YMCA Showdown -- Phelps Park Neighbors Fight to Keep Y Corralled

Is the Winter Park YMCA a neighborhood center — hoping to expand so they can offer enhanced services to local families? Or, are they an ever-expanding fitness empire intent on pumping up their regional membership revenues — regardless of the impact on their neighbors?

Proponents of both points of view faced-off at the Winter Park Planning and Zoning hearing on November 6. At issue is the YMCA’s latest plan to add a parking lot and a new shallow, “zero-entry” pool. A similar plan was submitted to the city by the YMCA in 2010, but was withdrawn by the Y after it was denied by P&Z.

A few years before the 2010 denial, the Y had purchased two adjacent Palmer Avenue homes and held the property – in the apparent hope that their expansion plans would be better-received by the city’s P&Z and City Commission at some point in the future. Despite their failure to secure city approval in 2010, the YMCA continued to hold their properties on Palmer and waited until 2012 to re-submit their expansion request to the city.

This time the current P&Z board proved to be more sympathetic to the YMCA’s plan. On November 6, the board approved the request and sent it on to the City Commission, which will start hearings on the matter on November 26.

UPDATE: In the City Commission meeting on November 26, the Commission approved the YMCA’s request to modify the legal status of the Y’s two residential properties on Palmer Avenue. The vote was the first of two votes required to clear the way for the Y to expand its parking lot farther west on Palmer by changing “. . . the existing designation of Single Family Residential to Institutional and [by changing] the existing zoning designation of Single Family Residential District to Public Quasi-Public District” as reported by the city’s newsletter, citE-news.

The Commission also voted to approve the construction of a new YMCA swimming pool without a slide and a new parking lot with 30 spaces. As noted in the hearing, the pool could be built on property already zoned for that use, but the parking lot cannot be built unless the Commission approves the re-zoning in a second vote.
The Commission held 6 votes in all on related issues including whether a slide could be built at the pool, whether to re-zone the property as a parking lot only vs. the PQP designation and whether to create a perpetual 5 foot easement between the newly re-zoned property and a Palmer Avenue residential property abutting the YMCA’s property. The 5 foot easement — which was created as a possible barrier to further YMCA expansion — was approved.

YMCA Asks City to Ignore Their 1997 Promise to Stop Expanding

Most, if not all, prior WP YMCA expansion requests have encountered neighborhood opposition. The Y’s latest expansion plans have got their neighbors in the Phelps Park area crying foul — claiming that the Y’s purchase of the two homes next to their Palmer Avenue parking lot violated an agreement they signed with the city in 1997.

The Development Agreement signed by the YMCA was specifically crafted to earn city approval – and quell neighborhood opposition — for one last significant expansion by the Y in 1997. The city approved the expansion in return for the YMCA’s guarantee that they would not attempt any further expansion or purchase additional land for that purpose.

The YMCA’s attorney, Frank Hamner, argued the Y’s case in front of the P&Z board, questioning the constitutionality of the Development Agreement and challenging the idea that such agreements are perpetual and unchangeable over time.

Hamner then turned to the community benefits offered by the Y and the additional services the proposed facilities would provide, including a new zero-entry (shallow) swimming pool for young children, seniors and disabled people who are not well-served by the Y’s current, deeper lap pool.

Does Winter Park Need Another Pool & Additional YMCA Services?

Opponents of the YMCA’s expansion point out that the city of Winter Park provides numerous swimming pool alternatives for children and special-needs citizens including the Crosby Center and Cady Way pools, as well as the brand new Winter Park Community Center facility and zero-depth pool that is open to all residents. The city’s website states that the Community Center is

“. . . 38,000 square feet and offers recreational opportunities for all ages. Amenities include a state-of-the-art fitness center, two regulation basketball courts, media center and banquet space . . . In addition, the community center has an outdoor stage overlooking Shady Park and a multipurpose pool with zero-depth entry and lap lanes.”

Also at issue is the impact on the neighborhood surrounding the Y. Neighbors claim that night-time and early morning car alarms, congestion, horn-honking and ambulances providing frequent emergency services at the Y are eroding the quality of life in the Phelps Park area. They point out that increased parking and another pool will create more members, additional traffic and boost noise in the area.

The YMCA counters that these inconveniences are more than compensated for by the services they provide the community including swim lessons for young children and the Y personnel who staff the city’s Cady Way pool at no cost to the city. YMCA representatives claim that more than a third of the population of Winter Park are members of the YMCA – and point with pride to over six million visits to the Y over the last twenty years.

The pros and cons of YMCA facility growth have been discussed at length in various forums. Winter Park Voice offers readers video clips featuring extensive testimony from YMCA representatives, Y members and Winter Park residents – including (below) exclusive WPV video of a neighbors who expressed their views on YMCA expansion and chronicled their day-to-day experiences living near the YMCA.


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    By: Tom Childers

    Tom was the previous editor of the Winter Park Voice and a citizen of Winter Park. He was a tireless advocate for Winter Park.

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