Winter Park residents wary of more development breathed a sigh of relief last Monday after a proposed change to the comprehensive plan, which could have opened the door for more development of a larger size, came down to a single vote by the City Commission.
The amendment voted down by City Commissioners would have allowed all city property next to a four-lane road – outside the box of property surrounded by Fairbanks, Interlachen, Pennsylvania and Webster avenues – to be zoned for planned developments, larger projects usually made up of mixed land uses.
Other language from the ordinance would have excluded parking garages when calculating a development’s floor area ratio (FAR), a regulated percentage of a building’s size compared to its lot.
The amendments were largely influenced by planning consultant Silvia Vargas’ study of the comprehensive plan last year. Planning and Community Development Director Dori Stone said the recommended changes would give developers more flexibility and room to negotiate, allowing the City Commission a better chance of getting the developments they want.
“When you have the garage as part of the FAR, you never really are able to capitalize on the total FAR of that building,” Stone said. “You have to allocate some of that space to the parking garage. If we’re going to do that, then we’re really not truly getting a 200 percent FAR, you’re really getting 150 or 130 or 100 percent FAR.”
“You’re not really giving the development that opportunity to see what they can bring in and see what we can negotiate.”
City Commissioners voted down the changes 1-3. Mayor Ken Bradley’s absence from the meeting put a final deciding vote on the shoulders of Vice Mayor Steven Leary.
A vote in support of the item would have tied the count at 2-2 and moved the item forward, but Leary instead chose to oppose the ordinance
Leary had spoke in favor of the changes moments earlier, supporting the increased flexibility.
“There’s a way to do it gracefully and I think if we can turn that over to staff and give them the flexibility to do that, we can get what we want,” Leary said.
But Commissioner Carolyn Cooper showed concern over the ordinance, claiming that planned development should be limited and parking garages should be part of the FAR.
Cooper said the comprehensive plan identified specific areas to test that level of density without damaging residential areas or the city core. She said sticking to that concept is crucial to maintaining the desirability of Winter Park.
“What we’re now doing is we are saying that, ‘Unless you’re in the area from Pennsylvania to Interlachen and from Webster to Fairbanks, you are eligible for this planned development zoning,’” Cooper said.
“I believe we are opening the aperture way too wide.”
Cooper said planned developments are at risk of becoming even bigger when taking parking garages out of the FAR calculation, which ultimately determines a building’s size.
“The only thing that controls the size of the building is the size of the building lot,” Cooper said.
More than a dozen Winter Park residents stepped forward prior to the City Commission vote to voice their disapproval and fear of widespread development in the city.
Resident Linda Eriksson said that more developments of increased size would eventually turn Winter Park from extraordinary to generic.
“I don’t want this to become anywhere, USA,” she said. “I want us to stay a village.”
Resident Sally Flynn stepped before the podium holding a homemade white flag – a symbol of her lost hope if the ordinance were to pass.
“This is for surrender,” Flynn said. “If any of these proposals are passed, I will put this white flag in front of my house and I hope others will follow.”
“This is showing that this town no longer belongs to the residents, but is in the hand of the developers and those who think money is more precious than Winter Park.”
Had the ordinance been passed, the changes would have gone for review from the state before coming back for a second approval from the City Commission in August, Stone said.