I write as a member of the Winter Park Planning and Zoning Board and in the spirit of the duty of the board to keep the “public informed and advised as to” matters impacting development in our city. I encourage readers to explore the various links to source information below.
Fear and frustration of many citizens was evident this past summer in the “no density” reaction to a proposed change in our comprehensive plan related to planned developments, or “PDs.” This change was not approved by the city commission. Objections to the proposed PD changes were founded in reactions to the recent developments on Denning and 17/92.
My service on the Planning and Zoning Board has increased my appreciation of the specialized knowledge required to contribute legally sound and informed judgments on these issues. I am convinced that the vast majority of Winter Park residents agree on the scope of development that fits our residential focus but that misunderstandings (some encouraged with political motive) create unnecessary discord that distracts from realizing development that actually does fit. While not the subject of this letter, that “fit” may be described as “Hannibal Square. Not Sand Lake Road.” I will offer more on this subject in subsequent writings.
The focus of this letter is to clarify what the city (your city commission) can and cannot control under existing zoning rules, and also to put this in context with both your rights as a residential property owner and recent developments on Denning Drive and 17/92.
YOUR DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS
As with commercial property, the city has a myriad of rules about single family development. As an example, a 14,000 square foot residential lot can have a house that is 4,600 square feet in size (with some adjustments depending on specific design issues) and be no higher than 35 feet (see some of the detailed requirements online).
Now, let’s say you buy a piece of residential property, submit construction plans that meet all the rules, and the city simply refuses to issue you a permit. Think about your reaction in that circumstance. What would you do next?
The answer is you would either roll over, modifying your plans to meet the arbitrary preferences of those who control approval of your construction permit, or you would sue the city for failing to allow you to build to the rules existing when you presented your plans.
If the city behaved arbitrarily in building permit approvals what do you think would happen to the value of your residential lot? Would you as a taxpayer think it appropriate to pay legal fees the city would incur fighting law suits property owners would file as a result of such arbitrary behavior? Am I presumptuous to assume the answers to these questions from the vast majority of you would be “my property value would go down,” and “no, I am not paying?”
Every commercial development is entitled to be heard by the Planning and Zoning Board and the City Commission (for those that require public hearings or if denied by staff) if it complies with the city’s application requirements. The developer is entitled to a building permit if the development meets the requirements of the comprehensive plan and land development code. These entitlements are valid whether the development is a single family residence or commercially zoned property.
Our rules require that buildings over 10,000 square feet require a two-step “conditional use” approval (see code section 58-90). This process judges the proposed development as to conformance with the comprehensive plan policies and as to compatibility and impacts with the type and size of buildings and the character of the surrounding area.
The “conditional use” process brings a degree of judgment and negotiation to consideration of large scale developments that does not exist for typical single family residential development in Winter Park. The city’s denial of a proposed development on “compatibility” or “adverse impact” grounds where all relevant zoning rules are followed, however, is likely to result in law suits if the developer considers the denial to be arbitrary.
HISTORY OF RECENT DEVELOPMENT APPROVALS (click links for source material)
CNL Office at Denning and Morse.
This three story 88,000 square foot office building on the former State Office Building site at 941 W. Morse Boulevard received final conditional use approval in June 2012 from both the Planning and Zoning Board and the City Commission. This project received minor height and parking variances, preserved trees, and provided greater green space than required. Otherwise, all zoning rules were complied with.
Casto Apartment Project at Denning and Canton.
An original 2006 request for a 370,000 square foot 140 unit condominium project with parking garage was granted preliminary approval in January 9, 2006 and final approval on June 26, 2006. Plans to build this project were suspended after full construction plans had been submitted and approved by the city, establishing an investment backed expectation that supports the R4 zoning approved for in the 2013 apartment project. In other words, the rights to R4 zoning were effectively grandfathered as a result of the 2006 approvals and denial of the project now nearing completion would have resulted in legal action against the city.
The project approved in 2013 has 346,346 square feet and 206 units. Please see the discussion of this project as approved (Winter Park Town Center Development), referencing details of the 2006 approval. In all material respects, the 2013 project plans complied with all rules associated with its R4 zoning designation grandfathered as a result of the 2006 approvals.
Atlantic Housing Senior Apartments at Denning and Swoope.
This project was originally approved as a 105 unit apartment complex in January 2006. The parking garage shell was completed but then the project was put on hold. The project was sold to Atlantic Housing with vested zoning rights intact and the complex was approved again December 10, 2012 consistent with the original 2006 approval but a four stories instead of three and with significantly larger green space.
Lakeside Winter Park at 17/92 and Morse
This property could have been developed as a four story and almost 80,000 square foot office complex under existing entitlements. The initial request for a single story 35,500 square foot retail center on 3.86 acres was approved February 25, 2013 consistent with zoning rules, including required parking. The developer subsequently requested an additional 2,500 square feet with a parking variance that was denied January 27, 2014 (see page 6 item c) (applicant withdrew the request facing denial). The developer then entered into a contract for nearby property to provide for employee parking to meet city requirements and the additional square footage was approved. The developer failed to close on the nearby property and the certificate of occupancy for the building that was the subject of the parking variance request was withheld by the city. The developer now owns the former Mt. Vernon property across the street and is using that lot to meet city parking code. The developer has agreed to dedicate 40 spaces at the Mr. Vernon property related to parking required at the Lakeside development, 20 more spaces than required by code.
The major developments constructed along Denning and 17/92 have all been within the bounds of legal entitlements from earlier approvals or otherwise built within all material limitations of our building codes and zoning rules. Neither the current Planning and Zoning Board nor City Commission has granted any material variances for any of these projects. In other words, the “density” of these projects (however defined) does not exceed the entitlements and in some cases the actual size of the structures is materially less than the maximum entitlement.
It is constructive for each of us to ask, “What does “no density” mean?” Does it mean that we elect people to the commission who will refuse to approve development that is allowed by our zoning rules and thereby subject all residents to the attendant legal costs and consequences? I don’t think so.
I think “no density” means that we want commercial development in Winter Park to complement the residential character of our city and add to the amenities and quality of life we each seek in choosing the live here.
The way to get there is to carefully assess what we get under our current rules (the developments you see along Denning and 17/92) and revise these in ways that avoid down zoning (taking away property rights at cost to the residents), while encouraging a better “fit” with Winter Park. While a difficult needle to thread, I believe we can end up in a better place by working together on this challenge.
Yours Truly, Peter J. Weldon