New Mayor Sheila DeCiccio sworn-in as development projects stack up

New Mayor Sheila DeCiccio sworn-in as development projects stack up

New Mayor Sheila DeCiccio sworn-in as development projects stack up

The city is busier than ever with major projects in the works

April 12, 2024

By Beth Kassab

As Mayor Sheila DeCiccio was sworn in as Winter Park’s first woman mayor last week, the number of significant commercial projects in the works continued to grow.

While the pro-development versus anti-development debate has shaped much of the discourse during this election cycle, particularly in the heated contest for City Commission Seat 2 that will be decided on Tuesday, the number of projects in the pipeline now may be overlooked.

Planning Director Jeff Briggs said even more plans are in the beginning stages, though official applications haven’t been filed yet.

DeCiccio and commissioners voted Wednesday to form a new committee to set design standards and give developers more specifics on what types of architecture and design the city is looking for through the business corridors, including the Orange Avenue Overlay.

Here’s a look at what’s on the horizon:

Winter Park Playhouse

Winter Park Playhouse. This came up at DeCiccio’s first meeting as mayor, reviving a conversation that started last year about how to keep the local theater in the city as its landlord put the building up for sale. City Manager Randy Knight said Wednesday that the city will ask for Tourist Development Tax money to purchase and renovate the building on Orange Avenue and allow the playhouse to operate there. He said the city is looking for a grant in the range of about $8 million with about $4 million going toward the purchase.


Rollins Faculty Housing. The liberal arts college is looking for a way to provide attainable housing to newer faculty who can’t afford home prices in Winter Park. The project on Welbourne and Virginia avenues was tabled earlier this year and is now coming back before the commission with some major changes. The new proposal is reduced to 33 apartments and no longer fronts New England Avenue, which means a retail component to the project no longer exists. The project, which was initially opposed by residents in a neighboring condominium building, is set to go back before the Planning & Zoning Board and then the City Commission in May.

Rollins Residential Village

Rollins Residence Hall. Unlike the above faculty apartments, this new 300-bed dormitory will be on the Rollins campus. Commissioners approved the project in January. It will replace the 80-bed Holt Hall and a portion of the Tennis Center. The building will be about 140,000-square feet and is intended to provide more opportunity for students to live on campus. Rollins officials say the college will continue to have the same number of undergraduates.


Storyville Coffee rendering

Storyville Coffee. This project is slated to come before the City Commission on April 24, which will be the first meeting with both the new mayor and a newly elected Seat 2 commissioner. The proposal calls for a 3-story, 11,000-square-foot building at 111 S. Knowles Avenue across Morse Boulevard from First United Methodist Church. The first floor will be used as a coffee shop and retail and the second floor will contain office space. The third floor will house a single residence.


Winter Park Commons. In December, commissioners approved 53-unit project, including 15 single-family homes and 38 townhomes, in west Winter Park near Winter Park Village. The project will replace the now vacant Patmos Chapel Seventh Day Adventist Church on xxx. The project underwent extensive revisions with single-family homes now along the perimeter after residents complained the multi-story complex did not meld with the neighborhood. The historically Black area has undergone extensive redevelopment during the last two decades and a group of residents known as West Winter Park Neighbors is working to preserve what’s left.

McCraney building.

McCraney office building. Commissioners unanimously approved the three-story building in February, the first new build within the Orange Avenue Overlay. The project will stand at the six-way intersection of Orange and Minnesota avenues and Denning Drive. Developer Steve McCraney’s concept was approved after he agreed for at least 25% of the building would include other uses such as a less than 12-seat restaurant, furniture store, personal service provider such as a fitness center or salon to comply with the mixed-use requirements in the code. “If we capitulate to you on this issue the entire OAO is out,” Mayor Sheila DeCiccio said at the time. “We will be open to endless lawsuits for those who do not get their way.”

More on the way in the OAO. Architecture firm Schenkel Schultz is planning to move its corporate headquarters from downtown Orlando to Winter Park later this year. The move, expected as early as the fall, would involve renovating the single-story building at 834 North Orange Avenue, across from the Rollins College baseball stadium. The 12,000-square-foot open layout would accommodate the 65 employees who now work in the firm’s office near Lake Eola. In addition, city officials have said they expect Orlando Health to renovate the existing Jewett Orthopedic office also along Orange Avenue.


To comment or read comments from others, click here →

Where Craig Russell and Jason Johnson stand on issues

Where Craig Russell and Jason Johnson stand on issues

Where Craig Russell and Jason Johnson stand on issues

The Seat 2 candidates will face off in the April 16 run-off election

March 28, 2024

By Beth Kassab

With less than three weeks until the April 16 run-off and mail-in voting already underway, Jason Johnson and Craig Russell are in a heated contest for a City Commission seat with Russell positioning himself as a political outsider who will break barriers of access for the average resident and Johnson running as the candidate who will most closely guard against unchecked development.

Both men are first-time candidates and registered Democrats and both would join Commissioner Kris Cruzada, 50, on the younger spectrum on the City Commission — Russell is 43 and Jason Johnson is 52.

But there are differences in their positions in the technically non-partisan race. Here’s where they stand:

Voter records

Russell’s candidacy might appear as something of a contradiction: If elected, he would be the first Black commissioner in more than a 100 years who, he says, will bring a fresh perspective to the job compared to what he’s called an “elitist” mentality in City Hall. But Russell, a Winter Park High teacher and coach, is also the candidate with the most money, the endorsement of the local Chamber of Commerce and support from former Mayor Ken Bradley and former Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel, whose names have appeared in his social media posts.

Russell, who won the most votes in the March 19 election with 42%, said he wants to “build a government for all residents, not just political insiders.”

He’s embraced the help of the chamber, which has raised money to support him through its political action committee, but also his status as a political newbie.

His voter record, for example, shows he hasn’t voted in a Winter Park municipal election in the last 10 years until his name was on the ballot in March. Russell voted in the 2004, 2012, 2016, 2018 and 2020 November elections and the 2018 August primaries.

Johnson cast more than 35 ballots during that same time, appearing to vote in every municipal election, according to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Russell responded to criticism about his voting record by noting that he’s no different from many people who must prioritize demands on his time amid the daily grind — a reason why he said he’s connected with younger voters in the city.

“I’ve been busy raising my family,” he told the Voice. “Am I too busy to vote? Absolutely not. But just like anybody, life gets in the way and the mail-in ballot sits on the counter … I think that’s why my campaign was able to gain first-time and new voters.”

Johnson, a litigator who has the endorsement of outgoing Mayor Phil Anderson, said his voting record speaks to his engagement in the community and the time he’s spent learning about issues that he feels are relevant to residents.

“I guess we just have different viewpoints on the value of voting,” Johnson said of Russell’s record. “I see it as a necessary civic duty to vote in every election and I take the time to educate myself on the people and the issues and that has shown through in my answers to the questions during the debates.”

Future development

Johnson’s campaign presents his own paradox: He once worked for the Lowndes law firm, known for representing some of the biggest developers in Winter Park and across Central Florida, but has firmly staked out his position as the staunchest opponent to drastically altering Winter Park with taller buildings and denser development.

He says that experience has armed him with insight on the “sneaky” tactics some commercial landowners use and how to make sure residents’ interests are protected.

“There are very clear distinctions between my opponent and myself and a lot of them center around development,” he said.

Johnson says he supports the current rules for the Orange Avenue Overlay, which reduced the number of stories allowed and call for dedicated open space under certain conditions.

Russell said he would consider revisiting the original overlay rules.

Johnson supports the supermajority charter amendments voters passed in 2022 that require at least four votes on the City Commission to pass certain land use changes. Those changes include the sale of city property, rezoning parks and public land and rezoning residential land to a non-residential use and rezoning lakefront land from residential to commercial, mixed use or higher density residential.

Russell told Pastor Troy East in an interview with the Winter Park Ministerial Alliance that he doesn’t know if the voters understood the amendments or got it right when they approved them by wide margins.

“There’s two sides to that story,” he said. “You have the voters who voted on it, obviously, and then residents who didn’t necessarily understand it … It’s something I’d like to revisit and speak to the experts and see how historically it’s benefited the city and also talk to the residents, not just the voters. To me, there’s a large majority of the residents that didn’t get a chance to speak on it.”

Johnson is also skeptical of the chamber’s push to rewrite parking requirements for developers, which could reduce the number of parking spaces required for certain projects.

One of Russell’s social media posts included a black and white photo of a large concrete parking lot with the question, “Do you want Winter Park to look like this?”

“When it comes to parking solutions, we need to do more than just add endless parking spaces,” the Instagram post from Vote Coach Russell said. “On the City Commission, we should be thinking about creative solutions for enhancing our transit, our sidewalks and road, and our parking.”

Johnson questions if the desire to reduce parking is more about reducing the burden and cost for developers than it is pushing transit.

“Parking is already challenging enough in the city, let’s not make it more challenging by reducing parking requirements,” he said.

Johnson sent an email to voters in recent days with the subject line, “Do you want this to replace the old Lombardi’s?” with an illustration of a large 7-story building along Orange Avenue.

“This illustration was included in … the now-repealed version of the Orange Avenue Overlay. This would NOT be allowed under our current Code,” read the email. “Craig Russell says we need to take a second look at the repealed Orange Avenue Overlay and consider bringing this back.”

Russell called the email a “scare tactic.”

“To imply that’s something I would vote on, that’s just not true,” he said. “I always look to stay positive and show the residents who I am first-hand.”

He said he is grateful for the financial contributors to his campaign, including prominent landowners like the Holler family and developers like Allan Keen who have helped him raise more than $60,000. The chamber’s PAC has raised more than $20,000.

Russell said the money won’t control his positions if he’s elected.

“There’s no secret meetings I’m having with the chamber,” he said. “That’s not happening. I am nobody’s puppet. I weigh almost 300 pounds and there’s no puppet strings that are going to hold me.”

Johnson, who came in second to Russell on March 19 by 540 votes and raised $45,000, acknowledged that Russell is a popular candidate and well-known from his work at the high school and community.

“I’m not trying to win a popularity contest,” he said. “I am going to point out the issues that I think are relevant to the city of Winter Park and they can decide who they want. I’m going to be a champion for residents. I think the questions remains, if Mr. Russell is elected whose interests is he going to champion?”

Will Reeves voters return to the polls?

Both candidates say they want to win the votes of the nearly 1,600 people who cast a ballot for Stockton Reeves, who did not make the run-off with 24% of the vote.

Johnson said he welcomes support from Reeves voters.

“I have reached out to Stockton Reeves personally and would be honored to have their support,” he said.

Russell also would like those voters to know he wants to represent them.

“He has a following who is very loyal and hopefully they can have as much trust to come back out and vote,” he said. “I want to give them a reason to come back out and vote.”

Leaf blower ban

One of the city’s most controversial issues recently — a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers set to take effect next year — also brings differing points of view among the candidates.

“I’m not for it,” Russell said of the ordinance the commission passed in 2022 that bans gas-powered blowers. “I don’t think it’s something we should be focusing on right now,” and he questioned if large organizations like the public school system was aware of the change and prepared to use electric devices.

Johnson said he’s not opposed to letting voters decide via a referendum next year. But he also said he is concerned that involvement by a state senator sets another bad precedent for locally elected boards to be bigfooted by the state Legislature, which erodes local control.

“I liked my gas leaf blower, but because I’m a law-and-order guy I went out and bought an electric leaf blower, which I was surprised was just as powerful and maybe more powerful,” he said. “I am not opposed to allowing voters to have a say … but I also worry this referendum is a way of giving in to bullying by a state legislator when this is a matter of local governance …. at some point we have to be allowed to govern ourselves.”

Whoever wins on April 16 will likely face the leaf blower question almost immediately. Whether or not to approve a referendum for next year is now scheduled to be decided at the April 24 meeting.

To comment or read comments from others, click here →

After last minute change, commission unanimously approves McCraney building

After last minute change, commission unanimously approves McCraney building

After last minute change, commission unanimously approves McCraney building

The three-story development, which is the first approved in Orange Avenue Overlay, will provide offices and some other use such as a small restaurant or furniture store

Feb. 28, 2024

By Beth Kassab

The City Commission unanimously approved a three-story building of mostly offices on Wednesday at the six-way intersection of Orange and Minnesota avenues and Denning Drive.

Developer Steve McCraney’s project is the first to be approved under the Orange Avenue Overlay, which sets the tone and density for redevelopment along the corridor between Rollins College and U.S. 17-92.

The Commission appeared poised to deny the project with three commissioners — Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio and commissioners Todd Weaver and Marty Sullivan — saying they could not vote in favor of it because the building would only contain offices rather than mixed uses as the city code requires.

DeCiccio said she was concerned that allowing the departure from code would set a precedent for other developments that would undermine the vision for the area.

“If we capitulate to you on this issue the entire OAO is out,” she said. “We will be open to endless lawsuits for those who do not get their way.”

About three hours into the discussion, Mayor Phil Anderson called for a break. When the meeting resumed about 20 minutes later, McCraney attorney Becky Wilson offered that at least 25% of the building would include other uses such as a less than 12-seat restaurant, furniture store, personal service provider such as a fitness center or salon.

After that, all five commissioners approved the project.

A number of residents spoke passionately for and against the development.

Anderson said he considered it a “win-win” because McCraney could have built a much larger building on the property. He also noted the previous version of the Orange Avenue Overlay put in place by a different commission five years ago would have yielded a much different result.

“Five years ago, the prior commission had a very different vision,” he said. “The buildings would have been three to four times the size allowed now.”


To comment or read comments from others, click here →

After last minute change, commission unanimously approves McCraney building

News & Notes: Rollins apartments, McCraney property and leaf blowers

News & Notes: Rollins apartments, McCraney property and leaf blowers

The developer of the first new building in the Orange Avenue Overlay is bringing significant changes back to the City Commission for consideration

Feb. 24, 2024

By Beth Kassab

The City Commission on Wednesday will hear a list of proposed changes for the three-story office building slated to be developed next to Seven Oaks Park along Orange Avenue.

The changes are the result of a lengthy public hearing two weeks ago during which a number of residents spoke both for and against the building.

Commissioners criticized the building’s height, which exceeded the limit, as well as its single-use purpose as an office building among other concerns.

Since then, Steve McCraney, the developer who wants to use the building, in part, as his corporate headquarters, has submitted the following changes:

  • The building will no longer be used exclusively for offices and now will be a mixed-use project. The other uses proposed weren’t immediately clear.
  • The building’s architecture has been updated (see rendering above).
  • The screen wall on the roof of the building intended to shield the air-conditioning unit and other equipment from view will now be shorter.
  • The green space planned in front of the building along Minnesota and Denning is adjusted, though the building will still provide more than the required number of parking spaces in the back.

After a first hearing, which didn’t require a vote on Feb. 14, commissioners are expected to take a vote on the project after the second hearing on Wednesday.

Rollins seeks approval for apartments

The liberal arts college that has helped define central Winter Park is expected to come back to the board for approval of new faculty apartments after pausing its request earlier this month.

Neighbors and commissioners have asserted the plan, which is intended to provide attainable housing close to campus exclusively for Rollins faculty and staff, doesn’t fit with the neighborhood and will decrease property values.

At the end of January, Rollins attempted to appease some concerns by lowering the number of units from 48 to 39 and reducing the size and length of the building along Welbourne Avenue.

The proposal is now for a three-story 72,933-square-foot building with 104 parking spaces, which meets code requirements, according to a memorandum from city staff.

Will residents vote on leaf blower ban?

In what has proven to be just as explosive of a topic as development in Winter Park, Commissioners could take a step this week in quieting — once and for all — the noise over leaf blowers.

Commissioners are expected on Wednesday to vote on an ordinance that could allow voters to decide if gas-powered leaf blowers should be banned.

The ordinance comes after Sen. Jason Brodeur threatened to pass a law to prohibit Winter Park and other cities from enforcing their own rules on the matter.

Brodeur demanded the city delay implementing the ordinance, which was originally passed on Jan. 12, 2022, until June 1, 2025, which would allow voters to first have a say on the March 11, 2025 ballot. Voters would be asked whether the gas powered devices, which many consider a nuisance both as noisemakers and air pollutants, should be banned.

Commissioners are expected to vote on doing just that. At the last meeting, Marty Sullivan and Todd Weaver signaled they were against meeting the senator’s demands while Phil Anderson and Kris Cruzada said they were open to it. Sheila DeCiccio, who is running for mayor in the March 19 election, is expected to be the swing vote.

To comment or read comments from others, click here →

News & Notes: What’s happening with Rollins apartments and more

News & Notes: What’s happening with Rollins apartments and more

News & Notes: What's happening with Rollins apartments and more

Plus Super Bowl Sunday and the latest on the McCraney office tower

Feb. 11, 2024

By Beth Kassab

First, it’s Super Bowl Sunday and we all expect Winter Park-adjacent resident Donna Kelce (she lives in Baldwin Park) will be in attendance to cheer on Taylor Swift’s boyfriend (also known as her son, the Kansas City Chief’s Travis Kelce).

Could it be just a coincidence that only months after Donna Kelce posted a big shout out to Winter Park and the city’s famous boat tour that Swift announced there will be a song titled “Florida!!!” on her new album “The Tortured Poets Department” set to release in April?

Yes. It is definitely a coincidence. The song is most certainly not about that. But a city can dream, right?

On to a look ahead for the week:

Rollins proposal for faculty apartments

For those looking to speak for or against the plan by Rollins College to build faculty housing, you’ll have to wait a few extra weeks. The proposal was on Wednesday’s agenda, but has been postponed at the request of the college until Feb. 28.

At the last meeting, Rollins reduced the number of units it plans to build from 48 to 39 and the city postponed a decision on the matter that residents have complained won’t fit in with the surrounding area along New England Avenue.

McCraney Property next to Seven Oaks Park

After an initially chilly reception, members of the Planning & Zoning Board unanimously approved a proposal for a three-story, 29,500-square-foot office tower at 1100 Orange Avenue next to where Seven Oaks Park is underway.

Now the City Commission is set to consider the project on Wednesday.  The Orange Avenue Overlay board approved the concept last month. 

Steve McCraney, who is planning to building the space for his development company’s corporate headquarters, made changes to the original plans and is now offering right-of-way to the city that could be used in the future for a traffic roundabout on Orange Avenue.

“In order for a roundabout to actually be realized at this corner, there will be a much larger and timely community discussion, but this trade-off ensures that the City is not missing an opportunity for the roundabout,” according to a staff memorandum on the project. “Furthermore, the immediate effect of this right-of-way dedication, is a much larger setback than what was previously proposed, which helps reduce the impact of this three-story building at this corner.”

To comment or read comments from others, click here →

OAO Board approves plans for office building next to Seven Oaks Park

OAO Board approves plans for office building next to Seven Oaks Park

OAO Board approves plans for office building next to Seven Oaks Park

The city tried to buy the parcel along Orange Avenue and Denning Drive that was owned by Bank OZK, but lost out to a warehouse developer

Jan. 18, 2024

By Beth Kassab

The Orange Avenue Overlay Appearance Review Advisory Board considered plans for one of the most talked about properties in Winter Park last year — the wedge-shaped parcel that city commissioners attempted multiple times to purchase to add on to Seven Oaks Park.

The property was owned by Bank OZK and after the city’s offers were rebuffed, the vacant land was sold to warehouse developer and Winter Park resident Steven McCraney, who wants to build his company’s headquarters there.

McCraney spoke at the meeting and said he was initially working with Bank OZK to develop the property jointly — a plan that started 18 months ago, long before the city made its first offer last year.

“They decided they wanted to sell it at kind of the last minute and we were glad to be the group they decided to sell it to,” he said.

He said he’s excited about the project and expects it to “raise the bar” in the new special Orange Avenue Overlay area, which has special zoning and development standards designed to improve pedestrian access and architectural quality in the area near Orange Avenue and U.S. Highway 17-92.

The board made several recommendations for the development such as planting oak trees rather than palm trees along the main corridors for extra shade. Ultimately, they recommended approval by a 3-0 vote. Brian Canin, Tonya Mellen and Wade Miller voted in favor. Andrew Krecicki recused himself from the vote because he works for HuntonBrady Architects, which is involved in the McCraney project.

To comment or read comments from others, click here →