Election Looms

City Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel will start her third term in office this March without opposition, but Commissioner Greg Seidel faces a challenge to his second term on Seat 1: Wes Naylor, whom Mayor Steve Leary appointed to the city’s Police Pension Board five months ago.

How those developments will affect the board’s future approach to zoning and planning is anyone’s guess. Even before the election, commissioners this week showed they can act unpredictably on such matters.

Unforeseen Zoning Votes

Sprinkel, who often agrees with Leary on zoning issues, did just that with most items on Monday’s agenda. But she joined forces with Commissioner Carolyn Cooper to oppose a relatively minor lot-split request, defeating it in a 2-2 vote from which Seidel abstained because the applicant was building him a home.

Later, Seidel, who often sides with Cooper on zoning matters, found a third ally to defeat a contentious request affecting a westside neighborhood.

The applicant, Morgan Bellows, wanted to rezone a single-family lot on Comstock Avenue to higher density R2 so he could build a large single-family house. R2 zoning would give him an extra 600 extra square feet so the house could be 4,300 square feet.
Seven residents made impassioned pleas against the project because of the cumulative effect such rezonings and larger structures would have on the small westside community.

Racism an Issue?

“Inch by inch, block by block, you start changing,” said Martha Hall about her neighborhood. She recounted the history of efforts to remove blacks from west Winter Park starting in the 1800s. “You all may look at it in a different manner, but when you look at racism, when you look at discrimination, it happens. I always say, there’s a zebra and can a zebra change its stripes? You all continue to make the same decisions” on westside development.

Opponents weren’t optimistic their arguments would be heard. The Planning and Zoning Commission had voted 2-2 on the request, with board member Randall Slocum abstaining because he was working for Bellows. On Monday, city commissioners also heaped high praise on Bellows’ application and design.

Commissioner Pete Weldon even chided Hall by name. “I am sick and tired of people coming here and associating the performance, the judgment, and the thought processes of the people who serve this community as racist, and I don’t want to hear it again, Miss Hall.” Leary agreed the racism words “disgusted” him.

“You will hear it again,” a woman in the audience called out.

Then Weldon did the unexpected. He said he was voting against the rezoning, “not because the neighbors are all against it, not because Miss Hall thinks I’m a racist, but because in my judgment it is an accommodation without strategic purpose for the neighborhood or the city.”

Interviewed after the meeting, Hall, surprised by the 3-2 vote, said, “I was pointing out history and what has happened through the years and what continues to happen. I didn’t call anyone up there racist.” She said it’s important to talk about issues like racism to address them. “When a person can’t sit down and talk about it, something is wrong.”

Parking Lot Nixed

Perhaps the most unexpected vote of the evening was the commission’s unanimous denial of Phil Kean Designs’ request for a parking area in a residential neighborhood. The Fairbanks Avenue business wanted to rezone a single-family lot behind the business, making the front portion R2 and the back portion parking for Kean’s business.
Planning and Zoning had voted 3-2 for approval, and city planners argued that fencing would shield neighbors from the parking. Commissioners also heaped high praise on Kean, a luxury home developer, but Weldon moved to deny the request, with Cooper seconding. The rezonings were defeated 5-0.

March Election

In addition to the Seat 1 election, the city election on March 14 will include a charter question changing the way the city handles multi-candidate races. Currently, the city holds a primary race in February when there are more than two candidates. The charter amendment would put the first ballot in March and hold a runoff, if needed, in April.
Seidel is on the ballot again after two years because he ran successfully for the remainder of Leary’s term after Leary resigned to run for mayor in 2015. Seidel previously served on the city’s Utility Advisory Board as its chairman. He is vice president of a Winter Park-based civil engineering firm and has lived in the city 16 years. Naylor, a retired Naval officer, is president and managing partner of an Orlando consulting group serving businesses seeking military contracts. He moved to Winter Park five years ago.

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    By: Geri Throne – Guest Columnist

    Author / Journalist
    Geri Throne moved to Winter Park with her husband and two young children over 40 years ago, after learning about the city as a reporter for the now-defunct Winter Park Sun Herald. She wrote extensively for that weekly about city issues and local politics in the 1970s.She later joined the staff of the Orlando Sentinel where she specialized in local government issues and in the 1980s served as Winter Park bureau chief. She worked at the newspaper’s Orlando office as an assistant city editor, deputy business editor and member of the Editorial Board before her retirement in 2003. A series of her editorials won a national award for educational reporting from the Education Writers Association in 2003. Geri has published several essays and short stories. She continues to pursue her interest in fiction writing with local authors and is working on a novel set in World War II.

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