Best of News 2013

The city of Winter Park is working on plans for the future to help better maintain its tree canopy.

The city of Winter Park is working on plans for the future to help better maintain its tree canopy.

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2013 was a big news year for the Winter Park and Maitland communities. Take a look back with the Observer at some of its highlights – from houses turning to boats, chickens moving in, and tree canopy talks – as we offer our annual Year in Review.

Saving Winter Park’s trees

Arborists had alarming news for Winter Park in October: the city’s prized dense canopy of oak trees was dying, and many of the trees would likely die at the same time. More than 10,000 trees would need to be cut down for public safety reasons, and the city would need to find a way to replace them as soon as possible. It could take several decades for the city to regain its tree canopy again unless an idea can be implemented to accelerate the process. Read all our talk about trees at

Feeding the need

In November the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce helped lead a community-wide effort to raise money to help feed families in need. Through Second Harvest Food Bank the Chamber and the community, along with partners Rollins College, Sodexo, the city of Winter Park and Think Creative, did just that. The effort, a first for the Chamber, would raise $96,145 to help fight hunger in the community. Visit to read all about the Feed the Need effort.

Lawsuit roils election

Winter Park City Commissioner Carolyn Cooper looked like she was on her way to sailing into another term in office until Ross Johnston raced into the city clerk’s office and dropped off his election candidate qualifying forms at the last minute. But when it took a few minutes after deadline to process his claim due to a payment error, it set off a lawsuit and left Cooper wondering whether she should buy campaign signs. By Jan. 28 the questions were answered, when Johnston announced he was dropping his lawsuit and his pursuit of office. Commissioner Tom McMacken would also be re-elected unopposed in the March election. Read our coverage of the controversy online at


Chickens at Sundew Gardens

Chickens in the neighborhood

By March 15 a petition to allow Maitland residents to raise chickens in their backyards was already half-complete as the Maitland Backyard Chicken Initiative pressed the city to address the idea. Some squawked at the idea, thinking the chickens would bring noise and smells that weren’t in character with the city. But as the popularity of backyard food growing has grown, so have movements in Central Florida to allow egg-laying fenced-in fowl in neighborhoods. The initiative worked, with the Maitland City Council passing a vote for a pilot program in October. Visit to read all about the ordinance and the city’s newest feathered residents.


Preservation Capen organizers wave from their house boat as it floats across Lake Osceola Tuesday.

House becomes boat

It was a moment that conjured immediate déjà vu for residents: One of Winter Park’s oldest houses had been bought, and the new owners wanted to tear it down. The clock started counting to zero. But just like with Casa Feliz more than a decade earlier, residents came together to try to save the Capen House, which had stood along Interlachen Avenue for 128 years. It had originally been owned by one of the city’s founders, James Capen. The group Preservation Capen sprung up to raise money to find the house a new home, and the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens stepped forward to provide the land for it. There was only one problem: A lake stood in the way. Through a creative moving process the house was cut in half, raised off its foundation, and dragged onto a barge to float to its new home, just in time to beat the new owners’ deadline for its destruction. The Pokorny family, who were the new owners of the house’s old property, had pushed back the date to allow time to save the home. Read our coverage of the Capen House setting sail at


Photographer Josh Garrick will cross the globe to be the first American to have his art exhibited at what’s been called the greatest archaeological museum in the world.

An ageless ambition

Observer columnist and fine art photographer Josh Garrick’s artistic dream came true and he set an international precedent in the process in September. He became the first living artist, and first non-Greek, to be exhibited at the National Archeological Museum of Art, called the best archeological museum in the world. His exhibition would gain so much acclaim that he would be invited to Istanbul, Turkey, to show an exhibition there, which is launching early in 2014. Visit to learn more about Garrick’s Greek art adventure.

Observer wins big

The Observer and its sister paper, the Seminole Voice, took home six editorial awards in the Florida Press Association’s Better Weekly Newspaper awards on July 18. The papers won accolades for feature writing, editorials, community history, faith and family reporting, arts and entertainment writing, and in-depth reporting. Find links to all our award-winning stories at

FlexBus saved

In the months leading up to the launch of an ambitious new commuter rail system, SunRail, cities along the north-south rail line partnered with mass transportation company LYNX to build a connector system. That system, FlexBus, would bring residents from their neighborhoods to the rail stations. But only a few months away from SunRail’s launch, LYNX said it was pulling out of the system, leaving cities scrambling to revive it. They did, with Altamonte Springs, Casselberry, Longwood and Maitland banding together to get the system going. Visit to read all about it.