Ladybird, Ladybird, Fly Away Home . . . .
Traffic, Congestion and Noise = Project Denial
On June 27, the Ladybird Academy came before the Commission to request a reversal of the Planning & Zoning Board’s denial of their application to build a 13,000-square-foot preschool and child care facility on the west side of the K-Mart Plaza fronting Gay Road and Trovillion Avenue.
Residents: Pre-School Not Compatible with Neighborhood
Near some of Winter Park’s most congested intersections — Lee Rd. at 17-92 and Lee Rd. at Webster – the neighborhood between the K-Mart Plaza and Lake Killarney has quiet, two-lane streets and is home to the Killarney Bay and Chateau du Lac condominium complexes, as well as several smaller single family homes. The population is predominantly, though not exclusively, seniors. Residents from this peaceful neighborhood showed up in force, with signed petitions, to oppose the proposed child care facility.
Peak Hour Operation for 144 Kids
Ladybird Academy, a franchise operation with several locations in Central Florida, wanted to build a preschool and child care facility that would accommodate 144 children. They planned to operate between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. The company, incorporated in 2011, is headquartered in Lake Mary. Ladybird offers not only day care and preschool for children ages 6 weeks through 5 years, it also offers before- and after-school and summer camp programs, according to their website. www.ladybirdacademy.com
Neighbors Fear Noise, Traffic
On June 7, the Planning & Zoning Board heard extensive public comment about increased traffic when parents dropped off and picked up their children during morning and evening peak traffic hours – those times when drivers trying to avoid congestion on Lee Road and 17-92 cut through the residential streets. Residents also were concerned about the level of noise that might be generated by 144 children during lunch and recess.
Major Retail Coming to the Area
Residents pointed out that much of K-Mart Plaza is presently unoccupied because it is undergoing renovation. The Whole Foods center, which also will have other major retailers, is also due to open soon. City Planning Director Jeff Briggs noted that traffic generated by these additional large retail developments will be spread out over the day, reducing the impact at any one time. To add an additional 140 or so cars at peak traffic hours, however, could tip an already stressed road system into total gridlock.
Ladybird Experts Weigh In
Ladybird Academy produced a sizeable group of experts that included a traffic engineer and a real estate appraiser, each bearing the proper list of credentials. The traffic engineer cited statistics indicating that both 17-92 and the interior neighborhood streets were currently operating well below capacity, a condition that is not immediately apparent to the anecdotal observer.
The real estate appraiser, Mark Carpenter, was tasked with reassuring current residents that the proposed daycare facility would not diminish the value of their property. He contended that the project would have the opposite effect, to enhance property values. “Basically, right now,” he said, referring to the proposed site, “it’s an eyesore.”
Gladys Renqifo-Ellis who, like many of her neighbors, enjoys the quiet expanse of green space that is the proposed site, disagreed with Mr. Carpenter’s characterization.
Ladybird Seeks Conditional Use Approval
While the Ladybird Academy project did not require zoning changes, because of the nature of its business, the project had to meet 12 criteria for Conditional Use set forth in city code. These criteria were enumerated by City Attorney Kurt Ardaman.
Basically, the code requires the proposed project be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and comply with land use code. The building, landscaping, and irrigation must be compatible with the scale and character of the surrounding neighborhood. There needs to be adequate parking, lighting, storm water retention and noise mitigation.
Academy Fails Compatibility Test
Where the Ladybird Academy project fell short was in the area of compatibility. Criterion #3 reads: “Operating hours, noise, parking and traffic impact will be compatible with existing and anticipated land use activities in the immediate neighborhood and compatible with the character of the surrounding area.”
Criterion #7 reads: “That traffic generated from the property use should not on a daily or peak hour basis degrade the level of service on adjacent roads or intersections. . . . That access directs traffic away from residential roads and toward more heavily traveled roads.”
According to Ardaman, if the project fails to meet any of the criteria for Conditional Use, it is the obligation of the Commission to uphold the decision of P&Z and deny the application.
Ladybird Academy failed the test.