WP Sinkhole Back in the News

Winter Park’s infamous 1981 sinkhole is gobbling up attention in the latest debate over the city’s planned library and civic center.

City commissioners Monday will decide if they share an advisory board’s concerns that the sinkhole – now called Lake Rose – will have to play a major role in handling stormwater from the site.

Stormwater retention was one of two major issues that gave the planning and zoning board pause last week in considering the proposed library plan. Parking was the board’s other stumbling block.

City staff asked the advisory board to make a final decision about the complete site plan, but the board gave it only preliminary approval and added two conditions. First, it wanted more detailed information about the stormwater plan once the St. Johns River Water Management District approves it, a process that could take another three weeks. Second, it wanted city commissioners to explore finding 36 more parking spaces, a move that could result in the demolition of the Lake Island Hall recreation building.

No matter how the advisory board voted, city staff said later in the meeting, the city commission this Monday could override that recommendation and give the project final approval.

At the heart of the board’s concerns is the city’s plan to run a pipeline from Lake Mendsen, which would be next to the new buildings, to Lake Rose. The idea is to allow excess water from the larger lake to drain into Lake Rose during hurricanes and heavy rains.

Board member Bob Hahn pushed for the planning board’s two conditions, saying he needed to see additional study of the water management issue to make sure the idea would work. “I’m comfortable with moving the project through in the preliminary stage, but having it come back [to us} in the final stage.”

Like other board members, he expressed support for the new library but was concerned that unanswered questions remained.

“I, too, feel we’re going too fast,” Chairman Ross Johnston said. “There’s a lot that has been predetermined, much more than is normal for a planning and zoning meeting,”
Public Works Director Troy Attaway said the pipeline would let the two lakes “function together as basically one lake” and increase its capacity to handle storm water. Attaway predicted that the connection also would help alleviate historical flooding along Denning Drive during rain storms.

Lake Rose is named after Mae Rose Williams, whose house fell into the sinkhole in May of 1981. Her heirs still own a portion of the property, as do the city and another property owner. Cheryl Thompson, her granddaughter, objected to the city’s stormwater plan during public comment, citing existing overflow problems. Resident Kim Allen wrote the city that the pipeline may not relieve Lake Mendsen’s current lack of room for stormwater. The city also should be concerned about flushing polluted stormwater down drain wells into the aquifer, she said.

Other residents noted that the plan does not comply with the language of the $30 million bond referendum, which called for a parking garage. City code requires 146 parking spaces for buildings the size of the proposed library and civic center. The city would provide 213 spaces in parking lots, plus 24 parallel parking spots on Harper Street. City Planning Manager Jeff Briggs said the city is looking into tearing down the recreation building at Lake Island to add even more parking places, but no decision has been made. The building is “not well utilized,” he said.

The project will change the look of the park in many ways. In addition to the two new modern structures that will house the library and civic center, the site will lose 63 protected trees, including most of the live oaks on the property. In the mid-1900s, the site was a mucky wetland that gradually was filled in around the edges with construction debris.

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    By: Geri Throne – Guest Columnist

    Author / Journalist
    Geri Throne moved to Winter Park with her husband and two young children over 40 years ago, after learning about the city as a reporter for the now-defunct Winter Park Sun Herald. She wrote extensively for that weekly about city issues and local politics in the 1970s.She later joined the staff of the Orlando Sentinel where she specialized in local government issues and in the 1980s served as Winter Park bureau chief. She worked at the newspaper’s Orlando office as an assistant city editor, deputy business editor and member of the Editorial Board before her retirement in 2003. A series of her editorials won a national award for educational reporting from the Education Writers Association in 2003. Geri has published several essays and short stories. She continues to pursue her interest in fiction writing with local authors and is working on a novel set in World War II.

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