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Geri Throne & Anne Mooney / November 21, 2014 / Read & Input Comments

Comes now a tale, wonky and dry as a bone, about a seemingly simple piece of bureaucracy that could forever alter the face of Winter Park. You may want to wade through these words to find out how Monday’s vote could affect the city.


Rules Change Proposed for Downtown & Wetlands Development

City commissioners appear poised to change the rules for approving buildings in wetlands and in the core of downtown. A commission hearing at 3:30 p.m. Monday will consider eliminating the current requirement of a 4-1 super-majority vote to allow downtown and wetlands development, reducing the requirement to a simple majority of 3-2 votes.


The proposed change may appear minor compared to votes on looming projects such as the huge Ravaudage development. Arguably, however, it could have long-term effects.


Vote Requirement Change from 4-1 to 3-2

If it is approved, developers who want to build three-story buildings downtown would need to win over only three commissioners instead of four. The same would hold true for someone wanting to build in the city’s floodplain between Lake Sue and Lake Virginia and those north of Lake Maitland. The current city commission often votes 3-2 in favor of development, with Mayor Ken Bradley and Commissioners Steve Leary and Sarah Sprinkel voting in the majority.


Historically, Winter Park has held the line on tall buildings and wetlands construction. The super-majority requirement was a safeguard to ensure that proposals for downtown and wetlands developments have broad community support. 


City Staff: Change Would Bring ‘Consistency’ 

Most of the current commissioners, however, have little love for 4-1 votes. It stripped most of them from its books after City Attorney Larry Brown issued an opinion that they conflicted with the city charter. Brown said a better way to handle concerns about development would be to word land-use policies more strongly. No such stronger language is under consideration, however.


Left on the books at the time were the requirements for 4-1 votes dealing with wetlands and downtown. Brown said those conditional-use votes did not conflict with the charter. But at the October 13 commission meeting, City Planner Jeff Briggs said their removal would bring “consistency” to the code.


Cooper: “There May Be Times a 4-1 Vote is Desirable”

Most commissioners said they liked that idea, but Commissioner Carolyn Cooper opposed it because she said there may be times a four-vote majority is desired. As a compromise, Commissioner Tom McMacken proposed toughening those reviews by increasing the number of public hearings required from one to two. 


P&Z Shoots Down McMacken Compromise

The Planning & Zoning board, however, on October 28 unanimously recommended against that change. Advisory board members said two hearings would run “counter to the city’s desire to streamline the development review process” and would delay some requests. 


Mayoral Candidates: Lukewarm Toward Super-majority Votes

In interviews with the Voice, neither Cynthia Mackinnon nor Commissioner Steve Leary, the two candidates in the current mayoral race, expressed enthusiasm for super-majority votes. Mackinnon noted they “are relatively rare,” but added she was “not in favor doing a bunch of piecemeal changes” related to land use before the city finishes its upcoming visioning process. “To me, the best approach to any changes in the code is to finish the visioning first,” she said. 


Commissioner Leary dismissed the idea that a simple majority vote could make it easier for development to occur in wetlands and downtown. “It’s never as simple as, if you’re doing this, you’re making it easier,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s going to be an issue.”


Monday’s vote is the first of two. The second and final hearing on whether to eliminate the super-majority vote is likely to be held in December.


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