No Park Expansion
A 20,000-square-foot medical office building will occupy a lot once home to bowling lanes on Fairbanks Avenue near U.S. Highway 17/92.
City commissioners accepted an offer to buy the land from ComTech Properties for $3.5 million by a 4-1 vote, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper opposed. The site at 1111 W. Fairbanks Ave. has been coveted by some in Winter Park eager to expand Martin Luther King Park.
The city put the land out for bid in June, less than a year and a half after it bought the 1.63 acres from Rollins College for $2.9 million. The college had bought the bowling lanes site in 2013 for $2.85 million as part of a planned athletic field, but sold it to the city after it found another location.
The city used community redevelopment — or CRA — funds from its special downtown taxing district to pay for about a third of the purchase price to Rollins. The intent was to create turn lanes from Fairbanks Avenue onto Hwy. 17/92. There also was discussion at the CRA and city commission level about using the parcel to expand MLK Park.
Commissioner Cooper argued Monday the city should delay the sale “for now,” so it can study what effect the new city library will have on storm water drainage in the area. Hurricane Irma raised the need for more land to offset storm water, she said. Commissioner Greg Seidel voiced similar concerns, as did two residents who spoke to delay the sale. This area “was the TV stand-up spot” reporters used to show flooding from Irma, resident Charley Williams said.
Mayor Steve Leary said the agenda item was “never about park space and water,” but about needing space for traffic lanes. Arguments about stormwater were just another tactic to delay the sale, he said, and that could scare away prospective tenants in the office building and jeopardize the bid.
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Power and Police Priorities
Winter Park’s electric utility and law enforcement emerged as partial winners in Winter Park’s budget debates. The city’s tax rate for 2018 will stay the same.
In the wake of Hurricane Irma and complaints about outages, city commissioners figured out ways to make more money available to the electric utility fund. The biggest chunk — $1 million – will be transferred to the utility this budget year from the city’s water reserves. Another $425,000 would be freed up in the utility’s 2018 contingency funding by moving street-lighting from the utility to the general fund, where it had been in the past.
Not yet known is whether that the additional $1.425 million will speed up the city’s underground wiring or how much work could be accomplished. Although several commissioners said the money was intended to move forward with undergrounding, Mayor Steve Leary said some of the $1 million could go toward other improvements necessitated by the hurricane. City Manager Randy Knight estimated the city’s total storm-related costs at $5.5 million with much of that ultimately covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
“The City has undergrounded just over six miles with the $3.5 million provided for the FY17 fiscal year,” said Clarissa Howard, the city’s communications director Tuesday. “It is extremely difficult to determine how much could be done with additional funds as each project is different and complexity can affect the cost.”
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper voted against the $1 million transfer, saying she preferred such fund-to-fund shifts be done as loans that are paid back. Both Mayor Leary and Commissioner Pete Weldon voted against putting street lighting back in the general fund.
NO BODY CAMERAS FOR POLICE
Police Chief Michael Deal was successful in winning an $862,000 increase in his department’s budget. In earlier budget talks, Mayor Leary had asked the department to cut its request by $200,000, but on Monday commissioners decided to approve the full request. They said they wanted the department to be competitive with other Central Florida departments in hiring new officers.
Commissioners, however, declined to budget the $120,000 Deal had sought for police body cameras. In earlier budget talks, only Mayor Leary had supported that request. Commissioner Weldon didn’t want the cameras to be used to make public safety a “political football,” and Chief Deal said he had seen no complaints of excessive force or racial profiling in the year he has been chief.
On Monday, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel noted the police department’s healthy budget and said the chief could use the money for body cameras if he saw them as a priority. If the chief “can figure out a way to do it, fine,” she said.
NO TAX RATE INCREASE
Commissioner Weldon was unsuccessful in seeking a cut in the property tax rate to 3.9942 mills. That would have removed a half million dollars from the general fund. One mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 in assessed property value.
Weldon argued that the city’s coffers are healthy enough to sustain a lower rate. In addition, he said, the same millage will bring in more revenue because the city’s assessed property values have increased. Commissioners voted 4-1 to keep the rate at 4.0923 mills.
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Keep the Park in Winter Park
Guest Columnist – Bob BendickEditor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.
The “Greenspace Connectivity” article published here is a useful continuation of the discussion in our community about the need to update Winter Park’s ten-year-old Parks and Recreation Plan.
While there remains some uncertainty about the exact questions to be answered by a plan update, it has been encouraging to see the support among elected officials and others for continuing investment in parks and open space in Winter Park.
WP Vision Focuses on Parks & Greenspace
A number of the recommendations of the 2008 plan have been implemented. This, in itself, demonstrates the value of park planning, and this progress provides a good base for additional improvement. Careful stewardship of our parks reflects the views of the great majority of Winter Park residents, as expressed through the city’s recent Visioning Process. The Vision plan recommends:
• Investing in a sustainable future that encourages and supports lifelong learning, healthy living and a daily connectivity to the natural world.
• Enhancing walking, biking and recreational activities through a connected and integrated network of open space.
• Fostering sustainable public and private parks and open spaces using state of the art practices and techniques.
Revise Parks Plan to Address Today’s Needs
So why is a revision of the city’s parks and recreation plan a practical and useful step toward achieving the elements of our shared community vision? First, a revised plan would reflect the preferences of today’s Winter Park’s residents. For example, activities such as lacrosse and paddle boarding hardly existed here ten years ago, but now have grown to become popular uses of our parks.
Reduce Cost and Conflict
A carefully wrought plan would provide a much-needed cohesive framework for making decisions about expanding, adding or modifying individual parks. The decision-making process would become more cost-effective and the City would realize a reduction in the lost time and conflict that results from ad-hoc decision-making.
A thoughtfully revised plan would reduce duplication of facilities and activities, thus improving the delivery of recreational services to the people of Winter Park. It might also introduce innovative ways for private citizens to contribute to the natural and scenic character of our city.
Introduce Updated Management & Maintenance Practices
An updated plan would introduce state-of-the art techniques for management and maintenance of park facilities. A specific, achievable menu of desired projects would enable the City to take advantage of strategic opportunities for implementing the plan through public infrastructure programs, private donations and amenities in commercial and residential development projects.
Connect Our Parks
An updated plan would show how our parks can be connected with walkways and bikeways to provide a green framework for the city’s future. Connectivity among our parks would enhance opportunities for outdoor recreation for citizens of all ages while affording opportunities for safe, non-motorized transportation. We can achieve all this through coordination with the City’s bicycle and walkway planning.
No Need to Re-invent the Wheel
The city’s 2008 parks plan is a sound, useful document. There is no need to start over or to undertake a lengthy and complex planning process. We can take a practical, creative approach to discover ways to further enhance and connect our city’s natural assets of parks, lakes, private open space, walkways and bikeways.
Such an effort is well worth the investment of time and money. Having a clear, overarching vision of the city’s specific open space needs and priorities will save us in the long run, and will encourage the partnerships and creative ideas that are central to park planning and management in today’s world.
We owe it to the next generation to keep the park in Winter Park.
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Green Space Connectivity
A City In Search of a Unified Parks Plan
Among the drawers, shelves and stacks of notebooks, leaflets and books storing visions, plans and master plans sits the Winter Park Parks & Recreation Master Plan. As that plan nears the age of 10 – it was last updated in 2008 — Commissioners, staff and citizens have concluded the time has come to give it some much-needed attention.
Many of the national statistics used to support the 2008 plan date from 1999. In 2008, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), upon which we now base much of our data, did not exist. According to GIS data, since 2008 the City has added 50 acres of parkland – some of it under water, but most of it visible to the naked eye.
In addition, some significant developments have occurred in the past 10 years that do not appear in the 2008 plan – projects in Mead Botanical Garden and plans for the new library-event center in MLK Park, for example.
Parks Plan Needs Life Support
Solid reasons exist to resuscitate the plan. Both the City’s Comprehensive Plan and the Vision Plan require the City have a current Parks & Recreation Master Plan. Actually, Comp Plan Policy 6-2.5.4 states the plan should be updated every five years. Second, the City must have a current Parks & Recreation Master Plan in order to retain accreditation under the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA).
There’s Talk, but No Action Yet
Toward that end, the Commission took up the question of updating the Parks & Recreation Master Plan at their August 28 meeting, with the stipulation that they intended to take no action at that meeting.
At the outset, it’s important to know three factors which could stand in the way of a speedy conclusion to this effort. First, with the recent retirement of former Parks & Recreation Director John Holland, no Parks & Rec director is in place to guide the update process. According to City Manager Randy Knight, the search for a new director has not yet begun.
As of August 28, there is no money in the FY 2018 budget for a plan update, although that could change. Finally, the scope of work is vague and the proposed schedule, which exceeds 12 months, is not set to commence until March 2018.
What Do We Know About WP Parks?
According to the 2016 Comprehensive Plan, Winter Park boasts 346 acres of publicly owned park, open space and conservation lands. There is no distinction between active park space, for instance the Farmer’s Market and Azalea Lane tennis courts, and passive green space like Central Park or Mead Botanical Garden.
Of the 346 total acres, 27.58 acres comprise 36 ‘mini-parks.’ Some mini-parks provide peaceful sightlines onto small gardens or lakes, while others are little more than a park bench in a roadway median.
Howell Creek Conservation Land to be Added
In addition to the existing inventory, the City is in the process of purchasing 55.57 acres of conservation land along the Howell Creek Basin. The properties were appraised at $166,000. The agreed-upon purchase price plus commissions will come to $304,500. Approximately half this amount will come from a grant from the State of Florida. The remainder will likely come from the Parks Impact Fee Fund, which currently has a balance of more than $1 million.
The package deal includes seven separate parcels. Of these 55+ acres, two parcels totaling 12.23 combined acres are within Maitland City limits, and 7.71 acres are submerged.
Maitland Gets a Piece of the Park
According to minutes of the August 14, 2017 Commission meeting, staff plans “to work with the City of Maitland on a joint planning agreement to transfer the one piece of property that is in their city limits and adjacent to our park into [Winter Park] city limits and to transfer ownership of the other parcel to Maitland.”
Once this wetlands area has been reclaimed, invasive plants will be replaced with native species. The City plans to create a recreation area that will feature boardwalks, nature trails and a kayaking “blue way.”
Questions Remain — How Do We Anticipate Future Costs of Park Ownership?
Parks & Recreation accounts for approximately 15 percent of the City’s budget. To date, more money has been devoted to parks acquisition. As our parks age, however, the lifecycle costs of ownership and maintenance increases. Is the City prepared to create a Parks & Recreation Master Plan that accurately reflects these costs so we can anticipate out-year budget requirements – and budget for them?
How to Develop Connectivity Between the Park Spaces?
In their August 28 report to the Commission, staff highlighted the need for connectivity between our existing parks and green space. Their recommendation was endorsed by Commissioner Greg Seidel, who cited the need to weave in GIS data points to evaluate feasibility and to accelerate the connectivity portion of the Parks & Recreation Master Plan.
Should We Distinguish Passive Park vs. Active Park?
As urban sprawl presses on our borders, our active parks and passive green space frequently find themselves in the same footprint and in direct competition with one another. The resulting frustration for any visitor is that neither the active nor the passive functions can be adequately realized.
Charley Williams’s ‘Official Quiet Zones’
Elected officials, City staff and Winter Park residents are embarking on a difficult task – one that will take time to complete. In the meantime, Winter Park resident Charley Williams offered the following thoughts that might form a context and a way to think about these issues. In this spirit, we share his musings with you.
Charley Says . . .
Leash your dog
Take your bike for a walk.
Enjoy the garden.
Leave the flowers on their stalks.
Take a deep breath
. . . .and take one again.
Smell the dirt and
The scent of the air after the rain.
Sit on a bench, relax, listen.
Remove your sunglasses.
Feel the shade.
Close your eyes – smile, feel your thoughts fade.
Watch the clouds.
Enjoy the sunset.
What bird call was that?
Are the owls waking up?
Come tonight for a meteor shower.
Bring your blanket to lie on.
Feel our natural rhythms
In the low light of our park after dark.
Charley Williams has lived in Winter Park and Central Florida for over 25 years. When it comes to sports and rec, he’s proud to say he still has good knees.
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City Tree Preservation Board Jumps the Gun
Saves Developer $12,375
Several weeks ago, in the thick of election season, Winter Park’s Tree Preservation Board delivered its own October Surprise.
The board had proposed significant changes to the city’s Tree Preservation Ordinance earlier this year, and had been waiting for months – through hearings, workshops and citizen testimony — for the changes to be finally approved.
But then, in early October something happened that tested the board’s willingness to wait for final Commission approval of the ordinance changes: A local developer filed an appeal, hoping to overturn a $12,375 tree removal fee required by the city’s current ordinance — an appeal that mirrored the Tree Board’s own desire to significantly reduce tree fees and replanting standards.
Tree Board Overturns Current Preservation Standards in Appeal Case
The developer’s appeal was heard by the Tree Board on October 18. On that day, in less than thirty minutes, the Tree Board overturned provisions of the city’s current tree ordinance and instead, voted to substitute their own proposed ordinance changes — just 3½ weeks before the City Commission would have an opportunity to vote on the changes. While discussing their motion to waive the fee and the standards mandated by the city’s current ordinance, the board cited provisions of its own proposed ordinance changes in reaching their decision.[Video]
City Claim re Historic Trees that “We’re Not Allowing Removal” Proves False
Nine days before the Tree Board appeal hearing, the city sponsored a Tree Ordinance Workshop where citizens debated the board’s proposed changes in anticipation of upcoming Commission hearings on the matter. At least two members of the Tree Board attended the October 9 workshop. These members and many city residents witnessed George Wiggins, head of the WP Building Department, offer a strongly worded assurance to citizens who might question the intent of the proposed changes:
“There’s an extremely important point here that I cannot over-emphasize. When you’re looking at a historic tree . . . we [city staff] have never issued a permit to remove a historic tree . . . So when you see these drastic differences [between the proposed ordinance and the current ordinance] I’m not sure that it matters much, because we’re not allowing the removal. “
However, documents obtained by the Voice reveal that two weeks before the workshop, Mr. Wiggins’ Code Enforcement department approved a permit application to do just that – remove a healthy live oak – a 39” diameter heritage tree; The same tree that would later be at issue in the October 18 Tree Board appeal.
WPV contacted Mr. Wiggins, asking him to clarify the timing of the permit approval. He commented that his workshop statement “. . . was based on info I received from our arborist that must have pre-dated that permit. In addition it would be impossible to build the new home with the location of the tree in the middle of the lot.”
Historic Live Oak Blocks Developer Plan to Build New Home 3x Size of Current Home
Public records obtained by the Voice show that once the tree removal permit was approved, the permit applicant, Rex-Tibbs Construction Company, filed an appeal on October 4 asking the city to waive payment of a $12,375.00 fee into the Tree Fund. The fee Rex-Tibbs was hoping to avoid is owed by property owners when they receive a permit to remove a large, healthy tree. (Fees are not owed when a sick or declining tree is removed.) The staff report prepared for the appeal hearing defines the city’s requirement in this case:
“As a Historic Tree, the compensation requirement becomes 3” of replacement to 1” removed or replanting of one 4.5” minimum caliper shade tree and compensation of $110.00 per inch not replanted. Assuming the minimum was replanted, this leaves a balance of 112.5” and a balance due of $12,375.00.”
Other documents obtained by the Voice include a Purchase Contract for the residential property on which the oak stands – a lot in an established neighborhood on Rockwood Way in south Winter Park. In an apparent bid to develop an investment property, Rex-Tibbs Construction is contracted as the sole buyer of the Rockwood property. The property contract is scheduled to close in mid-November.
Rex-Tibbs submitted building plans to the city indicating that they intend to replace the existing 1600 sq. ft. home on the lot with a new two-story 4,500 sq. ft. home. The new building footprint covers the spot now occupied by the historic oak. Winter Park Voice contacted Donney Rex and requested comment and/or clarification of the information obtained in our Public Records Request. As of press time, Mr. Rex did not respond to our request for comment.
During the appeal hearing in front of the Tree Preservation Board, the city’s arborist, Alan Lee, conceded that the size of the historic tree’s canopy creates significant difficulty for construction of a new home on the lot. However, Mr. Lee also pointed out that the historic oak is physically and structurally “in good shape,” adding that he expected the historic oak to live “another hundred years or more.” [Video of Full Hearing]
Did City Miss Opportunity to Replace Ailing Trees on Winter Park Road?
During the hearing, board members learned that the property on Rockwood is very close to Winter Park Road — a few hundred yards from the spot where the city pruned deep v-cuts into multiple oak trees along the roadway. City officials have stated that the trees were pruned this way due to the declining health of the trees.
Current city code would have allowed Rex-Tibbs to plant or possibly even “donate” multiple trees as a way to significantly reduce the fee they owed the city. A review of the Rockwood Way documents does not show evidence of any alternative building plans or off-site tree replacement strategies requested by the city or offered by the builder.
At the Tree Preservation Board hearing, Donney Rex of Rex-Tibbs construction presented his case to the board members, noting that he has planted many trees during his years as a home builder. Mr. Rex was not opposed to planting a few replacement trees on the property, but did ask the board to waive the $12,375.00 fee. Options including modifying the building plan and/or applying for setback variances to enable the home to be moved away from the tree were not discussed at the hearing. Board members and the city arborist agreed with the builder that the historic tree would have to be removed to enable the proposed new home to be built, as currently designed, inside the current setback envelope.
Board Members Explain Decision/Rejection of Current City Code
Soon after Mr. Rex finished his presentation, board member Richard Simpson made a motion to waive the entire fee. Mr. Simpson’s rationale for approval appeared to be largely based on the more lenient Tree Preservation Ordinance provisions his board has recommended to the City Commission. Simpson explained
“I know that the City Commission has not adopted our proposals to revise the tree code, but . . . if we adopted the proposed code — notwithstanding that it hasn’t been approved yet by the City Commission — and approved this with a two tree replacement requirement, we’d be consistent, at least, with the amendments to the code that we [proposed earlier this year].“
Simpson’s motion was quickly seconded by board member Christine Menkin. Just before the board voted, board chair Woody Woodall assured the board members that he had attended the October 9 Tree Ordinance workshop and observed that “There was really only one person that dramatically opposed our [proposed changes].”
Immediately following Mr. Woodall’s comment, city staff recorded a board vote of “All in Favor” to waive the $12,375.00 fee and require Rex-Tibbs to replace the 39” diameter live oak with two 4.5” trees.
Related Tree Workshop Videos:
Winter Park Voice requested comments from all Tree Preservation Board members who were present at the hearing, including Anthony Gray, Phil Eschbach, Woody Woodall, Christine Menkin and John Simpson. As of press time, we did not receive any comment on the proceedings, except from John Simpson, who commented via email to the Voice,
“I have no comment regarding the actions taken at the October 18 meeting. The video and minutes speak for themselves. As I am not the chairman of the TPB, it is not my place to speak for the Board.
Regarding the Board’s proposed changes to the ordinance, I suggest that you seek comment from Pete Weldon as he was the member primarily responsible for the proposed changes. As you know, these changes were discussed and revised at several Board meetings and were then adopted by the Board and sent to the City Commission for consideration. I voted in favor of these proposed changes, but recognize that others may have different views and priorities. My intent was to encourage the retention and planting of trees within the City while reducing the financial hardship imposed on property owners seeking to improve or enhance their homes.”
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Commission Yields to Citizen Concerns: Schedules Tree Preservation Workshops: Schedules Tree Preservation Workshop
|At their September 10 meeting, City Commissioners agreed to put off a vote on Tree Preservation Ordinance changes until a citizen workshop could be convened.
The panel acknowledged receiving critical letters from citizens concerned about the proposed changes. The discussion opened old fault lines on the Commission — with the Mayor hinting that citizens had been stirred up by misleading information.
Halfway through the discussion, some members of the panel became visibly agitated as they described citizen resistance to proposed policies. Despite the occasionally contentious exchange, the Mayor and Commissioners did ultimately reach consensus that a public forum would benefit the community. City Manager Randy Knight was asked to schedule a workshop on proposed Tree Preservation Ordinance changes.
UPDATE: Public Meeting on proposed Tree Ordinance changes will be held Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 6 pm at City Hall.
>> Watch video of the discussion by clicking on the image above.
On Monday, September 17, Phil Eschbach, a member of the city’s Tree Preservation Board, joined a group of Winter Park residents in a meeting with Randy Knight. The group discussed setting up a workshop, scheduled for October 9, that will give city residents an opportunity to learn more about the city’s proposed changes to the Tree Preservation Ordinance.
In a statement to the Voice, Mr. Eschbach said he hopes “for a good turnout on Oct 9th because we want to make sure the public understands what this is all about and what the ramifications are. Also the important thing to get across is that after the hearings, the ordinance will be brought up for a vote later in October.” Mr. Eschbach tells the Voice that the October 9 meeting is scheduled for 6:00 pm, pending final confirmation from City Manager, Randy Knight.
Marc Hagle, past member of the Tree Preservation Board that wrote the current ordinance, has indicated to members of the citizen group that he will attend the workshop.
This article was updated on 9/19/12.
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