls for more time were “a distraction” to “delay for delay’s purposes.” Hamner also accused unidentified people of posting online anonymously and knocking on doors “spreading lies” about the plan. Those people should “come up out of the sewer,” and make their case face to face, he said.
Stephenson downplayed traffic worries. The planning director stressed that the overlay is a “framework” or starting point, which must be approved before a traffic study can be done. He also cited a state study that found few drivers stopped on Orange Avenue as a destination. He described it as a “cut through” road.
That four-lane stretch of North Orange Avenue is no shortcut, however. It serves as an arterial road in Winter Park, connecting Winter Park commuters to State Road 527 and US 17-92 and helping them get from one side of the city to the other. Traffic accidents on that stretch are frequent, city statistics show. Until a traffic study is conducted, it remains unknown how traffic safety, street parking and traffic flow will be juggled under the proposed design.
Undecided in the proposed ordinance is the fate of Progress Point, an odd-shaped, city-owned parcel at the intersections of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive. The steering committee could not agree how the lot should be used or whether the city should sell it. Sheila Deciccio, a member of that steering committee, urged that the city keep the land, which might help solve area stormwater and parking problems. The site is “one of the jewels we have left,” she said.
Also unknown, but probably not in doubt, is an unrelated agenda item—the fate of the massive 40,093-square-foot home that real-estate developer Marc Hagle wants to build on Lake Osceola. The planning and zoning board tabled its vote until next month after some board members and two neighbors raised questions about a proposed setback.
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What is an Overlay District?
What Does It Mean for the Orange Avenue Corridor?
Back in 2016, the Commission added a provision to the City’s Comprehensive Plan promising the creation of a “Mixed Use Overlay” category ‘within one year.’
Now that we are finally getting around to it, what is it anyway?
‘Mixed Use’ is a development term – a type of development Winter Park has done before on Park Avenue and in Hannibal Square that includes commercial, retail and residential development. Some would include Winter Park Village in that category, though the residential component is less apparent. The rules for these specific areas have worked well for us. That’s why Park Avenue and Hannibal Square look the way they do and why they have stood the test of time.
Asked what happens if a developer just follows regular City zoning regulations instead, Planning Director Bronce Stephenson responded, “Trader Joe’s.”
What is happening on Orange Avenue is a mixed use zoning overlay, but you can call it ‘mixed use,’ an ‘overlay district’ – or baked potatoes. Simply put, a zoning overlay regulates development within certain geographical boundaries in a manner that expresses the community’s vision of what they want the area to be. In this case, it also is way of granting entitlements to developers that seems fairer to the City.
Parenthetically, this brings us to a thought to keep in mind during this discussion: Who or what is The City? Is it you and me and everyone who lives here and pays taxes? Is it the elected officials who sit on the dais? Is it the staffers who toil behind the scenes to make the machinery work? Is it all of the above?
In the case of the Orange Avenue project, the answer is ‘all of the above.’ In April, the [then new] Director of Planning and Community Development, Bronce Stephenson, brought together a Steering Committee of 11 citizens from across the political spectrum to create a vision for what the Orange Avenue corridor should be. The Committee met 12 times over the summer. Public input was taken at each meeting.
The Steering Committee and staff identified a specific geographic area, divided it into sub-areas depending upon the type of development that was either existing or possible, and decided how they thought the area could develop in a way that would preserve the eclectic character and offer the greatest benefit to The City. The area they defined became the Orange Avenue Overlay (OAO) area.
Three large landowners – Demetree Holdings on the southern part of Orange Avenue, Holler Properties on Denning and Fairbanks, and City-owned Progress Point in the middle – all have holdings that are large enough to be able to provide resources to upgrade the entire corridor for The City.
To fix area-wide issues that affect existing businesses and discourage redevelopment within the OAO district, staff and the Steering Committee first had to identify the problems. What they found won’t surprise anyone.
- • Dangerous and inefficient traffic flow
- • Archaic one-size-fits-all zoning codes
- • An approximately 485-space parking deficit – before a single new thing is built
- • Poor storm water management that causes businesses on Orange Avenue to flood.
The OAO seeks to grant entitlements to developers by ‘quid pro quo’ rather than by variance or rezoning. If a developer is granted entitlements by rezoning and/or variance, as is currently the norm, the developer gets some or all of what he or she wants . . . and the City gets little if anything in return.
Give . . .
According to the rules being put in place for the OAO, if the developer has an ‘ask,’ the developer must also bring a ‘give.’ City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson explained that a developer can offer two kinds of ‘gives’ – quantitative and qualitative.
Qualitative gives might include:
- • Safety & mobility
- • Life, light and eyes on the street
- • Connectivity
- • Better traffic flow
- • Storm water management
Quantitative ‘gives’ could include:
- • Shared parking
- • Storm water treatment and management
- • Meaningful open space with unrestricted public access
- • Trails and other mobility enhancements
Of course, there would be overlaps.
. . . and Take
Doors and Keys – for which read: density — pay for storm water mitigation, parking & open space. If developers don’t make money on their projects, they don’t do them. Eliminating parking from Floor Area Ratio (FAR) calculation is one way to help them be profitable. Large owners – Demetree, Holler and the developer of Progress Point – will be able to ‘earn’ up to 200 percent FAR by providing fixes for one or more of the area-wide problems. The 200 percent FAR is what we have on Park Avenue and in Hannibal Square.
Storm Water Treatment
“We are desperate for space for storm water treatment, especially along Orange Avenue,” said Stephenson. “Progress Point is the lowest elevation within the OAO, and that provides an opportunity for the developer of that property to correct the flooding and storm water treatment problem for the entire area.”
“Today’s 485-space parking deficit translates into 3.9 acres of asphalt surface parking,” Stephenson explained. “We want developers to come in and build vertical parking with 10 percent additional shared spaces. There’s not enough room for it to be surface parking. That means, to make their developments work, the parking places should not be included in their FAR calculations.”
Developers with properties larger than 1.5 acres must provide 25 percent “meaningful open space.” For the Holler property, at the current asking price, that 25 percent translates to $6 Million worth of land, according to Stephenson – a sizeable ‘give’ in anyone’s estimation.
Give And Take
Described here are just some of the concessions from developers that will provide substantial value to The City as the OAO redevelops. The final draft report of the Steering Committee will provide detailed lists of ways developers can earn entitlements. Information regarding the Committee’s progress is updated regularly on the City website https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/boards/orange-avenue-overlay-steering-committee/.
What About Progress Point?
The Steering Committee, with 10 of its 11 members present, met the night of November 13 at the Mead Botanical Garden Clubhouse to vote on the final report. As the final report was presented, the one remaining bone of contention was the four-acre parcel at Progress Point.
The City owns the land, but will either lease or sell to a third party to develop the parcel. Over the 12 Steering Committee meetings, there had been considerable discussion of a four-story office building with associated parking structure, but a number of Steering Committee members were unhappy with that solution.
Stephenson pointed out that while The City has no pressing need to sell or lease this piece of land, it has not proven itself to be a good steward. The Committee members agreed that what we need at that location is parking, open space, drainage and connectivity with Mead Garden.
Devoting the entire 4+ acres to parkland would deprive the existing Orange Avenue businesses of the opportunity for treatment of storm water that currently floods many of their businesses, and it would deny them desperately needed parking.
No Consensus on Progress Point
At the end of the day, the Steering Committee stipulated in their report that there was no consensus on the use of Progress Point. The Committee voted 8 – 2 to approve the final report. Dissenting were Michael Dick and Sheila DeCiccio.
“We Can Do Better”
Asked why she voted against the report, DeCiccio stated, “I wanted my voice to be heard on Progress Point. I am 100 percent for everything else in the report. I am all for the Holler and Demetree entitlements. But a four-story office building with a garage bigger than the new one at Rollins? We can do so much better than that.”
“Most of what’s there now is already offices and daytime use,” DeCiccio went on. “There can’t be any shared parking in the daytime – they don’t have enough daytime parking as it is, and nothing much goes on there at night. An office building will not contribute anything there.
“There are so many wonderful things we could do there that would activate the area at night,” she said. “We could do a theatre district, food courts, things that people could go to and have fun. We can do more than just green park space, too, but we wouldn’t need so much parking if we put something besides an office building there. Where is our imagination? This is Winter Park – we need something really wonderful for everyone there.”
There is No Lack of Public Input
By the end of this process, the City will have held 19 opportunities for public input.
The Steering Committee Report will go to Planning & Zoning December 3 for a public hearing.
A public information meeting will be held at Gateway Plaza lobby (Commerce National Bank) on December 18, 5:30 – 7:30 pm.
City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson will be at the Farmer’s Market December 21 from 7:00 am to 1:00 pm to answer questions.
You can watch three educational videos about this process at cityofwinterpark.org/vimeo
And you can email your feedback to OrangeAve@cityofwinterpark.org
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