Yes, You Can Fight City Hall

P&Z Turns Down Request for Hannibal Square UP-Zoning

A phenomenon occurred on the night of September 2 as a standing-room-only crowd of Winter Park citizens packed the Commission Chambers for a Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Board meeting. The residents spoke; the Planning & Zoning Board members heard them.

Hannibal Square Neighborhood Character Threatened

 Hanging in the balance was the fate of the blocks bordered by Canton and Capen Avenues in the Hannibal Square neighborhood, where Sydgan Corporation, represented by Dan Bellows, sought to change the zoning from single family, detached dwellings, designated R-1, to R-2 zoning to accommodate a development of multi-family dwellings Bellows would like to build there.

Winter Parkers Take Back the Power

In what the Orlando Sentinel termed “the inescapable calculus that gives citizens clout over public policy,” citizens rose, one after another, to speak against the creeping encroachment of density and traffic in Winter Park neighborhoods, especially those on the west side of the city. They pointed out that Sydgan knew the property was zoned R-1 when they bought it, and that the Comprehensive Plan clearly set forth protections for the single-family, low-density residential character of the Hannibal Square neighborhood.

Bellows Skips Community Meeting

This was the third time Sydgan and David Weekly Homes had come before the city with a plan to build multi-family dwellings on the block of lots bordered by Canton and Capen. After a contentious meeting last spring, city planners had asked Dan Bellows to meet with Hannibal Square residents and reach some mutual agreement. Hannibal Square residents held a meeting at the Community Center, but Bellows did not attend. Instead he sent his lawyer. No compromise resulted.

Gary Barker took the podium to point out that it was not the duty of the P&Z to ensure that developers make money from properties they have bought. “You do, however, have an obligation to represent the will of the citizens of this town,” he said.

Residents Speak – Loud and Clear

“The commissioners have decided to do a visioning, so why in the world are we continuing to amend the Comp Plan and change the zoning?” argued neighborhood leader Mary Daniels. “When you are doing a vision plan, that includes your residents. The residents do have a voice and we ask that you hear us.”

Jennifer Anderson suggested the board members “hit the pause button” and wait until the city has worked through the visioning process before making a decision that could change the character of the neighborhood. It is unlikely the city would allow development of this sort on Palmer or Via Tuscany or in my neighborhood, she pointed out. “I would hope you would treat this community in the same way you would treat mine.”

Former Rollins College President Thaddeus Seymour observed that the representative for the builder, David Weekly Homes, referred to what he built as “product” rather than homes. “That sums up the problem for me,” said Seymour.

P&Z Hits the ‘Pause’ Button

As the board deliberated Sydgan’s request, it was clear that the voices of the citizens still rang in their ears. Board member Tom Sacha deplored the division that envelopes the city, with citizens polarized and seemingly unable to reach any compromise. “Let the visioning process work itself through,” he said. “We need to step back and pause for a moment.”

And in a clear demonstration of representative government, the Planning & Zoning Board denied Sydgan’s request for a zoning change by a four to two vote.



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    By: Anne Mooney

    Anne Mooney has assumed the editorship of the Winter Park Voice from founding editor Tom Childers.

    Mooney got her start in New York as a freelance line editor for book publishers, among them Simon & Schuster and the Clarkson Potter division of Crown Books. From New York, she and her husband and their year-old toddler moved to Washington, D.C., where the two ran a newswire service for Harper’s magazine. “We called it Network News,” said Mooney, “because it was a network of the Harper’s writers, whose work we edited into newspaper style and format and sold to papers in the top U.S. and Canadian markets. We were sort of like a tiny UPI.”

    The newswire ceased operation with the death of Mooney’s first husband, but Mooney continued to write and edit, doing freelance work for Williams Sonoma cookbooks and for local publications in D.C.

    In 2005, Mooney moved to Winter Park, where she worked as a personal chef and wrote a regular food column for a south Florida magazine. She took an active interest in Winter Park politics and was there when the Winter Park Voice was founded. She wrote occasional pieces for the Voice, including the Childers bio that this piece replaces.

    The Winter Park Voice is one of a large number of “hyper-local” publications that have sprung up across the U.S. in response to the decline of the major daily newspapers and the resulting deficit of local news coverage. The Voice’sbeat is Winter Park City Hall, and its purpose is to help the residents of our city better understand the political forces that shape our daily lives.

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