Cut-Thru Update: City Votes Yes Despite Strong Citizen Opposition
Plea for More Study Rejected
At last Monday’s Commission hearing on the extension of Lee Road to Webster Avenue, Winter Park’s Commissioners voted 4 to 1 in favor of the resolution supporting the Lee Road cut-through – a result that drew “boos” from the packed Commission chamber. Commissioner Carolyn Cooper cast the only “No” vote.
Prior to the vote, the Commissioners debated the relative merits of the not-so-comprehensive batch of traffic studies being used to justify pushing a major traffic artery closer to the heart of Winter Park. Commissioner Cooper urged her fellow Commissioners to delay the vote in favor of more study and citizen input. She also expressed concern about the impact of increased cut-through traffic on the city’s neighborhoods.
City/Commissioners Don’t “Believe” Cut-Thru Will Increase Neighborhood Traffic
In his explanation of the rationale for the cut-through, Public Works Director Troy Attaway asserted his belief that the cut-through will not significantly increase traffic, citing studies that traffic on the new extension will be comprised mainly of drivers who are currently accessing Webster from the eastbound turn lane on 17-92. However, Attaway acknowledged that traffic studies submitted to the City have not included projections and modeling of significant traffic that will be generated by large developments being built/planned within a few blocks of the proposed cut-through.
Commission Chamber Filled with Citizens Opposing Cut-Thru
The 15+ city residents who spoke during the Public Comments period were, with two exceptions, opposed to the cut-through.
Some speakers proposed alternatives of the sort Commissioner Cooper wanted to study, including a proposal by P&Z’s Randall Slocum (speaking as a private citizen) to simply close the problematic eastbound turn lane from 17-92 onto Webster.
This lane causes the back-up on 17-92 that is cited by City officials as being a key problem the cut-through is seeking to solve.
Commission Rejects Citizen Proposals for Simpler, Cheaper Alternatives
It appears that the Commission’s 4-1 vote to support the cut-through halts the City’s due-diligence process that would have included a study of simple, low-cost suggestions like Slocum’s – as well as other alternatives offered by citizens including extending the duration of the turn lane’s signal light arrow.
City Has Another Reason Cut-Thru Necessary: Merchants Want It.
Comments by City officials offered a possible glimpse into another reason why, despite strong citizen opposition, the City so adamantly supports the cut-through to Webster: the City’s concern about upsetting area merchants by reducing traffic on Webster.
Public Works’ Attaway put it this way: “. . . If you didn’t give [ traffic ] another opportunity to get to Webster and you eliminated that left turn there would be people that would be upset.”
Randy Knight clarified the statement, adding: “The businesses there came out in force against removing the left turn on Webster before.”
Anne Mooney & Tom Childers / May 12, 2014
Civic Center Meeting on Lee Rd. Extension – A One-Way Street?
Concerned citizens gathered at the Rachel Murrah Civic Center April 29 for what they thought was going to be a Q & A session about the UP Development at Lee Road and 17-92 and the accompanying extension of Lee Road east of 17-92. The Lee Road extension they were shown differed from earlier versions.
Now Lee Road would travel east of 17-92 and turn south to Webster.
Citizens Protest Attempt by City & Developer to Restrict Public Discussion
City residents attending the workshop were told there would be no opportunity for them to publicly air their views in this meeting but that they could submit their comments in writing to the city.
Citizens in the audience objected to the limitation – complaining to City & developer staffers that by limiting the forum, other citizens were deprived of the benefit of hearing an open public exchange. The City ultimately relented and allowed questions from the audience.
City Faces Tough Questions After Agreeing to Allow Public Q&A
One audience member pointedly asked Public Works Director Troy Attaway if the traffic studies the City is using to justify the cut-thru have taken future Ravaudage traffic into consideration – or whether this large development’s future traffic impact has been “ignored again.”
Director Attaway answered “We did not do a traffic study that looked at the numbers . . . You can talk to the developer about the numbers for his project and his surrounding projects.”
After a handful of citizen questions were answered, the City asked city residents to speak directly with Scott Fish of UP Development whose proposed shopping center at Lee Road and 17-92 will house, among other enterprises, the new Whole Foods Market. Citizens spoke at length with Fish and some of his key planners and engineers.
Workshop Attendees Unaware That Workshop Was Their Last Chance for Meaningful Debate & Discovery
A week after the Civic Center workshop, the Mayor and Commissioners scheduled a Monday, May 12 Commission vote on a resolution in support of extending Lee Road to Webster Avenue. Citizen groups have told the Voice that they are rushing to inform city residents about what’s at stake Monday – and are hoping the City will answer unresolved questions and adequately consider citizen input prior to voting on Monday afternoon.
Is City “Speeding” Cut-Thru Approval to Meet Developer Time-Table? Developer Says He Wants Cut-Thru, but Could Move Forward Without It.
In a May 9 interview with the Voice, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper stated her opposition to rushing into a decision so quickly, when it is not necessary to do so.
She pointed out that Scott Fish of UP Development, who is bringing Whole Foods Market to the Lee Road Intersection, has made clear that he wants access to the light at Lee Road, but could live without the extension.
Mr. Fish stated unequivocally in an April 29 interview with the Voice that his development could succeed without the extension of Lee Road beyond 17-92. According to Cooper, the city has not given itself adequate time to fully study and comprehend the impact of all the development taking place along the north-south 17-92 corridor.
Cooper and Sprinkel Going Against the Traffic
Both Commissioners Sarah Sprinkel and Carolyn Cooper have come out solidly against the extension of Lee Road east of 17-92.
In an interview with the Voice published March 9, 2014, Sprinkel stated, “I don’t support a punch-through. . . I don’t want to make it easy to have a big flow-through there. So, personally, I don’t support that.”
McMacken says: “Look Both Ways Before Crossing the Road”
At the March 24, 2014, Commission Meeting, Commissioner Tom McMacken called for the city, the city’s traffic consultant and FDOT to hold a public workshop to inform citizens about the Lee Road extension and to provide a forum for their comments.
To date, there has been no forum. The way things stand now, the last opportunity for citizens to speak out will be Monday at the May 12 Commission Meeting.
Cooper: We’re Moving Too Fast. Let’s Proceed With Caution.
According to Commissioner Cooper:– The city was not adequately informed or prepared to make this decision at this time.
– There has been too little input from citizens and the city has not had enough time to thoroughly review citizen input.
– The City’s favored extension alternative (Lee Rd. cut-thru to Webster) is a new approach and has not been fully vetted by the DOT.
– The timing of the extension construction could very well coincide with major I-4 construction scheduled to begin in 2015.
Cooper has called for a core study to look at all the development along 17-92 and proceeding at a schedule that would place construction at Lee Road (if necessary) where the DOT originally had it – in 2018.
Winter Park Voice contacted the Mayor and all Commissioners on Thursday evening requesting an interview. As of press time, only Commissioner Cooper agreed to be interviewed.