The Charter Review Advisory Committee (CRC) wrapped up their report Friday, Sept. 20, at Noon. The report will go to the Commission on Monday, Sept. 23, at a 6:00 pm workshop following the regular Commission meeting.
Every 10 years, a committee of Winter Park citizens is assembled to review the City Charter and make updates to bring it into compliance with state and federal law and to eliminate archaic language. The last review was in 2009.
Charter Review Committee
The committee members were Steve Brandon, Marjorie Bridges, Lisa Coney, Mary Daniels, Amanda Day, James Johnston, Bud Kirk, Jr., Nick Pope and Lawrence Lyman. They had 10 two-hour meetings between April 23 and September 20, 2019, in which they reviewed the Charter, line-by-line, and recommended changes. Recommendations required a consensus threshold of 75 percent of the committee. Issues decided could be readdressed with the consent of 75 percent of the committee.
Led by Marilyn Crotty
Not only was there robust discussion among committee members, there was substantial time devoted to public comment both before and following the formal meetings. Facilitator Marilyn Crotty, who led the effort and who has had a long career as a facilitator for cities throughout Florida, stated that she observed more participation from Winter Park citizens than she had for any other city with which she had worked. She commended Winter Parkers for their extraordinary level of civic engagement.
The Commission will have the weekend to review the CRC’s report. Following the regular Commission meeting Monday, the Commissioners and the committee members will have an informal workshop to discuss the committee’s recommendations. Although the Commission could decide otherwise, it is customary that during an informal workshop, such as the one Monday night, no decisions will be made and no public comment will be taken.
It will be an important meeting for concerned citizens to attend, however, to see which issues are discussed and to hear the tenor of the conversation.
First, the Commission
The Commission can decide to accept all, some or none of the CRC’s recommendations. Recommendations the Commission does accept will be placed on the ballot at the Presidential Preference Primary March 17, 2020. The procedure for that is as for anything placed on the ballot. The Commission will pass an ordinance that will include the ballot language through a process of two public hearings and an affirmative vote of a majority of Commissioners. Public notice and public comment will play leading roles in that process.
Then to the Ballot for a Decision by the Voters
At the September 20 committee meeting, Ms. Crotty estimated there could be as many as 19 separate recommendations to go on the ballot in March – a substantial amount of information for anyone to take in, especially in a Presidential Primary year when there are sure to be distractions.
Elaborate Voter Info Program Recommended
The CRC is recommending the City fund a community education program consisting, at a minimum, “. . . of access to copies of the proposed Charter changes, printed informational brochures, public forums, information on social media and the City website, and a speakers’ bureau to inform voters of the proposed changes.”
During the committee meetings, the items that came up for discussion most frequently – and tended to be the most controversial – were the following four.
Should Commissioners be elected from a geographic district rather than representing the citizens at large? Some believed districts might provide fairer representation for under-served communities, such as the West Side neighborhood. Others believed Winter Park is not large enough to warrant being divided up geographically. No consensus was reached on this issue, so it will not go forward as a recommendation from the committee, but Commissioners are still likely to hear about it.
Should the Mayor have the sole authority to make appointments to Citizen Advisory Boards? Again, no consensus – five voted for, three against, one was absent – but the vote did not reach the required 75 percent consensus threshold. While a recommendation from the committee will not be forthcoming, this discussion too is probably far from over.
How to ensure our local elections remain non-partisan? The difficulty here was crafting rules that are a) unambiguous and b) do not conflict with state and federal statutes and certain U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The committee recommends language prohibiting candidates from publicly advertising affiliation with any political party or accepting campaign contributions from any political party. It also provides for penalties for infractions.
Increased compensation for Mayor and Commissioners. The committee is bringing its recommendation for base annual salaries for Commissioners of $12,600 and for the Mayor, $15,000. According to a table distributed by Marilyn Crotty, each Commissioner now receives $2,400 per year, and the Mayor receives $3,000.
Holding office entails a significant commitment of time and resources, and that can be a barrier for someone who has family obligations and is not self-employed, retired or independently wealthy. While no current Mayor or Commissioner would receive an increase, the increase would bring Winter Park compensation more in line with other cities in Central Florida. More important, the hope is that this increase would encourage a wider pool of potential future candidates to run for elected office.
Civil Service Board Survives
The committee was able to work through one topic — the possible elimination of the Civil Service Advisory Board – to avoid controversy. Suggested Charter language had the potential to eliminate the Civil Service Board, which forms a layer of protection between Police and Fire first responders and the more politically oriented City government. Instead of a Civil Service Advisory Board, the Charter would have mandated a Civil Service Code, (as yet, unwritten) which the Commission would adopt by Ordinance and which would govern first responders.
A Civil Service Code exists, but has not been updated for many years and is largely irrelevant. When asked about this, Police Chief Michael Deal told the Voice, “The Code is outdated and should be modernized, but the Board should remain intact. This keeps politics out of [first responder] work.”
Chief Deal went on to explain that nearly everything first responders do is governed by state law and state accreditation standards. “I am very happy in my job,” said Deal, “and the City Manager and the Commission are very supportive – they all let me do my job.”
“The issue is how the City functions,” he said, “not about the specific personalities involved. Right now, everything’s fine, but there could come a time when politics could enter in – which it doesn’t now – and that would not be appropriate.”
Chief Deal and City Manager Randy Knight have agreed to work together to update the Civil Service Code to meet today’s conditions. In the meantime — except in the highly unlikely event the Commission decides to abolish it — the Civil Service Advisory Board will remain.
“The earth is common ground and…gradually the idea is taking form that the land must be held in safekeeping….” E.B. White, 1942
There is growing support state-wide and throughout our local communities for the adoption of a formal land ethic.
Each of us has become witness to challenges never before seen in the Sunshine State. Our beaches and shores are blighted with sea-rise and algae bloom. Climate change spin-offs have brought us increasingly violent storms like Irma. The storms, combined with pollution and over-building, are shortening the life cycle of our tree canopy, which is the critical factor in cleaning the air and protecting us from the sun.
Parks are on Life Support
City and county park lands are vying for survival with the exponential growth now occurring in Central Florida. Cities and counties do their best to balance competing demands for passive vs active use of park lands.
Still Not Safe to Get Out of the Car
Central Florida continues to head the list of the most dangerous communities for pedestrian and bicycle safety. Here in Winter Park, greenspace connectivity is increasingly cited as the single most important step to renewing our pledge to sustain the character of our community.
Green Assets = $$$
While open green lands cannot be measured solely in economic terms, parks and green space are invaluable assets as a marketing tool for our city. Proximity to parks has been proven to increase property values. What’s more, protected park lands do not require costly, full-blown municipal services such as water, sewer and schools.
Momentum is Building
This conversation has been gaining momentum since 2014, when Amendment 1 — known as the Florida Water and land Conservation Initiative — to increase spending for natural lands acquisition programs like Florida Forever passed with an overwhelming majority.
WP Needs an Integrated Plan
Locally, this vision for an integrated plan for greenspace connectivity within our urban core resonates with citizens of all walks of life. It embraces our often-discussed concerns for a healthy tree canopy, a vibrant, connected system of parks and greenspace, an appreciation for scenic beauty, designated quiet zones, family enjoyment, outdoor recreation, community enrichment and sustainable local native habitats.
City Leadership: Join In
I would urge our city and community leaders to take this trend a step further. The time has come to clearly define and articulate a Land Ethic for all of Winter Park. It will serve as our guide for future decisions as well as the definition of our responsibility for this generation and the next. It’s time to stop talking and pledge to take action.
U.S. Census Bureau Reports Central FL Population Explosion
How will Winter Park Cope?
Documentary Film – “Rebels With A Cause”
The 14th Annual Global Peace Film Festival and Rollins College present the documentary film “Rebels With A Cause,” in which a group of “ordinary” northern Californians dealt with just such a question.
Thursday, September 22 – 8:00 pm Rollins College Bush Auditorium Click here to buy tickets
Immediately following the film, there will be a panel discussion moderated by Orlando Sentinel Columnist Beth Kassab. The five panelists are: Mark Brewer, President & CEO, Central Florida Foundation Becky Wilson, Attorney, Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed Bruce Stephenson, Professor Environmental Studies, Rollins College Chris Castro, City of Orlando Director of Sustainability Steve Goldman, Winter Park Visioning Steering Committee
Central FL Growing Fastest
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Central Florida is the fastest growing of the 30 largest regions in the country. In January, Orlando Economic Development Commission CEO Rick Weddle told an audience at the Orange County Convention Center that Orlando is “growing at close to double the rate” of the U.S. population. “More people are expected to move here than at any other point in history,” said Weddle, “with a net immigration of 350,000 new residents by 2020.”
Sooner or later, all 350,000 of our new neighbors will find their way to or through Winter Park.
How Will WP Preserve Quality of Life?
One of the overriding concerns expressed by Winter Park residents during the recently completed Visioning Process was how to preserve the character of Winter Park in the face of such growth. Steve Goldman told the Voice in a recent interview, “One thing became clear as we spoke with thousands of people during the Visioning process, and that was that people place a very high value on the village feel of Winter Park. They value the lakes and the tree canopy – the feeling of openness. They expressed a concern that all that was eroding as density increased, and they felt boxed in.”
Can Parks, Green Space Keep Pace with Population Growth?
A growing number of Winter Park residents, including Goldman, believe the only way Winter Park can preserve our quality of life is to ensure that our parks and green space increase at the same rate as the population. “Imagine New York without Central Park,” said Goldman, “or San Francisco without Golden Gate. Without the relief of that green space, neither place would be as attractive, and real estate values would certainly not be at their current levels.”
Government Can’t Solve the Problem
“Everyone seemed to be expressing the same concerns,” said Goldman, “and it became clear to me that government wasn’t going to solve this problem. Nobody wants to raise taxes to buy green space. It became clear that it was going to take a private initiative to bring this about.”
It’s Been Done
“This movie, ‘Rebels with a Cause,’ illustrates that if enough people believe something can happen, it can happen,” said Goldman. “As I’ve been talking to more people about this idea of creating a trust fund to acquire greenspace, I’ve found almost universal excitement about it. The real question is how do you bring people together to do something like this?”
Come See the Inspiring Story of How They Did It
“Rebels with a Cause” chronicles the long journey of preserving coastal lands in Marin and Sonoma Counties in California. Writes Nadine de Coteau of EarthJustice: This film is “a reminder that a strong coalition of ‘regular people’ can achieve a truly ambitious goal.”
Winter Park’s Visioning Task force has spent more than a year coming up with a vision of how the City will grow and develop. Among the exercises the Task Force conducted was a survey in which citizens were asked what, about Winter Park, was most important to them. The results are illustrated in the graph below. “History/Heritage” beat every other descriptor hands down.
Draft Vision Statement: No Heritage There
Yet, in the final draft of their report to the Commission, the Visioning Task Force removed the word Heritage from the city’s vision statement. Winter Park went from being “The City of Culture and Heritage” to being “The City of Arts and Culture. . . .”
Historic Districts: Ever More Difficult
Meanwhile, on March 15, after running on a one-plank platform of property rights, Peter Weldon was elected to the City Commission. Throughout his campaign, Weldon promised to undo the combined work of the Citizens Committee on Historic Preservation and the Historic Preservation Board, whose members had worked for more than a year to craft a revised Historic Preservation Ordinance. The Commission had approved the revised ordinance in November 2015.
That ordinance lasted a little more than six months. On May 23, the voting threshold for formation of an historic district was restored. The votes required went from 50 percent plus one to two-thirds. The revised ordinance makes designation of historic districts in Winter Park more difficult than in any other Florida city.
Voluntary Historic Designation ‘Encouraged’ . . .
The amended ordinance calls for the City to publish a list of properties which either carry historic designation or are located in an historic district, so that prospective buyers will have prior knowledge of what they are getting into if they purchase a house that has been designated or is located in an historic district. It also contains language about “encouraging voluntary participation.”
Toward that end, Commissioner Weldon drew up a list of six suggested encouragements, which the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) met to discuss in a June 22 work session. Proposed incentives include reducing or waiving building permit fees, waiving the fee to underground utility service, small need-based rehabilitation grants, ornamental streetlights for districts, a complicated ‘transfer of development rights’ and staff assistance with National Register applications.
City Planning Director Dori Stone told the HPB there is a total of $50,000 in the City budget for historic preservation incentives. Stone stated that historic preservation, especially updating the Florida Master Site File (an inventory of properties that have been or could be designated historic) will “definitely take a back seat” to the upcoming Comprehensive Plan review.
“Words Do Matter,”
. . . one Voice reader posted on this website. And these words – history and heritage – are still important to those who call Winter Park home. At the June 27 Commission meeting, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel called on the City to celebrate her heritage. Sprinkel was talking about citizens and their contributions to the City. “Heritage is more than a building,” she said. And to Sprinkel, Winter Park’s heritage is important and worthy of a celebration.
Another way Winter Park could celebrate her heritage is to restore the word heritage to the Winter Park Vision Statement. The final draft of Vision Winter Park will come before the Commission at its next meeting on July 11.
City staff and members of the Visioning Task Force have spent a great deal of time meeting with and listening to the citizens.
Did they hear?
The restoration of this small word, which has no fiscal impact, would carry a great deal of weight with the citizens of Winter Park.
After more than a year’s work, the Visioning Steering Committee voted yesterday to approve their final draft report. The report will be presented to the City Commission for approval July 11.
Winter Park Now “City of Arts & Culture”
Winter Park vision statement has gone from “The city of culture and heritage,” to “The city of arts and culture, cherishing its traditional scale and charm while building a healthy and sustainable future for all generations.”
Four Vision Themes
Four main themes emerged from numerous meetings and conversations with the community.
Cherish and sustain Winter Park’s extraordinary quality of life.
Plan our growth through a collaborative process that protects our City’s timeless scale and character.
Enhance the Winter Park brand through a flourishing community of arts and culture.
Build and embrace our local institutions for lifelong learning and future generations.
Vision to Guide Comp Plan Review
This new vision of Winter Park is designed to provide a framework for the 2016 review of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, which ensures that Winter Park’s growth management plan meets state and federal regulations as well as “the stated vision for the city.”
The Vision Plan conclusion reads as follows. “This document provides an overarching direction for the future of Winter Park and establishes the foundation upon which other regulatory documents can build.”
Former Secretary State of Florida, Dept. of Management Services
Thirteen years ago, Nancy and I had our first dinner on Park Avenue. Interestingly, our server also worked as an appraiser. When I asked her why we should buy a home in Winter Park vs. somewhere else, she was quick and clear. This is a great community with good schools. Demand is steady for homes in Winter Park, even in down markets. Most important, we have a wonderful quality of life.
Turns out she gave us good advice. We quickly discovered that the quality of life we enjoy here is the result of the years of effort that went into developing and refining our Comprehensive Plan. Winter Park has a blueprint for growth that was put together with community involvement over a long time and is key to our success as a community.
We have the good fortune to be governed by a set of rules and regulations and that is both understandable and appropriate. Those rules, however, are being challenged by developers who are coming into our community with their eyes on the “big returns” and many of us feel we are not being adequately represented by those on the Planning and Zoning Board (appointed by the Mayor) or sitting on the City Commission. We are seeing a huge increase in density, for example, in the North Denning corridor. Large structures are being squeezed onto small pieces of property; and it’s not just one. We have seen the former Department of Motor Vehicles building lot stripped clear in preparation for another high-density structure.
Folks that brought us the Great Winter Park Land Swap of 2011 have a contract on a property on 17-92. It is apparently too small to build what they want, and they have had the audacity to request the city give them access to Winter Park property by the Rachel D. Murrah Civic Center to build a parking garage. Really? It is astonishing that such a request would clear the hurdle to make its way to the commission to be considered.
Does this bother you at all? Do you care what the citizens think about this?
I think we should have responsible commercial development that conforms to the Plan and to the rules we have. Any exceptions should be subject to close public scrutiny. If you attempt to sell us the standard party line, “We need to do whatever’s necessary to attract development to maintain, lower or keep taxes down,” . . . I say to you: “Show me,” and I will stand there until you do. We should NOT be making periodic changes to a plan we spent months almost years to complete. In the words of Mayor Bradley “In my four years on the council, I’ve found if we try to rush things, bad things happen.” (September 12, 2013 Winter Park Forum). I have to agree with the Mayor and ask why the urgent need to make changes and if there is a need why do so without appropriate due process including broad community input and involvement.
When a developer asks to increase density on a property, I believe board members and commissioners have a fiduciary responsibility to demonstrate publicly how that will benefit the city or impact our tax base. If the impact is not significant, why would we say yes and have to live forever with the consequences?
As you know, our property tax bills are public information, so I will use ours as an example. Ours was $12,393.71 for 2013. Only $3,003.27 or 24% of that went to the city of Winter Park, and that included debt service of $224.01. State Law directed $3,724.40 or 30% to Public Schools, Local School Board assessed $2,313.03 or 19%, Orange County got $3,047.26 or 18%, St Johns Water Management District got $227.65 or 2% and there were Non-Ad Valorem Assessments of $45.79. So allowing multiple exceptions to our density rules will reduce my $2,965.99 in Winter Park taxes by how much? Please tell me I am waiting.
And why are you not asking us what we think?
Don’t assume you know what we want. Listen to us. Ask us, and above all have the intestinal fortitude to say no when no is the right answer.
When you ran for office, every one of you promised to represent the interests of Winter Park’s citizens. We believed you, and we elected you.
Many of us are now beginning to believe that our trust in you was badly misplaced. Please show us that isn’t so and do so before the quality of life we enjoy in Winter Park is negatively impacted.