This issue of the Winter Park Voice is written by readers. Three of our readers, John Skolfield, Jerome Donnelly and Jackie Becker, submitted writings articulating their views and concerns about Winter Park. This is what they see and how they feel. These are the voices of our neighbors.
Winter Park – How Do We Grow?
Guest Columnist / John Skolfield
Tuesday’s election has been the occasion for much discussion about development. In fact, aside from the barbs and jabs exchanged by the mayoral candidates, growth and development have been the primary topics of conversation.
Communities evolve in interesting ways. Projects that seem at first painfully out of place have a way of melting into the fabric of our community. Bank of America’s building on Park Avenue, an unattractive monolith of concrete, thoughtfully and artfully sheathed in a new façade decades ago, has settled into Park Avenue with grace and presence.
The modern architecture adorned with colorful glass behind the train station is anything but traditional ‘Old Winter Park.’ Yet this building warms my heart every time I travel down New York Avenue.
The design, mass and size of any structure has a permanence about it, sometimes admirable, sometimes regrettable – hence the importance of these elections and the broad civic involvement they elicit. The way we develop and grow defines our sense of place and provides the context in which we live. We derive certain important facets of our identity from our sense of place.
My hands have been deep into the soul of Winter Park’s residential homes for nearly four decades. I love shelter. I am Winter Park. My eyes land on the structures that make up Winter Park a thousand times a day. While I don’t own them, they are the flavor and variety of my daily horizon – and they are mine.
I like a community that has escaped sameness. I like beauty and diversity in architecture. Stroll down New England Avenue into Hannibal Square and experience the escape from sameness. This avenue was re-developed with a tremendous sense of aesthetics. It could have been so bad – a row of stucco cubes. That this did not happen we owe to the vision of the developer. Thus it was that this developer made his contribution to our sense of place.
Steve Leary unabashedly states that he’s a “property rights guy.” I get it, the bedrock of our democracy — but how much ‘property rights’ do we really have? Can you say: back yard chickens, floor area ratio, height limits, and a slew of zoning and codes arguably imposing serious restrictions on our ‘rights?’
It’s been said that reducing development capacity opens the city up to lawsuits. Conversely, that easing restrictions will come with a benefit to the city.
The argument that we need to make adjustments to attract commercial development seems disingenuous — the argument that was bandied about during the Great Recession – even while Park Avenue maintained near 100 percent occupancy.
Maintenance of our infrastructure – sewers, streetlights and the like — will prime the pump for commercial development on our main roads. Developers will come and shoot for the stars. We must graciously welcome their participation and hold the line. Where else are they going to go that is Winter Park?
Recent development on Lyman and Canton represents this “shoot for the stars and accept the moon” approach. The developer took a shot at higher density and was rejected by an impressively organized community. The developer accepted a reduction in density, built and sold. This same developer, passing on another battle, is building single-family homes in the area.
We do not need to beg people to come here. We just need to keep tending the garden, planting the oak trees and discouraging sameness. They will always come knocking.
John Skolfield is co-owner of Skolfield Homes and Restore Winter Park, L.L.C.
Mackinnon — Best for Winter Park
Guest Columnist / Jerome Donnelly
The Sentinel editorial endorsing Winter Park mayoral candidate Steve Leary is correct in saying that the candidates have “strongly contrasting views on how the city should look tomorrow,” but does not address much in the way of those contrasts. Cynthia Mackinnon stands for more than “tweaking the status quo,” as the Sentinel puts it.
Past commissions, like the ones I served on for three terms, were scrupulous about giving priority to residents and maintaining the uncluttered character of Winter Park. For example, we rejected developers’ proposed condominiums between the Polasek Museum and the Osceola Avenue Canal; another on New England across from where the Public Library now stands; another proposed for that library site. Had these developments been approved, there would be a wall of condominium buildings instead of the library and several of Winter Park’s most attractive single family homes. MacKinnon supports similar checks on zoning erosion and inappropriate development.
It’s not unusual for developers to ask for too much, but the city must not compromise in ways that favor developers over the city and its residents. Those who live here should have preference over speculators. A developer only has to win once to leave us stuck forever with the density and its problems –like the congestion and dangers that have resulted from allowing Trader Joe’s to provide parking across five lanes of 17-92 traffic.
Leary makes much of saying that he voted against Trader Joe’s and a larger Paseo development. The fact is that he did vote for the far-too-large Paseo development, with its congestion-inducing density, and he voted for the Trader Joe’s project when he voted to approve its parking across highway 17-92.
He hides behind the city code, pleading that since across street parking is allowed, he was obliged to vote for it. The code says that such parking may be allowed, not that it must be allowed. If there was ever an instance when it should have been denied, it should have been denied for parking across a five-lane highway.
Leary also voted for the change to the Comprehensive Plan that would have allowed PD-2 zoning on any four-lane road. The proposed change went to Tallahassee on a 3 – 2 vote for approval, but after Tallahassee sent it back for final approval, Leary, Sprinkel and Bradley all switched and voted down the change when they encountered overwhelming citizen opposition.
Leary has made “regionalism” a repeated term in the mayoral debates and wants the city to take a regional approach. This is the opposite of Winter Park’s history. The city has done its own thing, with results that make it widely admired. When it did its Comprehensive Plan in the 1970s, that plan became a model for other localities. The Winter Park Farmer’s Market started something now imitated regionally.
His claim of credit for the city’s tree canopy program is misleading. A tree program was in full force well before Leary even moved to Winter Park. All he did was to vote in favor of the fancy sounding “Urban Forestry Program,” which is simply a revised way of handling tree planting and removal. The new program may actually result in cutting down trees long before they become a problem and thus actually reduce the canopy for years.
Leary’s exaggerated and distorted claims amount to a lack of transparency and do not bode well for good governance. In contrast, Mackinnon has been a staunch supporter of transparency as well as open government.
A final note: Leary is fond of touting his management skills. A Winter Park mayor is one of five city commissioners, not a manager. Commissioners are elected to make city policy, not to manage its business. Leary’s emphasis on his managerial skills suggests someone likely to interfere with the Winter Park’s City staff. The city does not need another manager. It needs a leader like Mackinnon.
Jerome Donnelly is a retired UCF English professor. He served three terms on the Winter Park City Commission, from 1972 to 1980.
What Happened, Winter Park?
Guest Columnist / Jackie Becker
I have struggled with this question because I couldn’t quite figure out just how my husband and I ended up where we are today.
We were lifelong residents of Winter Park. We married 36 years ago and settled here. Until recently we planned to stay here the rest of our lives. We took an active interest in our community and when development threatened our park, we began to pay attention to what was really going on around us.
We attended Commission Meetings, participated on boards and workshops and started listening. What we heard bothered us, and what we saw happening to Winter Park disturbed us.
Development was increasing rapidly and getting bigger. Traffic became unbearable, land swaps and deals with developers happened. Sun Rail started. One evening at 5:30 we sat through eleven light changes at Morse Boulevard and New York Avenue. We realized we had become a community divided.
We continued to watch and listen and we began to think that maybe Winter Park wasn’t the place to spend the rest of our lives after all. We looked elsewhere, but nowhere else was “home.” Then Trader Joe’s Plaza opened, further complicating travel around the City.
Three hundred apartments were built along Denning, with more coming and at 17-92 and Lee Road. Three large developments are on the books, one of them over a million square feet.
Once again we looked at each other and asked, do we really want to stay here?
We saw a City Commission increasing densities, reducing necessary parking and setbacks, changing the way our tree canopy was maintained and showing a complete lack of respect for citizens and their opinions. The very things which had made Winter Park so special were gone.
With heavy hearts we made the decision to leave.
For months I was resentful – how dare my elected officials make decisions so onerous to me that I would feel forced to leave my home of 57 years, my friends, my history. I felt old, tired and angry. Winter Park had fundamentally changed and it wasn’t in a good way.
We have moved on, settled in Jekyll Island, Georgia — a small community with a beautiful tree canopy and a National Historic Landmark district, all cherished, treasured and protected by the residents.
Winter Park, I loved you my whole life, but if you don’t get a change in leadership, you will be gone forever.
Bruce and Jackie Becker now live on Jekyll Island, Georgia.
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