Progress at Progress Point
Commissioners Explore What Progress Point Will Look Like
by Anne Mooney / July 27, 2020
Imagining Progress Point
Amidst the confusion and frustration surrounding the Orange Avenue Overlay (OAO), a Commission work session on Thursday, July 23, offered a glimmer of hope there might soon be progress at Progress Point. The work session centered around ideas of what could happen at the City-owned property located at the center of the proposed overlay district, roughly half-way between the two large properties at either end, one owned by the Holler family interests, the other by Demetree Global.
Progress on Progress Point.
Commissioners met Thursday to explore the possible fate of Progress Point – an empty, blighted parcel of land snugged up against the railroad tracks that the City acquired in the infamous land swap of 2011, when the City traded the old State Office Building parcel at the corner of Morse Blvd. and Denning Dr. for the Progress Point property on Orange Ave.
Commissioners plan to make plans.
Since the meeting was a work session, the Commissioners could take no action. They did, however, agree upon what action they plan to take when the opportunity presents itself at the next commission meeting. Four Commissioners were present – Sheila DeCiccio, Marty Sullivan, Todd Weaver and Vice Mayor Carolyn Cooper. Mayor Steve Leary was absent.
After a joint presentation by a consortium that included ACi architects, LandDesign, HR Miller Landscape Architect and Steve Goldman about what Progress Point could look like, were the City to go that direction, the Commissioners agreed upon six basic principles that would guide their decisions regarding Progress Point.
What’s planned for Progress Point?
The City will maintain control and ownership of the property, though the Commissioners said they would consider the possibility of a land lease to a private developer or to a non-profit concern created specifically for the purpose. No residential property will be built on Progress Point. The parcel will contain approximately 1.5 contiguous acres of green park space and a 12-foot-wide bike path along a relocated Palmetto Avenue. Businesses in any structures built on the parcel must enhance the park experience for residents and visitors. The City will realign Palmetto Avenue, moving it south, closer to the railroad tracks, to provide more contiguous land for parking and the 1.5-acre park.
The Commissioners allocated $150,000 for the engineering and design necessary to relocate Palmetto Avenue, build surface parking and the pedestrian/bicycle path. This will enable planners to determine what infrastructure improvements will be needed to support the types of businesses that would be appropriate for that site. An additional $10,000 will go for a plan to connect the urban park spaces throughout the City of Winter Park.
This chapter of OAO history begins with OAO Steering Committee. (This is not Chapter One.)
In late 2019, after a lengthy series of meetings and public input, a 10-member OAO steering committee submitted their recommendations to the City for the adoption of an ordinance to create the OAO. The steering committee voted 8-2 in favor, with Michael Dick and [future] Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio dissenting. Michael Dick felt development entitlements for the two large property owners were overly generous. Ms. DeCiccio objected to the city planners’ idea of selling the Progress Point property to a developer for office space and a parking garage that would contain extra parking to be shared with surrounding small businesses. Instead, DeCiccio wanted the City to retain ownership.
First Reading January 13 – 16, 2020.
The ordinance to create the OAO went to the Commission on January 13 for its first reading. That Commission meeting, which began January 13 at 3:30 pm, lasted until approximately 2:30 am January 14, and was continued January 16 for another five to six hours. The ordinance, which included provisions for the 1.5-acre park, passed on a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Leary and Commissioners Sarah Sprinkel and Greg Seidel supporting, and Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Todd Weaver dissenting.
Approved on Second Reading ‘as amended’ March 9.
The OAO ordinance was sent to Tallahassee for approval and came back to Winter Park for its second reading March 9. At the March 9 Commission meeting, the ordinance was approved as amended – there were more than 50 amendments.
New Commission March 17.
On March 17, a new Commission was elected. Commissioners Sarah Sprinkel and Greg Seidel did not seek re-election, and Commissioners Sheila DeCiccio and Marty Sullivan took their places. By then, the novel coronavirus pandemic had set in, delaying the swearing-in of the new Commissioners until March 27.
Ordinance rescinded March 30.
On March 30, the newly-seated Commissioners rescinded the OAO ordinance. Their stated intent was not to kill the OAO, but to revisit some of the rules and regulations regarding the density, size and height of new development, particularly on the larger properties. Commissioner DeCiccio also wanted to make sure Progress Point remains under City ownership.
City Sued April 24 and May 12
On April 24, Demetree Global filed suit against the City as WP Station Tower, LLC, Winterpark Station, LLC, Wintergate, LLC, and Palmetto Building 2019, LLC. The Holler properties, as DI Partners, LLLP, and CVJCR Properties, Ltd., LLLP filed suit shortly after, on May 12. The complaints request the courts to declare the ordinance rescinding the OAO null and void.
City declares temporary moratorium July 22.
While there is no restriction on development within the OAO under the City’s current zoning rules, the temporary moratorium prevents new OAO development based on the regulations in the rescinded OAO zoning plan. The moratorium is expected to last until the current Commission comes up with a revised version of the overlay plan.
Commissioners have scheduled a series of work sessions throughout the remainder of the summer to come up with a plan to move forward on development rules for the OAO district.
The process of creating the Orange Avenue Overlay is far from over. What happens at Progress Point may well be the first step.
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OAO Email Mystery Solved
by Anne Mooney / June 26, 2020
Winter Parkers who received an email titled “Winter Park, Winter Garden. A Tale of Two Winters,” bearing the Winter Park city seal superimposed by the words “Orange Avenue” and including the Notice of Public Hearing from the June 21 Orlando Sentinel were understandably mystified.
Readers Ask: Where Did This Come From?
At first glance, the email appeared to have been sent by the City of Winter Park. However, the body of the email contained an unfavorable comparison of Winter Park to the city of Winter Garden. Adding to the confusion was a call to action toward the end of the text, urging recipients to contact the Mayor and Commissioners and to attend a public hearing July 7th.
Email from Demetree Real Estate Services
Communications Director Clarissa Howard, who was not aware of the email until she received a query from the Voice, said she did not know who had sent it. She quickly looked into the matter and discovered the email had come from the Demetree Real Estate Services Constant Contact account. Demetree Real Estate is one of two large landholders within the Orange Avenue Overlay.
Howard fired off an email advising the sender, “Using this official city image in your messaging misrepresents your communication as information produced and distributed by the City of Winter Park.”
In her email, Howard cited city code, Section 2-4: “As provided by law, the manufacture, use, display or other employment of any facsimile or reproduction of the municipal seal, except by municipal officials or employees in the performance of their official duties, without the express approval of the governing body is a second degree misdemeanor, punishable as provided in F.S. § 775.082 or 775.083, as the same may be amended. The city manager, or his designee, is delegated the authority to grant permission to others to use the seal.”
Howard’s email concluded, “Absent of our expressed approval, I respectfully ask that you refrain from using the city seal in any of your messaging tools. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you.”
At issue is the Demetree organization’s opposition to a proposed ordinance placing a temporary moratorium on development within the Orange Avenue Overlay district until the current City Commission is able to craft an Orange Avenue Overlay ordinance to replace the one that was rescinded in April of this year.
Demetree company representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
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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 NowEditor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.
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 CommissionersEditor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.
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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