Moratorium on Commercial Overdevelopment

We Need One Now

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

Moratorium on Commercial Overdevelopment

March 8, 2020 by Guest Columnist Will Graves

Developers. I used to exchange Christmas cards with some of them. One donated $6,000 to a charity I championed.  Another agreed to gift $21,000 for our Lisa Merlin House Golf Tournament fundraiser. One, who occasionally assists with the bread and wine at my church, prayed for forgiveness of my sins one Sunday. 

Falling Out of Favor

How did I fall out of favor with these people?  By publicly writing and speaking to shine a light on the existential need to preserve the unique scenic quality, historic character, architectural heritage, authenticity and property values in our pristine small-scale village of Winter Park.

Overdevelopers

Now, Florida State Senator Tom Lee (R – Hillsborough County), another with whom I used to exchange Christmas cards, wants people like me to shoulder the burden of all legal costs, should we find ourselves on the wrong side of an overdeveloper lawsuit. If that’s not enough, overdevelopment interests, seeking to economize on their tanning lotion by avoiding the sunshine, are now pushing the folks in Tallahassee to eliminate the requirement for those legal notices in newspapers that document what Winter Park citizens need to know to protect their interests.

It no longer matters what the zoning is — it’s who we know who can do an end run around the pesky public to get the variances and Comprehensive Plan changes we need, and forget those disgruntled Winter Park citizens who fear losing sight lines, driving down shadowy road-canyons and wasting time in traffic gridlock.

Gridlock

If you wish to continue to be able to move through Winter Park in an orderly and timely manner in the coming years, a long overdue Moratorium on out-of-scale commercial development should be enacted.  Sooner rather than later. The traffic you’re dealing with today pales in comparison to what you’ll be dealing with soon. That’s what happens when Private Interests are allowed to do your village planning for you.

Be Prepared to Fight

Barbara Drew Hoffstot, Rollins Class of ’42 and Rollins Walk of Fame honoree, nailed the problem in her book, “Landmark Architecture of Palm Beach.” 

Mrs. Hoffstot warned us, “Will you care very much for your country if it becomes largely one of visual concrete commercialism? The decision lies with each and every one of you, my readers. You will get what you want, what you fight for, and what you deserve.  So, don’t let your very fine past be taken away . . . without your knowledge and consent. Be prepared to fight when necessary!”

 

Will Graves is recipient of the 2019 Individual Distinguished Service Award from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, a statewide partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A six-person statewide jury made the award decision.

Commission Approves Canopy, Seeks P.O. Property

Commission Approves Canopy, Seeks P.O. Property

by Anne Mooney / January 30, 2020

In contrast to January 13 – 16, the Commission breezed through its January 27 meeting, even though they discussed several items of major importance to the community, among them acquisition of the US Post Office property and approval of the Canopy project.

Canopy Approved 3-2, and is No Longer the Canopy

The big news – well, it’s long past being news, this being Winter Park – is that the library-events center project finally received a 3-2 thumbs-up from the Commission. The issue had been tabled at the earlier January 13 / 16 meeting. Mayor Steve Leary and Commissioners Greg Seidel and Sarah Sprinkel voted to proceed with the Library-Events Center project now that there is a construction budget, despite the fact that project funding is still shy several million dollars – how many million depends on which math you use. Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Todd Weaver voted against.

Commissioner Greg Seidel moved to rename the project The Winter Park Library and Events Center. The motion passed 4-1, and the ‘Canopy’ moniker is a thing of the past.

How to Spend CRA $$$?

Prior to the regular Commission meeting, the six-member Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), consisting of the five City Commissioners plus Orange County Representative Hal George, met to discuss their spending priorities for the millions of unallocated tax dollars that will flow into the CRA before it sunsets in 2027.

#1 CRA Priority – Acquire Post Office Site to Expand Central Park

Cooper led off the conversation with her list of priorities. Lengthy discussion that followed revealed very little disagreement among the Commissioners. First on the priority list was to give City Manager Randy Knight and City Attorney Kurt Ardaman the green light to negotiate with the US Postal Service to secure the current Post Office site for the purpose of expanding Central Park. The plan is for the retail Post Office to remain in the City core, and for the City to work with USPS to relocate the distribution facility to somewhere outside the City core.

The price tag to the City could easily run six to seven figures, but Commissioners agreed on a 5-0 vote that it was worth it to secure land to expand Central Park.

Other priorities included a $750,000 enhancement to the Library, lighting and tree design for SR 17-92, $3 million for MLK Park improvements, an $8 million downtown parking garage, $4 million for a parking garage that will not be in the park but will service MLK Park and $200,000 a year for affordable housing. The CRA will maintain a 20 percent reserve fund.

Presentation from Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center

Immediately after the CRA meeting adjourned, the regular Commission meeting opened with a presentation by DPAC President and CEO Kathy Ramsberger. DPAC is celebrating its fifth anniversary. The audience at City Hall was treated to a full array of statistics on attendance, programming, past and future fundraising and the center’s fiscal health in acknowledgement of the City’s status as a major donor to the arts center.

Ramsberger noted that over the past five years, DPAC has doubled their business, climbing from $22 million the first year to ‘close to’ $44 million, partly the result of growing ticket revenue outside Orlando. “This is an international organization – a destination,” said Ramsberger, “generating over $700 million in economic impact.”

Approval of Library-Events Center

Going from one grand project to the next, the Commission took up the question of the Winter Park Library and Events Center, deciding on a 3-2 vote to proceed with the project.

A Very Expensive ‘Done Deal’

As the Library-Events Center project moves forward, and Winter Park looks forward to a grand new facility, it may be wise to keep in mind points made by dissenters, including the citizens who offered public comment and the Commissioners who voted against the project because they felt it had strayed too far from the initial concept approved by the voters.

As Peter Gottfried pointed out, nearly 11,000 people voted on the $30 million bond issue, and it squeaked through on a margin of just 214 votes.

Need Public Transit, Not Parking Spaces

UCF Professor Jay Jurie questioned the emphasis on parking lots and garages and said, “We may very well be at the end of the fossil fuel era.” He likened the current planning process to “classic Maginot Line” planning, referring to French plans to repel a German invasion which, said Jurie, were unsuccessful because the French “were planning for the last war, not the war that was coming.” He urged the Commission to “look forward” and to be mindful of the climate crisis and the need for an effective and efficient public transit system.

Cost-per-square-foot Comparison

Several speakers, including Commissioner Weaver, compared the cost per square foot of the Library-Events Center to the recently completed Wellness Center, which came in at $525 per square foot, and the new wing of Winter Park Hospital, which cost $661 per square foot. The per-square-foot cost of the Library-Events Center is projected to be $854.

Not the First Adjaye Design to Break the Budget

William Deuchler was one of several who noted the shift in emphasis from the library to the events center. “When we voted for the bond issue,” said Deuchler, “the emphasis was on the library, not the events center. With the TDT/ARC grant, the emphasis shifted to the events center. Citizens who voted for the project expected the City to build what was promised and to do so within budget.”

Deuchler cautioned that the Adjaye-designed African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington D.C. is an example of what could happen here. Over the course of that project, the structure increased in size by 14 percent over initial specifications and costs went over original budget projections by “a whopping 80 percent,” according to Deuchler. Initial projection was $300 million; final cost was $540 million.

Adjaye himself admits that, when it comes to his work, “whether working on a house or a grand civic project, . . . controversy is normal.” In 2019, Adjaye told London’s Financial Times reporter Helen Barrett, “If you want a tasteful and elegant thing, you’re not going to come to David Adjaye. I’m interested in clients who have a strange site that has a difficulty. Those are the projects I gravitate towards, and those are the kind of clients that gravitate towards me.”

Citizen Comments

Following the library-events center vote, the Mayor opened the floor for public comment. Four people, only one of whom was from Winter Park, spoke in strident tones objecting to the presence of the Winter Park Police Department’s armored car at the recent Martin Luther King birthday celebration in Hannibal Square. That armored car has appeared in previous Hannibal Square events, as well as in the Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day parades. It seems to be a draw for kids – of all ages.

The speakers, citing strife on a national level between police and African Americans, particularly young black men, urged the City to emphasize peace and community building rather than a display of police force at events celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Police Chief Michael Deal expressed surprise, as he had worked closely with community leaders in the Hannibal Square neighborhood to plan the participation of his department in the event. “Well,” said Deal, “I have the next year to work with the community to see what they want, and if they are uncomfortable with the armored car, we’ll plan something else.”

“Above all, I want to honor the life of Dr. King,” said Deal. “He did not go to jail 29 times and give his life for his cause to perpetuate this kind of dissension. Our mission is to go into the community and build positive relationships with people, especially the children.”

Starbuck’s on Lee Road

After a second vote by the Commission to move forward on negotiations with the USPS and the approval of a plat of 10 single family homes on New York Avenue on land previously owned by the Christian Science Church, the Commission unanimously approved a free-standing Starbuck’s on Lee Road. Shortly afterward, the meeting was adjourned.

 

Window of Opportunity to Expand Central Park

Open Letter to Mayor and Commissioners

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

Window of Opportunity to Expand Central Park

Guest Columnist Beth Hall / January 26, 2020

What is the Most Laudable Use for CRA Funds?

Looking over the agenda for tomorrow’s Commission meeting, 1/27/2020, I see both the library-events center and the Post Office acquisition are coming before you.  I know the use of CRA funds is contemplated both for funding part of the library-events center and for acquisition of the Post Office property. I ask myself:  what is the best use for CRA funds?

Is It Filling Gaps in the Library-Events Center Budget?

There is no doubt the library-events center is a very important civic project. But the thing is, we voted to issue bonds in the amount of $30 million to pay for that project. Then, we secured an additional $6 million in tourist development tax grant money for the project. Still, we lack the necessary funding to build the library and parking surfaces. The budget is approaching $42 million now.  CRA money is essential to be able to dream of completing the project. Was that the way we planned it?

If precedents like the current library facility and the Rachel Murrah Civic Center tell us anything, the new building also will have a finite lifespan. Maybe an Adjaye-designed building will enjoy a longer life span – there is no way to know.

Or Should CRA Funds Be Used to Expand Central Park?

On the other hand, we have the potential opportunity to expand Central Park by acquiring the Post Office property. This is priceless — a thing of value beyond dollars and cents. Central Park is the crown jewel, the pride of Winter Park.

The significance of the Park for our city will only grow, as Winter Park becomes more and more developed, with projects at Ravaudage, Orange Avenue, Fairbanks and Lee Road already coming online.

The Window of Opportunity Closes Tomorrow

The Post Office Notice of Intent to negotiate with the City of Winter Park expires tomorrow, January 27. We must act now.

For this reason, I urge you to assign the acquisition of the Post Office property the very highest priority in terms of designating the use for CRA dollars. There is only one Park, and the opportunity to expand it is within your grasp. I cannot think of a greater legacy for this Commission or a greater gift to all generations to come.

OAO Passes on 3-2 Vote

The End of a Long Week

OAO Passes on 3-2 Vote

January 18, 2020 / by Anne Mooney

After two days and 16 and one-half hours of mind-numbing debate, public comment and amendment proposals, the Commission voted 3-2 to pass the ordinances creating the Orange Avenue Overlay (OAO).

The Thursday meeting, a continuance from the 11-hour session ending at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, was a breezy six hours, lasting from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. At the final vote, Mayor Leary and Commissioners Seidel and Sprinkel voted in favor of the OAO ordinances; Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Todd Weaver cast dissenting votes.

Ordinance Will Have Second Reading at a Future Date

The ordinance changing part of the Comprehensive Plan now will go to Tallahassee for review. City Manager Randy Knight thinks that will take about a month. The measure then will return to the City Commission for a final vote.

While Thursday’s crowd was sizeable and most seats were filled, no one had to stand and none were turned away – probably owing to the fact there was only one issue on the agenda this time.

Forty-three amendments were proposed – most (but not all) having to do with the large properties at Subarea D (the Demetree properties) and J (the Holler property). Unofficially, 25 proposed amendments passed, 18 failed and one was withdrawn. Check the City website for official numbers.

Important Among the Amendments that Passed Were the Following

Orchard Supply and parcels on the east side of 17-92 were removed from the district. Commissioners agreed that those parcels are more appropriately included in a 17-92 overlay district, if one is created at some future date.

Progress Point Remains for Public Use

The OAO Steering Committee originally recommended that the City-owned Progress Point property, known as Subarea C, would be reserved as open space for public use. While agreeing to public use, the Commission revised Subarea C standards to include:

  • “A building limited to a 20,000-square-foot floorplate at 2 stories with a cumulative maximum of 40,000 square feet.”
  • “”A Parking Garage be constructed to provide required parking for onsite uses and additional parking to be available for area businesses and general public.”
  • “1.5 acre park space”

Existing Residential Not Affected

Existing residential properties will not be subject to OAO standards unless or until they redevelop as commercial. To protect existing residential structures within the district, new non-residential or mixed use development must be set back at least 35 feet from an existing residential structure.

Architectural Review

In addition to meeting the architectural standards of the OAO, “. . . for developments requiring a conditional use approval having a land area of more than 80,000 square feet, having more than 25 residential units, or having structures exceeding 35,000 gross square feet above grade, professionally prepared fully rendered 3-D digital architectural perspective images and elevations . . . shall be submitted to and reviewed by . . . a City-retained professional architect or by a City-established architectural review committee . . . .”

Height & Density Lowered on Large Parcels

The maximum floor area ratio (FAR) on Subareas D (the Demetree properties) and J (the Holler Properties) was lowered from 200 percent to 150 percent. The maximum number of stories on the Demetree properties is now six (down from seven), and the maximum number of stories on the Holler property is now three stories on land fronting Fairbanks Ave. and four stories on land located 100 feet back from Fairbanks.

Transportation Impact Fees

Large development projects within the OAO will pay “a proportionate fair share” of the costs of funding transportation improvements in order for the developers to use additional entitlements provided under the OAO. The City will develop a traffic model to identify needed transportation improvements and to establish a formula for calculating a proportionate fair share system.

It’s Not Over Til It’s Over . . .

The Commission has done most of the hard work on this project, but they can still make changes when the ordinance comes back from Tallahassee for the second reading.

But, For Now, All Eyes Turn Back to the Canopy

Commission Work Session will be Wed., January 22, 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at Commission Chambers.

 

 

 

 

Marathon Monday Stretches into Terrible Tuesday

Meeting Will Continue on Thursday, Jan. 16

Marathon Monday Stretches into Terrible Tuesday

by Anne Mooney / January 14, 2020

Yesterday’s estimate of a five-and-a-half-hour Commission meeting missed the mark by a mile. For an unprecedented 11 hours, Commissioners struggled to make sense of two of the largest projects ever undertaken by this city – and failed.

OAO Discussion Continued to Thursday, Jan. 16

At 2:45 a.m., Commissioner Greg Seidel finally moved to pull the plug on the meeting, and the Commission agreed to ‘continue’ the Orange Avenue Overlay discussion on Thursday, January 16, at 11:00 a.m. Commissioners were advised to block out approximately four hours for the Thursday meeting.

At Thursday’s Continuance, Commissioners will vote on somewhere between 40 and 50 proposed amendments to the OAO ordinances.

As of this writing, the Thursday meeting is not on the January schedule of City meetings. Check the City website for updates or changes in dates and times. www.cityofwinterpark.org

Canopy Project

Earlier in the evening, the Canopy project met a similar fate. After an extended but inconclusive back-and-forth with the owner’s representative and the contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie, followed by the customary back-and-forth among the Commissioners regarding the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP), the item was tabled until the January 27 Commission meeting.

Commissioner Greg Seidel requested a Commission workshop to discuss such items as the contingency fund and possible sources of funds for the project. Likely funding sources include issuing the remaining $2 Million in bonds, the CRA, and the City’s General Fund. To date, the City has raised only about $2 Million of the promised $5.4 Million in donations.

Seidel also requested the results of Brasfield & Gorrie’s latest three large projects, to compare the (GMP) with actual costs upon delivery.

Agenda Angst

How the Canopy project and the Orange Avenue Overlay ended up on the same agenda is anyone’s guess, though there must be someone at City Hall who knows. The sheer volume of discussion and the number of amendments proposed is a clear indication that neither project is at a point where sufficient information has been digested for the Commission to come to a decision. The City needs to finish baking these cakes before anyone else cuts into them.

Record Crowd – Citizens Turned Away

Hundreds of people showed up at City Hall to listen or to speak. The building, including the downstairs lobby, was at capacity, and many citizens had to be turned away. Communications Director Clarissa Howard went through the crowd in the lobby and escorted those who wanted to speak up to the Commission Chambers and, in most cases, secured seating for them.

A Suggestion

Last night’s meeting demonstrated the folly of putting two mega-projects – especially ones around which there is a lot of positive and negative energy – on the same agenda.

The suggestion is the crafting of an ordinance that states, when a meeting is scheduled on a date certain, the meeting must be called to order and adjourned upon that date.

 

Marathon Monday

Coming Tomorrow to the City Hall Nearest You

Marathon Monday

by Anne Mooney / January 12, 2020

Doesn’t matter what your position is on any of the of issues that will be addressed the afternoon and evening of Monday January 13 by the Winter Park City Commission – while we won’t suffer in silence, we will all suffer together.

Five-and-a-half Hours – Minimum

The number of minutes projected on the January 13 Agenda on the City website comes to five hours and 35 minutes. Not included in the time projections are all the preliminary stuff like the Pledge of Allegiance and the Mayor’s report, closing remarks by Commissioners and . . . Public Comment.

City Manager’s Report

Estimated at 5 minutes, this report has no fewer than 23 items on it, 10 of which are slated to happen in January. Randy Knight is good at what he does, but he’ll have to employ some advanced ‘speed-dating’ tactics to get through this one in five minutes.

Consent Agenda – Progress Point

This one – nine minutes – lists five types of items. Under “Approve the Following Contract Items” (one minute) is a contract for $89,765 to demolish the building at Progress Point. Last time this came up, the discussion lasted considerably longer than one minute.

Action Items Requiring Discussion – The Canopy

First on this list is – yep – Final Approval of The Canopy. This is the long-awaited “Guaranteed Maximum Price.” The agenda framers have allotted an hour and a half for this topic. Maybe they could get through it in 90 minutes – but only if there is no public comment. And what are the chances of that?

Public Hearings – Orange Avenue Overlay

In the grand old tradition of saving the best til last, #4 on the list of four items is The Orange Avenue Overlay – for three hours. Two ordinances, one to amend the Comprehensive Plan, and the other to amend the Land Development Code, will go through a first reading. If they are approved, they will go to Tallahassee for review and then return to Winter Park for the second and final reading in late January or early February.

The Orange Avenue Overlay concept has gone through more than 20 public meetings, workshops and walkshops. People who normally go quietly about their business have been spewing out emails and firing word-bullets back and forth for months. The pro and con camps are about evenly split, neither one is quiet, and many of them will be at this meeting.

The second 13.1 miles of the race begins here, on Orange Ave. Everyone will be tired. Perhaps it would help us to remember we are all neighbors, living together in one of the most desirable places on earth, and to treat one another accordingly.

Orange Avenue on Track to Become Hot Spot

Orange Avenue on Track to Become Hot Spot

December 5, 2019 / by Geri Throne

A 40,000-square-foot lakefront home proposed for Palmer Avenue—the biggest home ever in the city—is garnering the most attention outside Winter Park. But residents who crowded a city planning and zoning board meeting Tuesday had an even bigger issue on their minds: a rezoning plan to convert North Orange Avenue into the city’s next intensely developed hot spot.

After a long line of residents spoke for and against the rezoning proposal, members of the advisory board all voiced their enthusiastic support. They agreed that benefits would outweigh any negatives and voted unanimously to recommend the proposal to the city commission.

City commissioners will consider the rezoning plan at its Jan. 13 meeting.

Planning jargon aside…

Despite use of planning jargon such as “overlay district” and “placemaking” at Tuesday’s hearing, the issues surrounding the proposed Orange Avenue district boil down to familiar zoning concerns: Is growth “inevitable” in Winter Park, and if it is, how much development should be packed into an area? How high should buildings be allowed? How much extra traffic should be created?  How well would new construction mesh with existing structures?

City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson said a flexible mixed-use overlay is the best way to deal with the avenue’s future growth. He defended the months-long process the city went through to arrive at the proposal, noting that residents were involved early on. An 11-member appointed steering committee, made up of people with broad ranges of opinion about development, participated in the recommendations.

“Despite what has been reported [in social media], the small-scale character of Orange Avenue has been promoted and protected throughout the process to the highest extent possible,” Stephenson said.

Residents concerned about the new zoning district, however, were not convinced. They asked the planning board for more time to digest the thick packet explaining the proposal. They noted the potential for congestion, more traffic and buildings as tall as five and seven stories within the district.

Although the number of residential units in the district would stay the same, total development in the proposed district would become more intense. Under current zoning, almost 1.9 million square feet of development is possible in the district. With the new district zoning, the total square footage possible would climb to more than 2.6 million.

The debate…

The benefit, Stephenson said, would be a mixed-use plan that would improve the area visually, attract more visitors, and cure what the city sees as “economic stagnation” on Orange Avenue from Fairbanks Avenue to US 17-92. Some other pluses he cited: wider, safer sidewalks; more open space; connection with nearby Mead Botanical Gardens, and parking garages set back behind buildings. Design standards would ensure that new structures would be attractive and compatible with neighboring buildings.

Existing zoning also would allow more development, he said, and perhaps not what residents might desire. Without new and creative zoning, he warned, a Wal-Mart-sized structure could be built with a huge paved parking lot.

Some residents, however, worried that the plan didn’t do enough to honor the city’s stated commitment to cherish “its traditional scale and charm.” Resident Bart Johnson said that exceptions to that goal in most of the proposed district were big enough for a developer to “drive a truck through.”

“Citizens need more time to fully understand the implications” of the lengthy new ordinance, pleaded resident Pat McDonald, a concern echoed by other residents.

Frank Hamner, an attorney representing the Holler family, a major property owner in the area, criticized calls for further delay as having “a different purpose” than stated. Residents had ample time to attend the numerous public meetings about the proposal, he said. Their calls for more time were “a distraction” to “delay for delay’s purposes.” Hamner also accused unidentified people of posting online anonymously and knocking on doors “spreading lies” about the plan.  Those people should “come up out of the sewer,” and make their case face to face, he said.

Traffic worries

Stephenson downplayed traffic worries. The planning director stressed that the overlay is a “framework” or starting point, which must be approved before a traffic study can be done. He also cited a state study that found few drivers stopped on Orange Avenue as a destination. He described it as a “cut through” road.

That four-lane stretch of North Orange Avenue is no shortcut, however. It serves as an arterial road in Winter Park, connecting Winter Park commuters to State Road 527 and US 17-92 and helping them get from one side of the city to the other. Traffic accidents on that stretch are frequent, city statistics show. Until a traffic study is conducted, it remains unknown how traffic safety, street parking and traffic flow will be juggled under the proposed design.

Left unknown…

Undecided in the proposed ordinance is the fate of Progress Point, an odd-shaped, city-owned parcel at the intersections of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive. The steering committee could not agree how the lot should be used or whether the city should sell it. Sheila Deciccio, a member of that steering committee, urged that the city keep the land, which might help solve area stormwater and parking problems. The site is “one of the jewels we have left,” she said.

Also unknown, but probably not in doubt, is an unrelated agenda item—the fate of the massive 40,093-square-foot home that real-estate developer Marc Hagle wants to build on Lake Osceola. The planning and zoning board tabled its vote until next month after some board members and two neighbors raised questions about a proposed setback.

What is an Overlay District?

What Does It Mean for the Orange Avenue Corridor?

What is an Overlay District?

Back in 2016, the Commission added a provision to the City’s Comprehensive Plan promising the creation of a “Mixed Use Overlay” category ‘within one year.’

Now that we are finally getting around to it, what is it anyway?

‘Mixed Use’ is a development term – a type of development Winter Park has done before on Park Avenue and in Hannibal Square that includes commercial, retail and residential development. Some would include Winter Park Village in that category, though the residential component is less apparent. The rules for these specific areas have worked well for us. That’s why Park Avenue and Hannibal Square look the way they do and why they have stood the test of time.

Asked what happens if a developer just follows regular City zoning regulations instead, Planning Director Bronce Stephenson responded, “Trader Joe’s.”

What is happening on Orange Avenue is a mixed use zoning overlay, but you can call it ‘mixed use,’ an ‘overlay district’ – or baked potatoes. Simply put, a zoning overlay regulates development within certain geographical boundaries in a manner that expresses the community’s vision of what they want the area to be. In this case, it also is way of granting entitlements to developers that seems fairer to the City.

What ‘City’?

Parenthetically, this brings us to a thought to keep in mind during this discussion: Who or what is The City? Is it you and me and everyone who lives here and pays taxes? Is it the elected officials who sit on the dais? Is it the staffers who toil behind the scenes to make the machinery work? Is it all of the above?

In the case of the Orange Avenue project, the answer is ‘all of the above.’ In April, the [then new] Director of Planning and Community Development, Bronce Stephenson, brought together a Steering Committee of 11 citizens from across the political spectrum to create a vision for what the Orange Avenue corridor should be. The Committee met 12 times over the summer. Public input was taken at each meeting.

The Steering Committee and staff identified a specific geographic area, divided it into sub-areas depending upon the type of development that was either existing or possible, and decided how they thought the area could develop in a way that would preserve the eclectic character and offer the greatest benefit to The City. The area they defined became the Orange Avenue Overlay (OAO) area.

Three large landowners – Demetree Holdings on the southern part of Orange Avenue, Holler Properties on Denning and Fairbanks, and City-owned Progress Point in the middle – all have holdings that are large enough to be able to provide resources to upgrade the entire corridor for The City.

The Problem

To fix area-wide issues that affect existing businesses and discourage redevelopment within the OAO district, staff and the Steering Committee first had to identify the problems. What they found won’t surprise anyone.

  • • Dangerous and inefficient traffic flow
  • • Archaic one-size-fits-all zoning codes
  • • An approximately 485-space parking deficit – before a single new thing is built
  • • Poor storm water management that causes businesses on Orange Avenue to flood.

The Fix

The OAO seeks to grant entitlements to developers by ‘quid pro quo’ rather than by variance or rezoning. If a developer is granted entitlements by rezoning and/or variance, as is currently the norm, the developer gets some or all of what he or she wants . . . and the City gets little if anything in return.

Give . . .

According to the rules being put in place for the OAO, if the developer has an ‘ask,’ the developer must also bring a ‘give.’ City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson explained that a developer can offer two kinds of ‘gives’ – quantitative and qualitative.

Qualitative gives might include:

  • • Safety & mobility
  • • Life, light and eyes on the street
  • • Connectivity
  • • Better traffic flow
  • • Storm water management

Quantitative ‘gives’ could include:

  • • Shared parking
  • • Storm water treatment and management
  • • Meaningful open space with unrestricted public access
  • • Trails and other mobility enhancements

Of course, there would be overlaps.

. . . and Take

Doors and Keys – for which read: density — pay for storm water mitigation, parking & open space. If developers don’t make money on their projects, they don’t do them. Eliminating parking from Floor Area Ratio (FAR) calculation is one way to help them be profitable. Large owners – Demetree, Holler and the developer of Progress Point – will be able to ‘earn’ up to 200 percent FAR by providing fixes for one or more of the area-wide problems. The 200 percent FAR is what we have on Park Avenue and in Hannibal Square.

Storm Water Treatment

“We are desperate for space for storm water treatment, especially along Orange Avenue,” said Stephenson. “Progress Point is the lowest elevation within the OAO, and that provides an opportunity for the developer of that property to correct the flooding and storm water treatment problem for the entire area.”

Parking

Today’s 485-space parking deficit translates into 3.9 acres of asphalt surface parking,” Stephenson explained. “We want developers to come in and build vertical parking with 10 percent additional shared spaces. There’s not enough room for it to be surface parking. That means, to make their developments work, the parking places should not be included in their FAR calculations.”

Open Space

Developers with properties larger than 1.5 acres must provide 25 percent “meaningful open space.” For the Holler property, at the current asking price, that 25 percent translates to $6 Million worth of land, according to Stephenson – a sizeable ‘give’ in anyone’s estimation.

Give And Take

Described here are just some of the concessions from developers that will provide substantial value to The City as the OAO redevelops. The final draft report of the Steering Committee will provide detailed lists of ways developers can earn entitlements. Information regarding the Committee’s progress is updated regularly on the City website https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/boards/orange-avenue-overlay-steering-committee/.

What About Progress Point?

The Steering Committee, with 10 of its 11 members present, met the night of November 13 at the Mead Botanical Garden Clubhouse to vote on the final report. As the final report was presented, the one remaining bone of contention was the four-acre parcel at Progress Point.

The City owns the land, but will either lease or sell to a third party to develop the parcel. Over the 12 Steering Committee meetings, there had been considerable discussion of a four-story office building with associated parking structure, but a number of Steering Committee members were unhappy with that solution.

Stephenson pointed out that while The City has no pressing need to sell or lease this piece of land, it has not proven itself to be a good steward. The Committee members agreed that what we need at that location is parking, open space, drainage and connectivity with Mead Garden.

Devoting the entire 4+ acres to parkland would deprive the existing Orange Avenue businesses of the opportunity for treatment of storm water that currently floods many of their businesses, and it would deny them desperately needed parking.

No Consensus on Progress Point

At the end of the day, the Steering Committee stipulated in their report that there was no consensus on the use of Progress Point. The Committee voted 8 – 2 to approve the final report. Dissenting were Michael Dick and Sheila DeCiccio.

“We Can Do Better”

Asked why she voted against the report, DeCiccio stated, “I wanted my voice to be heard on Progress Point. I am 100 percent for everything else in the report. I am all for the Holler and Demetree entitlements. But a four-story office building with a garage bigger than the new one at Rollins? We can do so much better than that.”

“Most of what’s there now is already offices and daytime use,” DeCiccio went on. “There can’t be any shared parking in the daytime – they don’t have enough daytime parking as it is, and nothing much goes on there at night. An office building will not contribute anything there.

“There are so many wonderful things we could do there that would activate the area at night,” she said. “We could do a theatre district, food courts, things that people could go to and have fun. We can do more than just green park space, too, but we wouldn’t need so much parking if we put something besides an office building there. Where is our imagination? This is Winter Park – we need something really wonderful for everyone there.”

There is No Lack of Public Input

By the end of this process, the City will have held 19 opportunities for public input.

The Steering Committee Report will go to Planning & Zoning December 3 for a public hearing.

A public information meeting will be held at Gateway Plaza lobby (Commerce National Bank) on December 18, 5:30 – 7:30 pm.

City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson will be at the Farmer’s Market December 21 from 7:00 am to 1:00 pm to answer questions.

You can watch three educational videos about this process at  cityofwinterpark.org/vimeo

And you can email your feedback to OrangeAve@cityofwinterpark.org

 

 

 

Last Call in Hannibal Square

Last Call in Hannibal Square

Last call for alcohol in Hannibal Square could soon stretch to 2:00 am, but people drinking after 10:00 pm will have to keep things down to a dull roar.

Hannibal Square Rules Would Be Same as the Rest of the City

Planning & Zoning voted October 1 to recommend two ordinances that would bring rules in Hannibal Square into line with those in the rest of the City. The first ordinance would extend hours for alcohol sales and consumption in Hannibal Square to 2:00 a.m., as it is in the rest of the City. The second would apply the same noise controls that exist within the Central Business District to Hannibal Square.

Hannibal Square restaurateurs, particularly Vincent Gagliano of Chez Vincent, have for years tried to persuade the City to bring the rules on last call into line with those governing the rest of the City. Currently, closing time in Hannibal Square is 11:00 pm Sunday through Thursday and Midnight Friday and Saturday. Closing time on Park Avenue and in the rest of the City is 2:00 am Monday through Saturday and Midnight on Sunday.

Early Closing Costs Hannibal Square Businesses

Gagliano and other restaurateurs complain that the 11:00 pm closing requirement sends Hannibal Square clientele over to Park Avenue to continue their revels, costing Hannibal Square establishments hours of potential business.

Residents Worried About Noise

In 1995, when the CRA revitalization of New England Avenue and Hannibal Square began, area residents at the time were concerned about noise from bars and restaurants.

CRA Wanted Restaurant, Not Night Club, District

While the CRA’s goal was to create a restaurant district but not a bar and nightclub district, one of the first establishments to locate in Hannibal Square was Dexter’s, where live music was an integral part of the business model. Bands played on week nights as well as on weekends and sometimes, in nice weather, they played outside. In deference to the neighbors, the City established earlier closing hours and strict noise controls for Hannibal Square.

Noise Regulations – Loud & Clear

According to City Planner Jeff Briggs, back in the 1980s, Park Avenue also had a noise problem in the evenings. The solution was an ordinance that created a violation if one could hear the sound from 50 feet away from an establishment. The ordinance recommended by P&Z prohibits “any person, business or establishment between the hours of 10:00 pm and 7:00 am to make noise that unreasonably disturbs the peace” and that is “. . .in excess of 50 dBA as measured with a sound level meter inside any receiving property.”

What this means is, if someone’s peace is being disturbed, he or she can call the police, who will bring their sound meter and, if the noise exceeds 50 dBA, ask the offending party to quiet down.

What’s in a Decibel?

Decibel levels, or dBA measurements, are meant to approximate the way the human ear hears sound. According to a local engineer familiar with this issue, a jet engine is 100 to110 dBA, a motor cycle with straight pipes produces 90 dBA, a vacuum cleaner about 70 dBA, normal conversation level in a restaurant is 50 – 60 dBA and a whisper is around 30 dBA.

Next Step is the Commission

As with any ordinance, there will be two hearings by the Commission. As of this writing, no date has been set.

 

The Canopy – Questions Remain

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

The Canopy – Questions Remain

Guest Columnist Marty Sullivan

The first anniversary of the conditional use approval of the Canopy project is coming up September 24, and shortly thereafter the Commission should receive the construction drawings, from which the City can finally calculate the “not-to-exceed” cost of the project.  Despite anticipation of these long-sought answers, questions remain.

The proposed Canopy project is a big deal for our City. Based on the history of our current library, we may have this public building for the next 40 years.

What Questions?

We have to ask: Is the design compatible with our City?  Is the library satisfactory in form and function to serve Winter Park citizens? Will the adjoining events center serve Winter Park’s needs for community events? Will the evolving cost fit within our budget? Will long-term maintenance and operation costs be acceptable? Will it be a desirable addition to Martin Luther King, Jr. recreational park? 

Let Your City Officials Hear From You

Your City leaders need to hear from you. Let your Commissioners know your thoughts on the proposed library and events center. There is no time to waste. Act now.

You can research the proposed Canopy library and events center on the City web site, https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/city-info/winter-park-canopy/

Narrow Margin Foretold Present Dilemma

In March 2016, we voted on a bond referendum for a new library. I expected a favorable landslide vote, because who isn’t in favor of a new library? The bond passed, despite controversy over vague plans and finalization of the building site. The final breakdown was 51 percent for and 49 percent against. The referendum passed by a margin of just 214 votes, foreshadowing the controversy that was sure to follow.

Initial Concept is Substantially Changed

Are the changes in building sizes from the initial concepts acceptable? The referendum language specified, “For the purpose of building the Winter Park Library and Events Center, to include library facilities, civic meeting and gathering facilities and related parking structure . . . .”

Voters were told there would be a 50,000-square-foot (sf) library, an 8,505 sf civic center and a 200-space parking garage (“Community Engagement Workshops,” ACi Architects, 10/26/2015).  

Now, the plans are for a 34,400 sf library and a 13,564 sf events center. The ‘associated parking structure’ has been replaced by surface parking (City Commission conditional use approval, 9/24/2018). The Canopy library is only 400 sf larger than the current library facility. Library staff cites efficient use of space, which compensates for the reduction in size, but is this library adequate for our citizens’ needs?

MLK Park Loses Trees and Green Space

Are changes to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park appropriate? The proposed structure will reduce the MLK park area by an estimated two acres, and the storm water treatment area must be expanded, although no specifications had been developed as of May 2019 (LandDesign engineers).

What Effect Will Tourism Dollars Have?

The City secured a $6 Million Tourist Development Tax (TDT) grant in return for making the Canopy Events Center available for international tourism. At the City’s presentation to the TDT grant board, City Manager Randy Knight was asked about the extent of Winter Park citizens’ use of the event center facility.  He responded that he thought Winter Park residents might use the facility during the week, but that the event center would be available on weekends for tourism activities.  Winter Park voters approved the bond referendum based on an event center with the purpose of “civic meeting and gathering facilities.” However, now the intended purpose seems to be an international tourism destination. (Presentation before Tourist Tax Grant Board 3/15/2019). 

No Hard Numbers, So Far

Cost estimates have been a moving target. To date, the City has provided only artistic renderings, and we are depending on bids based on construction drawings to derive hard costs.  The City’s official position on cost estimate is $40.5 million, coming from $28.7 Million in bonds, $6 Million TDT grant and $5.4 Million in private donations. The estimated total budget with contingencies is $43 Million.

How many private dollars should our community contribute to this one project? Are we draining resources away from other endeavors? We have other important projects on the horizon, many of which may require private sector support, such as plans for the post office site, new parks, city hall renovations and repurposing the old library site.

How high is too high?

What final figure will cause our City leaders to pause and rethink this project? Fifty Million? We’ve heard $55 Million. Commissioners need to tell us now what they consider an acceptable figure to move ahead with the Canopy.