Winter Park approves larger planned developments

Fears of high density construction roiled residents at a meeting in Winter Park Monday.

Fears of high density construction roiled residents at a meeting in Winter Park Monday.

Tim Freed

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An ordinance passed by Winter Park City Commissioners on Monday could be the first step in opening the floodgates for larger development in the city – just over a month after Commissioners chose to vote it down back in April.

The City Commission passed a series of changes to the land development code by a count of 3-2 during Monday’s meeting that allowed for more flexibility and opportunity for planned developments — projects of a larger size that tend to be mixed-use.

City Commissioner Steven Leary requested the item be brought back for a vote in the final moments of the May 12 meeting. Mayor Ken Bradley had been absent during the April 28 meeting when the City Commission voted to oppose the ordinance by a count of 3-1.

Leary cast the third opposing vote to turn the change down, but said he did so to be a part of the majority of the vote, which has the power to bring the item back – in this case when the whole Commission is present.

“I think it’s important that the mayor hears [this item],” Leary told the Observer in May. “I don’t like to see things go down on a 2-2 tie. That’s not how the Commission was originally set up. The Commission was set up to have a majority.”

The change to the land development code opens all property along a four-lane road – outside the box of property surrounded by Fairbanks, Interlachen, Pennsylvania and Webster avenues – to planned developments.

One provision of the ordinance also leaves out parking garages when calculating the floor area ratio (FAR), a regulated percentage of a building’s size compared to its lot.

But Winter Park residents once again spoke out against the changes as they did back in April, opposed to more density in Winter Park and fearing for the village character of the city.

“You five hold something very special in your hands,” said Frank Anderson, one of more than 20 residents who spoke during the meeting. “Tonight we decide whether we embark as a community on a path that will open up an aperture for these [planned developments].”

“If we go in that direction, it takes away some of the safeguards that generations of leaders in this city have put in place for a reason … to protect the nature of our community.”

City Commissioner Carolyn Cooper spoke vehemently against the changes as well, believing that planned developments should continue to be restricted and that parking garages need to be considered part of a building’s size.

“I’ve been at this a long time and I can tell you that when you make someone eligible, you have to look them in the eye and you’re going to have to defend from person to person why one can have it and one cannot,” Cooper said. “The city has not been successful in doing that.”

“The idea that we are making all of these properties equally eligible to negotiate being considered for this zoning is a concern to me.”

Winter Park resident Judy Maynard brought the public comment to a screeching halt when she demanded that Leary recuse himself from the vote due to his ownership of property along Orange Avenue.

“I believe he should recuse himself from this vote because he has a vested interest with his property at the old Thomas Lumber property,” Maynard said. “I don’t believe it is fair for him to vote on this. This is a four-lane highway where he can then use it for his own benefit.”

Leary didn’t admit outright to owning the land, but City Attorney Larry Brown stepped in and said he had already discussed the concerns with the Commissioner and believed there wasn’t a conflict in this case.

“I want to assure the public that I’ve provided legal advice to Commissioner Leary on the question of potential conflict,” Brown said.

“In my opinion, the size of the class of property owners with land abutting four-lane roads in Winter Park is sufficiently large. Under the Commission on Ethics precedent, I don’t think this particular vote tonight would come anywhere close to violating.”

Planning and Community Development Director Dori Stone said that the changes would go a long way toward revitalizing major corridors like U.S. Highway 17-92.

“We have opened it up to corridors where they’re currently not allowed, but it also opens up a fresh start for [planned developments] to come in and show you the value of being a [planned development] and to not be limited by size or location,” Stone told the City Commission.

Leary, City Commissioners Sarah Sprinkel and Mayor Ken Bradley voted in support of the ordinance to pass it through. Commissioner Tom McMacken voted against the changes with Cooper, saying he wanted more time for any confused residents to understand the details.

The ordinance will be sent off to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for review before coming back to the City Commission in about three months, Stone said.