No Henderson Hotel for Winter Park
by Anne Mooney / January 29, 2020
Once again, the City Commission meeting went on longer than a bad dream, finally limping to a halt just before midnight January 27. With routine business addressed early and dispatched quickly, most of the meeting revolved around the First Reading of the Henderson Hotel requests for Conditional Use and changes to the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Codes.
The developer, Adam Wonus of Winter Park Historic Hotels Group, was also requesting an ordinance to vacate portions of Killarney Drive and Fairview Avenue so that visitors to the hotel — be they hotel guests or Winter Park residents — would have unfettered access from the hotel to the lakefront. In return, the developer planned to provide landscaping and cleanup for the lakefront plus just under an acre of open green space and parkland.
Citizens support ‘City asset’
Wonus spent the past few years meeting people, going door-to-door in the Killarney neighborhood in an attempt to devise a commercially viable hotel project that would be an asset to the City while, at the same time being compatible with the neighborhood. As a result, a preponderance of commenters at Wednesday night’s Commission meeting were strongly in support of the Henderson project. They said not only would the project be good for the City, it would also greatly enhance the section of 17-92 between Beachview and Fairview Avenues south of the Trader Joe’s shopping center.
Neighbors oppose commercial development
On the other side of the question was a well-organized group of Lake Killarney neighbors who employed a cadre of experts — lawyers and engineers — to oppose approval of the project. They were concerned about the impact such a large project would have on the health of the lake, the light and noise pollution generated by large events at the hotel and the encroachment of commercial activity in their residential neighborhood.
As the discussion moved from public comment to discussion among the Commissioners, it became clear that the Commission was divided among its members, and that several Commissioners were ambivalent in their own thinking.
Developer offers plan changes
In the midst of the Commission discussion, attorney for the developer Becky Wilson offered a list of changes to the project that including eliminating the ballroom and the subterranean parking garage, going from five to four stories and eliminating the surface parking on the park that was planned adjacent to the hotel.
To accept this offer, the Commission would have had either to change the proposed development agreement on the fly or vote on it as presented and trust that it would be changed later. They balked.
Commissioners want to postpone
Mayor Steve Leary moved to accept the application as presented, and proposed to send the developer and the staff back to the drawing board to come up with revised plans for the Second Reading. When Leary’s motion failed to get a second, Commissioners Sheila DeCiccio and Carolyn Cooper attempted to get the applicant to agree to table the issue until the plans could be revised. “I cannot, in all conscience, vote on an ordinance that does not accurately reflect the project,” said DeCiccio.
Attorney Wilson responded that if the project were tabled, they would withdraw the application.
Sullivan and Weaver opposed
Commissioners Marty Sullivan and Todd Weaver gave extended explanations for their intent to withhold support. “This is a grand project,” said Sullivan, “but it’s in the wrong place,”
Weaver stated his refusal to go against the measure in the City’s Comprehensive Plan that says the City ‘shall protect the residential character of the Killarney neighborhood,’ and said he opposed rezoning residential R1A properties to C3 commercial.
When Commissioner Marty Sullivan moved to deny the Henderson application, attorney Becky Wilson stepped to the microphone and stated, “Mayor, we withdraw our application.” No vote was taken, giving the applicant the opportunity to resubmit the application at any time.
Editor’s note: This sentence has been corrected to reflect the Commission motion to deny.
No vote was taken.
One word was used by people on both sides of the issue to describe what happened: Sad.
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper said, “I’m so sad that we couldn’t work something out, because we had a really good development team with strong financial backing. Adam’s job is to dream big. Our job is to uphold the Comp Plan.”
“The Comp Plan is our value system,” said Cooper, “and it says we must protect our single-family neighborhoods. Actually, that neighborhood is a mixture of residential, commercial and office. But if we are going to allow commercial development in an area like that, I want to be damned sure it’s compatible with the residential neighborhood.”
Killarney resident Lisa Waddington expressed similar sentiments. “I feel sad about the whole thing,” she said. “Millions of dollars and thousands of hours have been expended. While this is not a ‘victory,’ per se, I am grateful that the Commission has upheld the residential character of our neighborhood, giving us the chance to reach for our full potential. We want our neighborhood to be known as an urban, boho, cool corner of the city – hiding in plain sight. Hillstone matches the scale and character of our neighborhood. It’s smaller and low-key. Unfortunately, the Henderson did not.”
Waddington described how the developer had helped the neighborhood in their dealings with the City. “Adam listened to the residents, and he had influence. He helped us get the City to fix the bricked streets and put in cut-through barriers. And Commissioner Sullivan is clear that he wants to work with us in the future to address storm water drainage and lake cleanup.”
Adam Wonus said, “I don’t know – it was really sad. We had a lot of support, and we met so many nice people. Everything we did was to provide benefits to everyone, but a small group of people was able to block an investment in the City. The Henderson would have been an amenity – one that was on the tax rolls. The cost to redraft the plans is about $125,000. That was my money – real money, out my pocket, and I just couldn’t afford to do it any more.”
Asked if he thought he might be able to bring the project back at a later date, he said, “I think not.”
There is nothing sad about upholding the laws of our city which include the Land Development Code. Those laws say, clearly, that this development ought not be allowed in this area, for a multitude of reasons.
The city is responsible, along with the Applicant, for any blight in this area. Wonus is the owner of the flea bag motel that is near the proposed hotel site. It is a mess. The Henderson Family does not maintain their properties that are a part of the hotel site. The City of Winter Park does do not do it’s job of maintaining the streets- Killarney Drive, Beachivew, Grove and Fairview Avenues- in good condition. Why?
Because intentional blight can then be used an an excuse to justify permitting what our codes do not allow.
I’m in complete agreement with your thoughts above.
I never took sides on this project, except to say that I think our city’s comp plan and zoning should be respected.
But I am curious about the developer’s “go big or go home” approach to the project.
Did precise numerical calculations prove that a somewhat more modest lodging venue could not make it financially at that location?
Or were the sheer size and imposing design of the project simply a manifestation of one man’s personality?
Thank you, Voice, for your coverage of this issue and for the community discussion it inspired.
Environmentalists around the globe were stunned to learn that the best way to clean up a lake is to build a 5 story, 139,000 square foot, 132 room hotel on its shores. But Wonus convinced them.
Imagine what Wonus can do for Lake Mizell, Lake Barry, Lake Sue, Lake Maitland, etc. Rollins’ new dorm project has already cleaned up Lake Virginia due to its large size, height and number of rooms, and that HUMONGOUS parking garage at Ollie/Osceola Ave. So, we don’t need to worry about that lake.
Wouldn’t it have been more strategic to acknowledge the obvious—that the project failed to meet comp plan standards—and then move forward—generously —to solve for a compromise as a good faith effort? Rather than to go thru months (and millions) to fit a square peg in a round hole? What do the last four elections for city commissioners tell you? If that’s not apparent, Cassadega mediums nearby charge $125/hour.
Don’t be misled. Of those Killarney estates residents who responded to the petition over 6 times as many voted no as opposed to the handful who supported the hotel. There were at least 16 violations of the comprehensive code.
Dear Winter Park neighbors and advocates,
This email is being sent to all (bcc) who emailed me regarding the Henderson Hotel. I occasionally send out email blasts regarding Winter Park issues. To add yourself to my email list, please “reply” with subject line “add me”.
Thank you for your interest in our City and for sharing your opinions and views. Mayor Leary’s motion to approve had failed to receive a second, and before a vote was taken on my motion to deny, the applicant’s attorney withdrew the application.
My position on the issue, which I derived from my study and deliberations on the project, is explained at time 7:57 of the 8-hour 15-minute video available at https://winterpark.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=1&clip_id=99. The effects of an 8-hour meeting on me, the Mayor, and others is audible in this late hour, about 11:30 pm.
The Henderson Hotel result illustrates conflicting objectives within our City. Future years will see changes in our businesses, infrastructure, economic structure, citizenry, and the physical boundaries of our City. As we grow and change, the guiding forces need to have visions that align and support each other. These guiding forces are many, including Rollins College, Advent Health, individual businesses, the citizens themselves, and many other elements. However, two of the major guiding forces for our City’s future, our City government and our Chamber of Commerce, are not in alignment.
The City laid out a vision in 2017 and has adopted a Comprehensive Plan that is generally aligned with the Vision document. My position last night was based on this Comprehensive Plan.
Winter Park Commissioner, Seat 1
signature, Marty Sullivan 2
Thank you, Marty. Succinct, perceptive and well stated.
I am thankful for our current commission. It took us residents a long time and a lot of work to get back to a city government that includes us as one of the elements in our city’s future.
One would think that players, as highly touted as The Henderson entourage, might have guessed early on that they would have problems getting their deal approved, when residents showed up en masse at the City Commission meeting, at least one holding a rock in her hand, up high for everyone to see, as she spoke at the Public Comment microphone, and another spouting thinly veiled litigation threats, personally, against any individual Commissioner voting in favor of it.
Alas, it took our esteemed fellow Central Florida developers and their emissaries, about 8 hours to come to the same conclusion that any 5 year old kid could have plainly deduced by less than an hour of the debate.
The correct conclusion for the Henderson Hotel was reached Wednesday evening. It is not the commission’s place to change the comp plan and zoning laws to fit a developer’s needs. When Developers buy property, they should present a project that can be built to existing codes. For those who would say , we lost a large tax revenue (CHAMBER), if we build projects for that reason and sacrifice our single family neighborhoods, “it profits us nothing”.
Greetings from those whom former Mayor Ken Bradley once called “The Same 12 Angry Residents.”
WE are the people who don’t want any idiotic development in Winter Park.
WE are the ones who stop all the big dumb projects before they can get off the ground.
WE are the ones who put Cooper, Weaver, DeCiccio, and Sullivan in office.
WE are the ones who will put Anderson in office.
WE are the ones who are now in charge of Winter Park.
WE are the ones who now decide everything that happens here (or doesn’t happen here) from a development standpoint.
YES, there are only 12 of US.
And WE are angry.
It is OUR nature to be angry – all the time.
WE haven’t stopped being angry since Ken Bradley told us we were angry.
WE actually like Leary.
If WE didn’t like him, WE would have recalled election him by now.
HE is our straight man.
HE makes us look more powerful than we ever gave ourselves credit for.
WE stopped the Henderson Hotel.
And WE’ll stop the next big dumb project that comes along too.
WE are the same.
WE are 12.
WE are angry.
WE are residents.
Wow – twelve people deciding everything that happens or does not happen in our town ( your words )
Regardless of one’s beliefs – that is a very very scary statement.
As long as “the same 12 angry residents” make good choices for Winter Park – like they seem to already be doing – I’m OK with them being in charge of everything in town.
The difference is “the same 12 angry residents” seem to do a better job of serving 30,000 Winter Park residents than the klutzes who use to run the town did.
Brilliant comment, 12 Angry Residents. Many thanks to all 12 of you!
The former mayor’s “The 12 angry residents” label is revealing given Sidney Lumet’s 1959 film, “Twelve Angry Men,” about how a jury holdout prevented a miscarriage of justice.
Wondering if the former mayor is involved with the seemingly never-ending expansion of AdventHealth on Lakemont.
The Mayor is to be applauded for his unbiased manner he conducted the hearing.
Red Neckerson. Careful. Many might take your sarcasm about Leary as a serious statement.
Leary’s arrogant, abrupt and dismissive manner towards those with whom he does not agree- including his fellow commissioners- is something that only Pete Weldon could miss.
His disrespectful and inappropriate behavior is one reason why voters should examine both our mayoral candidates’ demeanors closely. How did Sprinkel and Anderson comport themselves when on the dais? Think back. Was there any eye rolling? Hair tossing? Head shaking? School room type scolding? Think back and vote wisely.
WOW! Can 12 people really do all that! Twelve people equal twelve votes.
the last time I counted. Those twelve must have really multiplied.
Guessing there are around 12 people in WP who have led the way for many others, some of us who are only recently awakening to the shenanigans your righteous “anger”at injustice has stopped.
Realizing you are one of them.
The former mayor chose an interesting number to label his opponents.
The number 12 is a symbol of faith in the Abrahamic tradition. In Hebraic culture, 12 tended to mean wholeness and completeness.
Now that the City Commission has send Wonus’s half baked idea back to the kitchen, it’s up to Wonus now to present something more acceptable.
I can’t believe that a smart man like Wonus would waste 3 years of his life putting together a project that will never fly.
Maybe Leary told him it would be no problem because back then Sprinkel, Seidel, and Weldon were still on the Commission. But Leary may not have wanted to put the hotel approval AND the library event center construction approval through during the same year. That would have made it too obvious to the residents what they were up to with MLK Park. Had they been presented simultaneously that might have successfully stalled or preempted the library event center construction due to public outcry.
Residents were already starting to wake up about the library not really being a library at all but rather an Art Museum. And the hotel would have been a dead giveaway that what the City was really aiming at was not a library for the kids at all, but rather an international tourist destination that they could build a bunch. of hotels and roller coasters around.
It also may indicate that more hotel requests are in the hopper and just waiting for Leary to tell them its time to bring the request to City Commission. As always, the residents are the last to know about such things.
Anne Mooney, you are a great writer, as well as investigative journalist and analyst. Appreciate your syntax, prose, wit and incisive analysis. Your metaphors are terrific.
Many thanks to you and whomever supports this page for the public service/community reportage and open dialogue.
Anne Mooney is the best friend the developers have in this town, although neither they nor she realizes it.
If developers only knew some of the comments that get submitted to her that she has refused to publish here in The Voice, they’d realize that were it not for her mindful and prudent “gatekeeping” of this comment board, no developer candidate in Winter Park would ever stand a chance of winning public office again.