Library Runs Amuck
While COVID-19 Still Looms
by Anne Mooney / May 1, 2020
Cautious Re-opening Plans
At its April 27 meeting, the Commission led off discussion with a tentative plan to lift restrictions on public facilities. Effective May 1, the golf course opens with social distancing and other restrictions. For complete information, go to cityofwinterpark.org/golf
Some retail shops and restaurants will also open on a limited basis. The Tennis Center, Boat Ramps, Dog Park and Farmer’s Market remain closed for the time being. Sadly, hair salons did not make the cut, either.
Plea for Patience and Protecting Medical Workers
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper pointed out that we are nowhere near having a full understanding of the novel coronavirus, citing reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere describing young infected victims, who were asymptomatic but whose vital organs were being attacked by the virus and who had suffered blood clots and strokes, leaving some permanently disabled or deceased.
In a passionate plea for the safety of doctors and other medical personnel, Cooper urged citizens to have patience and to observe protective protocols. “Masks,” she said, “are less to protect the wearer than they are to protect others from infection by asymptomatic people who are carrying the virus but who don’t know they are. We need adequate testing,” she stated, “before it is safe for us to go back to our normal lives.
”Consider the health and safety of those we turn to for help when we are least able to help ourselves,” she urged.
Site Prep at Library-Events Center Runs Amuck
After several months of distraction – like city elections, coronavirus, chickens — the Library-Events Center project once again floated to the surface – but the discussion was about what lies beneath the surface. Demucking and soil remediation of the site is underway. Brasfield & Gorrie is doing the work.
Go Back a Year to the GMP
Last year, at a May 2019 Commission Meeting, the contractor, the architects, the engineering firm and the owner’s representative for the library-events center project presented a project budget that included the long-awaited Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP). In that budget, there was an allowance for soil remediation. During the meeting the estimated price, which was first at zero, climbed to $100,000, then to $150,000 and finally settled at $180,000. It was an ‘allowance’ instead of a line item cost, because at the time the contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie, and the geotechnical engineer, Ardaman, were not sure what they would find when they began to dig.
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper stated that she had consulted several architects not involved in the project who indicated the amount was insufficient. When Cooper brought this up at the May 2019 meeting, city staff present at the meeting dismissed her concerns as unfounded. “We’re dealing with professionals,” they said, “and they know what they’re doing.”
A Year Passes – Demucking Costs More than Double
At the April 27, 2020 virtual Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight reported that demucking costs have climbed to between $400,000 and $500,000. This could eat up close to half the City’s contingency fund, which Knight said was between $850,000 and $900,000 — a large hit this early in the construction process.
“Good News – Bad News”
In a communique with Commissioners and Senior Staff dated April 24, 2020, Knight wrote: “The good news/bad news. As you may recall, the commission chose to have the contractor do the demucking instead of city staff. The good news is the city can’t be blamed for delays in it taking three to four weeks longer than projected. The bad news is we are paying contractor costs instead of city costs for the labor and overhead. The allowance for this work . . . based on Ardaman’s projections of unsuitable soil was $180,000. We asked [Brasfield & Gorrie] to give us a best and worst case scenario for the remaining 5 sections . . . . In the worst case scenario this will hit the contingency for $318K. In the best case scenario it will be over by $227K.”
According to the memo, Brasfield & Gorrie had just completed week three of demucking and was projecting an additional five weeks to finish the job. They have found more unsuitable soil than Ardaman projected and have had to dig four to five feet deeper in some places. They will also have to demuck further to the west than originally projected.
Who Should Pay?
Acknowledging that the City will likely have to bear the burden of these costs, Commissioner Cooper urged Monday night that, in light of the assurances offered in the May 2019 meeting, “the City should have some opportunity for cost sharing – meaning, those representing the City’s interests should remind [Brasfield & Gorrie] of that.”
Rewind to 1958 – Muck Makes News
The Winter Park Sun reported in 1958 that the 21-acre site now known as MLK Park, recently acquired by the City by purchase and by condemnation, was in bad shape. “One-third is covered by muck which at some places goes 40 feet deep,” the Sun reported. “Heavy structures cannot be erected because of the swampy and soft condition of the land.” Then City Manager Clark Maxwell told the Sun, “The entire area has to be investigated and the ground tested before it is possible to determine how to develop it.”
The Sun went on the report, “Mr. Maxwell thinks that it would be a good idea to pump out the lake [Mendsen] and enlarge it considerably and use the residue to fill and elevate the surrounding land. It seems, however, probable that soil has to be brought in to a large part of the area to give it a firm surface. Under such a plan, the swampy Mendsen Lake would become a beautiful attraction and asset.”
Delays Are Nothing New
In a later article, the Sun reported the opening of the West New England recreation area – now MLK Park – had been delayed “because of the need to fill in much of the ground.” To supplement the soil residue they were using as landfill, Mayor Raymond W. Greene had requested contractors working on major jobs in the city to bring their construction debris to the site for use as landfill. Mayor Greene assured residents the landfill had been provided and trucked in at “no cost to the City.”
Does any of this sound familiar?
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Moratorium on Commercial Overdevelopment
We Need One Now
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.”
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.
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Window of Opportunity to Expand Central Park
Open Letter to Mayor and Commissioners
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.
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OAO Passes on 3-2 Vote
The End of a Long Week
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.
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.
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Marathon Monday Stretches into Terrible Tuesday
Meeting Will Continue on Thursday, Jan. 16
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
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.
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.
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.
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