Residents move commission to alter westside townhome project
Townhome developer willing to consider changes in light of residents’ concerns
Nov. 9, 2023
By Beth Kassab
In what appeared to be the brink of a victory for residents of the historically Black neighborhood in west Winter Park, a developer seeking to build 53 rental units of mostly townhomes will possibly reduce the number of units in favor of adding more single-family homes along the perimeter of the complex.
The change, requested by residents and members of the City Commission, is intended to make the development more compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.
The possible concessions from Winter Park Commons came after more than a dozen residents spoke at the City Commission meeting, complaining that the scope of the two-story units would dwarf adjacent small single-story houses and would continue to erode the character of the neighborhood.
“We’ve lost a lot through changes already done in Winter Park and we’ve done the most changing,” resident Sheila Reed told commissioners.
Brenda Martin Smith, whose family has owned homes on Webster Avenue and Comstock Avenue for more than half a century, said the west side neighborhood would be hurt by additional traffic and the imposing façade of the multi-story project.
“Every day is playing Russian Roulette trying to back out of our driveway on Webster,” she said. “And because of the construction on Comstock of mega-million-dollar homes you can’t even drive down that street. We have borne the burden of Winter Park with these multiplexes.”
At the core of the debate before the Commission, though, are the zoning entitlements on the property the Miami-based developer bought from a Seventh-Day Adventist Church in 2019. The land is zoned R-3, which allows multi-story, multi-unit developments. Other nearby properties, including some that are currently single-family homes, have the same R-3 zoning, which means they too could be developed in the future.
“We met every single code requirement you have,” said Rebecca Wilson, a Lowndes attorney who is representing the developer. “And we’re being told only single-family is compatible with R-3 around us … It just seems unfair. It doesn’t mean we may not be able to make it work, but it does seem unfair that we have to do the single-family when across the street [there are apartments].”
There are two apartment complexes near the proposed development.
The developer had already agreed to replace some townhomes with single-family homes along Capen Avenue, as well as a list of other conditions when the commission granted partial approval to the project last month.
Wilson said it’s possible the project would reduce its size by two units and build detached single-family style homes along the perimeter, but would likely need variances on setbacks and the number of parking spaces to make that work financially.
Commissioners voted to table the matter to give the developer time to consider their options. They plan to bring it back for discussion at the next meeting in December.