In close vote, P&Z board approves Rollins faculty housing project
Neighbors slam proposed architecture and say parking is inadequate
Jan. 18, 2024
By Beth Kassab
A proposed 48-unit apartment building to serve as workforce housing for Rollins College faculty and staff skidded out of a Planning & Zoning Board meeting with new conditions attached after an onslaught of complaints from residents at the nearby Douglas Grand condominiums.
The board voted 4-2 to recommend approval to the City Commission, which will consider the project next week. Jim Fitch, Vashon Sarkisian, Alex Stringfellow and David Bornstein voted yes with the added condition of restricting the number of parking passes per unit based on the number of bedrooms as well a requirement that Rollins help add on-street parking along Welbourne Avenue. Melissa Vickers and Warren Lindsey voted no.
Residents who live in the Douglas Grand and elsewhere said the project would add too many units to their neighborhood without adequate parking. Several people criticized the proposal’s architecture, wood frame construction and questioned the impact of what they called “subsidized housing” on their own property values.
Some who spoke accused the city of bowing to any request made by Rollins.
“I think we can agree this evening that if any other developer walked in to staff’s office and made a request for double units and only 77% of required parking with a noncompatible building, I think we can all agree that never would have made it to your agenda,” one speaker said. “But here we are tonight.”
Rollins President Grant Cornwell defended the project as central to the liberal arts college’s mission of providing students an intimate and quality experience with faculty and staff integrated into campus life.
He said younger, tenure-seeking faculty can’t afford to live in Winter Park and commute times can be an hour.
“This emerged as a way to fill a need,” he said. “Especially by younger faculty and a generation where they would like to get rid of a reliance on cars and walk to work and shopping.”
City code would typically require 124 parking spaces for the development as proposed: 2.5 spaces per unit plus four spaces for the coffee shop and bookstore. But Planning Director Jeff Briggs said the city has allowed other nearby projects to build just two spaces per unit because of the availability of on-street parking and the potential to add more on-street parking. As a result, the staff endorsed Rollins’ plan to build 97 spaces for the project.
The college is partnering with developer Alan Ginsburg on the one, two and three-bedroom units. The site along New England and Welbourne avenue is currently home to buildings known as the Dan Hunter apartments, for the mayor that developed them. Those units, which are already owned by Rollins and house graduate students today, would be torn down to make way for the new buildings.
A coffee shop and bookstore are included in the design as part of the city’s long standing rules for developing New England Avenue with a retail focus aimed at making the street attractive to pedestrians.
Rollins representatives said they would be willing to forgo the retail space in favor of a common area for residents if that was more desired by the city or neighbors.
As part of its agreement with the city, Rollins would commit to maintaining the units as faculty housing for a period of at least 20 years, a decrease from the 30 years that was in the original staff report.