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.