Chris Jepson: No more barns in Winter Park

Chris Jepson

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My mother had an expression that went, “His taste was all in his mouth.” It was a judgmental, condescending putdown on bad taste. I was reminded of just that the other night as I parked at the Winter Park Village to see Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last movie, “A Most Wanted Man.” I recommend the movie and mourn the loss of a great American actor. The bad taste I reference was the building of barns, rather apartments, being constructed along West Canton Street. It is stunningly ugly architecture.

Such architecture begs the question of “Why?” Why does our “public” environment have to look the way it does? Of course it is all tied to the principle of private ownership of land and the “latitude” to do with “my” property as I will. I completely get that. I salute the freedom of investors and developers to make as large a profit as they can honorably secure. I would have that no other way.

Winter Park is having a moment about its future. You see “No Density” signs around town protesting the large developments that seemingly spring-up like weeds in the garden we call Winter Park. I completely understand citizen ire over what is occurring. They quite legitimately ask, “What’s in it for existing Winter Parkers to add mega-apartment complexes to a community essentially of residential homes?” Is increased density an added value to existing residents?

As significant (to me) as the density levels are the architectural aesthetics of any constructed projects. Why do our buildings and roadways have to look the way they do?

Developers argue that increased population densities will ultimately increase services (entertainment/retail) available for all citizens. It is the quintessential “more is better” argument of urban planning. With the recent opening of the Winter Park SunRail station, bank on increased development “pressure” to construct more nearby high-density housing for residents to walk to mass transportation (available on Park Avenue).

Any city is fortunate to have an enlightened city staff working in harmony with enlightened elected officials. It has been my observation that if a city staff is not in the pocket of developers they are frequently the custodians of long-term community values particularly when it comes to growth issues. Elected councils come and go; staffs can be in it for the long haul. Your civic employees (and their perspective, knowledge and values) are indispensible in creating and maintaining a livable community.

Higher densities are “negotiable” at a city council level before the approval of any construction projects. Yet, Winter Park is mapped and every square foot of the city is zoned “X.” To attempt to rezone an existing area from one classification of permissible development to a lesser density designation will be resisted by the owner as a financial “taking.” Understandably so.

For those who oppose higher density development in Winter Park, I recommend they become involved at the city council level. Understand the issues from a legal perspective and support (elect) those council members who reflect your values. It’s called democracy.

As important as the issue of density is the consideration of beauty. Municipalities have the power to influence the aesthetics of their public areas including the ultimate look of private development. Insist that barns be limited to agricultural areas, that warehouses and such are aesthetically unsuitable for human habitation. Insist on beauty as an integral component of Winter Park’s urban planning. Vote accordingly.