Winter Park tries to protect against abuse of state’s Live Local Act

Winter Park tries to protect against abuse of state’s Live Local Act

Winter Park tries to protect against abuse of state's Live Local Act

The city is taking a page from Tampa as it attempts to ensure projects provide affordable housing under state-mandated rules that are less stringent for developers

Jan. 4, 2024

By Beth Kassab

Last summer a new law took effect in Florida that appears designed to lure more developers to offer affordably-priced units as part of new projects.

But city and county leaders across the state are wary of the new rules known as the Live Local Act that take away local control over the projects — meaning the city would be forced to allow taller buildings or higher density than might typically be allowed under local regulations.

The Act overrides local zoning regulations for any housing project for which the developer declares a minimum of 40% of the units to be affordable, according to city documents. 

Winter Park is just the latest local government to consider a set of provisions to try to guard against abuse of the act by attempting to ensure developers are truly providing affordable units.

The ordinance, which is based on one passed by the city of Tampa, will be considered for its second and final approval at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting.

In addition to clarifying some terms in the act, the proposed ordinance lays out an application and certification process to assure the developer continues to provide affordable units throughout the operation of the development. 

“Otherwise, under the Act, one can declare that they are providing affordable housing but never demonstrate how they are doing such at any time during the initial approval process, during construction or operation for the 30 years required,” according to a memorandum from city staff. “There also are no penalties within the Act for non-compliance.”

Projects within the Orange Avenue Overlay District must also meet the applicable architectural requirements of the district and will be subject to review by Orange Avenue Overlay Appearance Review Advisory Board, according to the ordinance.

“The City may deny a project that receives a recommendation of denial or fails to meet the conditions of a recommendation for approval from the Orange Avenue Overlay Appearance Review Advisory Board,” according to the proposed rules. 

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Commissioners: Can we buy Winter Park Playhouse building?

Commissioners: Can we buy Winter Park Playhouse building?

Commissioners: Can we buy Winter Park Playhouse building?

The potential purchase is an alternative to a new building at Seven Oaks Park as the City Commission also considers concepts for the old library

By Beth Kassab

Winter Park City Commissioners on Wednesday tossed around the idea of using Community Redevelopment Agency funds combined with Orange County Tourism Development Tax dollars to buy the building occupied by the Winter Park Playhouse, currently on the market for about $4.25 million.

The potential purchase came up as an alternative to allowing the theater, which is set to lose its lease at 711 N. Orange Avenue as early as next year, to build above the parking lot at the new Seven Oaks Park.

That concept has been discussed since February, though some commissioners have been hesitant to commit to the idea because of the likely need for more parking in the future as well as concerns about how the structure would alter the look and feel of the park.

“I want to do everything we can do to keep [the playhouse], but we don’t know what 10 years is going to bring for Seven Oaks and that whole area could change,” said Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio.

Heather Alexander, executive director of the playhouse, said she is open to the city’s help to purchase the current building, but also remains interested in building at the park or even the old Winter Park Library site.

Ultimately, commissioners voted to put on hold for two weeks a Request for Proposal for the air rights above the Seven Oaks parking lot.

Earlier in the meeting, the commission voted to go forward with asking for redevelopment concepts for the old library and, once again, voted to give preference to proposals that keep the old building rather than demolish it. Commissioner Todd Weaver pushed for the change, arguing it would be wasteful and harm the environment to take down the 1978 building. That amendment passed by a 3-2 vote with Mayor Phil Anderson and DeCiccio dissenting.

Last year the commission issued an RFP for the site and required the building stay put, but abandoned the concept for office and other uses earlier this year.

This time they voted to allow residential units as part of the plans, though some commissioners expressed reservations about the city retaining ownership over a building with apartments or condominiums.

Six nonprofit groups expressed interest so far in being part of such a proposal. Groups are still invited to write letters of interest, Anderson said.

He also advocated for a community meeting to be held on the redevelopment of the old library so people who live nearby can have a better understanding of what to expect and weigh in on the concepts.

 

 

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Winter Park breaks ground on Seven Oaks Park, will seek performance space proposals

Winter Park breaks ground on Seven Oaks Park, will seek performance space proposals

Winter Park breaks ground on Seven Oaks Park, will seek performance space proposals

After the ceremony the City Commission held a work session and signaled it will ask developers to submit concepts for a piece of the park

By Beth Kassab

A crowd gathered Thursday morning under a tent to break ground at Seven Oaks Park surrounded by the namesake Live Oaks taking root along the perimeter of the wedge-shaped lot that comes to a point at Orange Avenue and Denning Drive.

“In the future you won’t need the tent, the trees will provide the shade,” said Larry Adams, principal at ACI Architecture, who designed the city’s newest park and has been involved in the concept from the start, creating the first set of blueprints pro bono.

A construction manager is expected to be chosen for the 2.4-acre project soon, Winter Park Mayor Phil Anderson said. Renderings call for the greenspace to become a community gathering spot that also helps link Mead Botanical Gardens with Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

Anderson called the park a “three-year work in progress” after delays brought by the pandemic and hurricanes and noted the mature oaks planted last year at the site formerly known as Progress Point are a “symbolic start to putting something in place that will last for generations.” Anderson said Seven Oaks Park is due to open in mid-2024.

In a nod to the city’s love of its tree canopy, Anderson declared April 13 “Arbor Day” for Winter Park, and the Urban Forestry department gave away trees to residents.

Steve Goldman, chairman of the Winter Park Land Trust, thanked city officials and others who helped shepherd the project along to provide a green refuge from concrete and traffic. “It takes a village,” said Goldman, who is also a founder and financial supporter of the Winter Park Voice.

Mayor Phil Anderson gives remarks at the groundbreaking for Seven Oaks Park.

Just hours later Anderson and city commissioners moved beyond symbolism to the nitty gritty of how they want a specific area of the park developed.

For months, Winter Parkers have debated whether the Winter Park Playhouse should move to Seven Oaks Park since its leaders announced the popular theater would lose its lease next year.

Commissioner Todd Weaver proposed a concept that called for the playhouse to be built above the parking lot at the new park along with solar panels.

That idea appeared to gain traction with commissioners, who agreed at the work session that they would soon formally vote on asking for proposals for performance spaces combined with a potential café or other uses in the airspace above the parking lot area.

Heather Alexander, founder and executive director of the playhouse, said she planned to submit a proposal. The building would be paid for by the playhouse and would not require public dollars, she said. But if the theater ever left the park, the building would belong to the city.

 

 

 

 

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Seven Oaks Park to break ground as commission set to discuss if theater can move there

Seven Oaks Park to break ground as commission set to discuss if theater can move there

Seven Oaks Park to break ground as commission set to discuss if theater can move there

The new park is designed to be a green refuge along a busy stretch of Orange Avenue and the concept of moving the Winter Park Playhouse there remains controversial

By Beth Kassab

City officials will gather Thursday morning to break ground on the long-awaited Seven Oaks Park at the corner of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive.

The public ceremony set for 10 a.m. comes as the City Commission is set to discuss key aspects of the 1.5-acre park’s future this week at two additional public meetings on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

Central to those talks is a proposal by Commissioner Todd Weaver for the Winter Park Playhouse, which is losing the lease for its current building on Orange Avenue, to move to the park. A meeting last month some residents expressed support for the concept, but others expressed concerns it would take away from the feel of the park and add congestion to nearby neighborhoods.

Weaver’s plan calls for the theater to be part of the second story of a parking structure that also houses solar panels.

A brief summary included in the agenda for Wednesday’s City Commission meeting notes that city staff met with the executive director of the playhouse, who said the building would need to be 12,000 to 15,000-square feet and sit as many as 175 people, up from the 123 seats at the current theater.

The playhouse will also need 38 to 44 parking spaces to meet zoning requirements, according to the memo. One question is whether there will be enough space to accommodate enough additional parking intended for the park that will help nearby businesses that rely mostly on street parking.

The groundbreaking ceremony is open to the public on Thursday morning. The Seven Oaks name for the site formerly known as Progress Point was selected earlier this year in a public online vote in tribute to the seven large Live Oak trees planted on the property in 2022.

 

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Commissioner asks if Playhouse could build in new park’s surface lot

Commissioner asks if Playhouse could build in new park’s surface lot

Commissioner asks if Playhouse could build in new park's surface lot

In an attempt to find a new home for the beloved Winter Park theater, Todd Weaver proposes park could be the answer without eating away greenspace

Intense debate erupted earlier this month when the operators of Winter Park Playhouse announced they were losing their lease and asked the City Commission if the small theater could find a home in the new Seven Oaks Park at the corner of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive.

Some argued the playhouse needs to remain in Winter Park, which is a challenge because of high commercial rents and land prices, and suggested there would be room to build a theater in the area already set aside for a building at the under-construction park. But critics of that plan countered that the theater would subtract from the park’s long-desired greenspace and worsen parking and traffic problems for nearby businesses and residents.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Todd Weaver proposed a meet-in-the-middle solution, though a number of questions remain. He presented PowerPoint slides that showed how the playhouse could construct a 12,000-square-foot theater by elevating it above the 36,000-square-foot parking lot already planned for the park. There is also enough space for solar awnings to help power the theater and park, he said.

Seven Oaks Park concept with Winter Park Playhouse

The pink area shows the parking lot planned for Seven Oaks Park.

Under that concept, Weaver said, none of the planned greenspace or any of the 91 parking spaces on the site formerly known as Progress Point would disappear to accommodate the theater. (Commissioners officially named the new park Seven Oaks on Wednesday after an online public vote.)

“Time is of the essence,” Weaver said, noting that the playhouse has 18 months to find a new space and he’s heard from a number of residents who want to keep the theater in the city.

He also said an earlier suggestion to reuse the old Winter Park Library for the theater likely would not work because the ceiling heights are too low.

Under Weaver’s proposal, the city would negotiate a land lease with Winter Park Playhouse, but the nonprofit operators would be responsible for raising the money to build the new theater as well as maintain and operate the building.

Heather Alexander, founder of the playhouse, along with Mayor Phil Anderson and Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio expressed support for the concept.

“We never got into this request to start a fight,” Alexander said. “This would solve certainly our problems and allow us to go forward with a capital campaign.”

The concept will likely be evaluated in more detail at a meeting next month.

“This wouldn’t impact any of the greenspace,” Weaver said. “The parking lot can be shaded, which I love.”

While that plan would not decrease the number of parking spots already planned for the site, it would prevent a future parking garage from being built there. Parking is a sore spot among businesses along Orange Avenue, which have been looking forward to relief for their patrons from a surface lot at the new park.

Construction on Seven Oaks Park is set to break ground next month.

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Commissioners: Can we buy Winter Park Playhouse building?

Winter Park Playhouse is losing lease, asks to build at Progress Point Park

Winter Park Playhouse is losing lease, asks to build at Progress Point Park

The future of the beloved 21-year-old theater is uncertain as commissioners debate greenspace vs. development in new park

Winter Park City Commissioners expressed reservations Wednesday about a request from the leaders of Winter Park Playhouse to include space for the theater in the new Progress Point Park at the corner of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive.

Judith Marlowe, past president of the nonprofit theater’s board, urged commissioners to keep the performance space in the city and likened a potential move to the still-under-construction park to the presence of Orlando Shakes at Loch Haven Park. Without help, she said, the theater would likely leave Winter Park once its lease ends in about a year.

“We don’t want to be the Winter Park Playhouse located in Maitland,” she said. “We ask you to consider this option.”

Heather Alexander, founder and executive director of Winter Park Playhouse, said the theater group is losing its lease on the only building it’s ever occupied at 711 Orange Avenue, about two blocks north of the still-under-construction park land.

She said a potential footprint for a 10,000-square-foot building within the park brought a unique opportunity for Winter Park to help maintain the playhouse, which serves about 30,000 patrons a year, close to its roots. She asked the city for a land lease, but said the theater, not the city, would fundraise for construction of the building and pay the mortgage, noting the group does not currently have any debt.

But commissioners expressed concerns about potential parking problems and whether the theater’s presence would subtract too much greenspace from the park envisioned as an urban oasis and potential connector to other nearby parks such as Mead Botanical Gardens and Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

“This is a tough one,” said Commissioner Todd Weaver. “I’d love to see playhouse down there, but I don’t think the timing would work out,” noting the group’s current lease would likely end before construction could be completed.

Alexander said the theater operates even now without designated parking and a number of patrons arrive by chartered buses, cutting down on the need for spaces.

Commissioner Kris Cruzada noted his parents regularly attend performances at the theater.

“I’m intrigued by the thought of a playhouse there, but I would really like it to remain a greenspace if at all possible,” he said.

Bob Bendick, co-chairman of the Winter Park Land Trust, which helped the city acquire the property for Progress Point, joined other residents in urging the commission to remember the intention of providing “relief from an increasingly urban cityscape.”

“The city should designate as much area as possible as permanent greenspace,” Bendick said.

From the start of the discussion, Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio and Mayor Phil Anderson advocated taking a more in-depth look at the matter in April when the Commission is set to also discuss what will become of the old and now vacant Winter Park Library building.  The City Commission will hold a work session on April 13.

“Is this the use we want for Progress Point?” DeCiccio asked. “If we do not provide space on Progress Point, is there another location we have within the city for [the theater]? Or is the commission willing to lose the playhouse?”

 

 

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