Winter Park is one vote away from having another 54 acres and a large-scale development within city limits, after the City Commission voted 4-1 to annex land from Orange County.
That land would cover the proposed mixed-use Ravaudage development, spanning from U.S. Highway 17-92 west to Bennett Avenue and from Lee Road north to Monroe Avenue where the city would border with Maitland. The development would potentially bring large retail stores, restaurants, boutique shops, offices and residences to the area.
Some of the properties within that area are not part of the agreement, though they would become part of Winter Park once the annexation is complete.
“The intent is not to wind up with an area that's Swiss cheese… with Orange County Sheriffs coming to one address, and Winter Park Police coming right next door,” Planning Director Jeff Briggs said.
Some of that property had previously been de-annexed from Winter Park into Orange County so that Ravaudage developer Benjamin Partners could negotiate land-use rights with the county. With those negotiations finished, the Commission voted to annex the land back into the city. The annexation ordinance will require one more vote before it’s official.
“This project is happening with or without us, so the only question is whether we want it happening in Winter Park or not,” Mayor Ken Bradley said. “I for one would much rather control our own destiny.”
Bradley said that had the Commission not voted to annex the land, Maitland could then do so and grab the entirety of the more than 70 acres of potential land for development.
“If Maitland was all the way down at the corner on 17-92, I think we'd have three times as many people in here asking us, why did you let that happen?” Bradley said.
But the Commission’s sole dissenting voter, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper, said she was dismayed that the city hadn’t chosen to have the development proposal go through a city planning process rather than the county. She hinted that the county’s standards for aesthetics may be lower than the city’s.
“I’m really struggling with this because yes indeed would I like to see it in the city,” Cooper said. “I'm having a really hard time knowing it's not coming to [planning and zoning board] and not coming to the Commission.”
Cooper said that the development was granted too many waivers to skirt county rules for development.
“It's all going to be based on those waivers and those waivers are very extreme,” Cooper said. “This isn't even in compliance with Orange County's codes. It's Orange County's codes with 30 or something waivers.”
Those comments touched off debate about how the development was negotiated with the county and what was too late to change about the agreement.
“Isn't that what a planned development is… you have whatever codes, which are guides at the end of the day, and this becomes negotiated?” Bradley asked.
Commissioner Tom McMacken said that the city had already made its terms, and has to live with them.
“I want to dispel the rumor that we have any influence on this going forth,” McMacken said. “We don't. We did give up certain rights that we would not necessarily have given up if this were already in the city of Winter Park…We're kind of out of that picture, but that's the process we set up to get to this point.
“I'm not wild about it… but what I'm voting on is annexation with the potential that someday we'll receive the benefit of tax dollars out of this. As far as aesthetic control, we already gave that one up.”
Commissioner Steven Leary said that based on its past with the city, he felt comfortable with Benjamin Partners developing the property as is.
“We have a long working history with this developer,” Leary said. “We're sitting in an area that's been completely redeveloped by this developer.”