Do you understand the citizen survey?

The City Commission recently approved a citizen survey seeking input about the policies and priorities you want for Winter Park. You can respond to the survey until November 21, 2008 using this link and the password mailed to you by the city: http://www.kerr-downs.com/websurvey/WinterPark/. Call the City at 407-599-3235 if you misplaced your password.

I offer comments on selected items from the questionnaire below.

I thought it important that every citizen have the benefit of important context before filling out the survey. Running a city is not about acting on feelings. Is it about managing a $50,000,000 city operation and $100,000,000 water and electric utility operation to protect and serve the long term interests of current and future residents. For this we needs facts, experienced judgment, and professional decision making, not personal opinions.

Improving our quality of life, and assuring the character and quality of Winter Park depends on our ability to generate increasing revenues for city government while keeping the cost of living competitive with other communities. We can’t let our property taxes or utility costs become uncompetitive yet we must continue to raise revenue to support the service levels that add to the quality of life in Winter Park (better parks, sidewalks, bike paths, the security that comes with the best public safely, tree maintenance, etc).

I respect the commitment made by the sitting members of the City Commission. Everyone who ever sat in those chairs believed they were doing good work for the city and gave of themselves to make our city a better place. Yet, we all have an ongoing responsibility to question the policies and priorities of those we elect to serve.

Residents voted for City Commission members who support the priorities of extreme control and isolationism. We need to carefully vet policies that come from these priorities and judge their long term consequences, appropriateness and reasonableness before accepting them.

Much of this questionnaire is an effort by the City Commission to justify support for policies that will:

  • Take away your rights to improve your home.
  • Diminish the value of your property.
  • Raise your property taxes.
  • Terminate the commuter rail agreement with Orange County.
  • Commit you to pay for the post office property at an uneconomic price.

I offer my comments below in blue and encourage you to verify the accuracy of the facts with the City.

City of Winter Park 2008 Resident Survey

City of Winter Park Initiatives

1.   The city government has many strategic initiatives it can pursue to enhance the quality of life in the City of Winter Park.  Each strategic initiative has potential economic costs and benefits, and each affects the quality of life, the aesthetic appearance, and the basic character of the City of Winter Park.  Please check the 5 strategic initiatives you believe the City of Winter Park should focus its resources. (Check no more than 5)

_____  Providing financial support to outside cultural, civic, service and community organizations such as the Welbourne Avenue Day Nursery, United Arts, Bach Festival Society, etc.

_____  Continuing to provide financial support to the Winter Park Public Library

_____  Revising building codes to ensure the character and compatibility of neighborhoods in Winter Park (for example, codes that affect heights, setbacks, mass, neighborhood preservation, privacy, etc.).

PJW: City Commission members want to justify further restrictions on residential redevelopment. This is based on a feeling that some residential redevelopment has been “too big”. For perspective it is important to understand that the basic constraints on residential redevelopment have remained the same since the mid-1980’s. The impervious lots coverage ratio has remained at 50%. The basic setback requirement has been 10 feet from the property line. The floor area ratio (percentage of square feet of living space permitted) has been 38% for lots less than 11,600 square feet and 33% for lots greater than 11,600 square feet. A 5% bonus was added in 2004 if and only if the second story setback is increased from 12 feet to either 15 feet or 17.5 feet (depending on lot size). This bonus 5% therefore applies only if the apparent mass of the house is reduced by increasing 2nd story setbacks. The city planning director estimates that 25% of new construction in the past few years has included use of some or all of this 5% bonus.

It is important that every Winter Park home owner think through the implications of further restricting residential redevelopment. More restrictive redevelopment means:

  • less flexibility for you to redevelop your property.
  • lower market value for your lot.
  • lower assessed value upon redevelopment.
  • lower property tax revenue for the city.
  • less competitive market for Winter Park real estate relative to other communities.

I believe it wise not to jump into this pool without knowing how deep the water is or its temperature. Improving our quality of life, and assuring the character and quality of Winter Park depends on our ability to generate increasing revenues for city government while keeping the cost of living competitive with other residential communities.

It is counter productive for our city to embark on more stringent residential building controls at a time when real estate values have fallen as much as 30%, property tax revenues are falling, prospects for growing future property tax revenues are declining, and while assessed values are increasing by 3% a year under “Save our home” rules.

_____  Improving the Fairbanks Avenue (between US Hwy. 17-92 and Interstate 4) area by planting trees, widening medians, extending the sewer, etc., to enhance the main gateway to the City of Winter Park.

_____  Partnering with the Orange County Public School system to build a new school to replace the Brookshire Elementary School as opposed to having the Orange County Public School system renovate the Brookshire Elementary School as planned.

_____  Determining the best long term “solution” to the Winter Park Post Office and Central Park in terms of where to locate the main post office, where to locate the post office distribution facility (with its accompanying asphalt and trucks), limiting development on the current location of the post office, and whether or not to turn the area now occupied by the post office into additional park lands.

PJW: This item presumes a “problem” exists and therefore a “solution” must be found. The taxpayers ended up paying over $4,000,000 to kill the previously approved post office redevelopment project. Some people feel the city should pay additionally to acquire the post office property. I believe we need to carefully think through alternative uses of our money.

The $4,000,000 we paid to make the developers whole depleted our city general fund reserves to near zero. While these funds have been partially replenished through accounting adjustments between reserve funds, the city does not currently have the financial strength to pay for any capital improvements of this magnitude without further bond issues and or tax increases.

One agency (not all) rating the city’s utility bonds recently downgraded our debt noting,”… the downgrade reflects ‘a continued decrease in liquidity and a notable decline in overall financial flexibility’…” and “…overall unrestricted cash position across all funds is weak,’ leaving the system with ‘a slim amount of accessible liquidity.'” In other words, it is unlikely we can borrow additional money for any capital projects at an attractive rate of interest. Put simply, we can’t afford capital projects unless we vote to take on more debt and the cost of that debt will be high.

The appraised value of the post office property exceeds $7,000,000 and the cost of our obligations to the US Postal Service will exceed this amount if the City Commission votes to exercise the city’s option to acquire the post office property.

We all would like to expand the green space but aren’t there more cost effective alternatives than this and why does this have to be done now? We could green the parking lot at the train station and either provide underground parking or add new public parking as part of a City Hall redevelopment. There are many other alternatives that would work to expand green space that would be less disruptive and more cost effective.

I believe the wise decision is to pass on the option to acquire the post office property. This option presents us with a “solution” to a “problem” that does not exist while straining our limited financial resources at a time when we can least afford it.

_____  Continuing the initiative to place electric lines underground throughout the City of Winter Park.

_____  Continuing to invest in a commuter rail initiative including renovating the station so it will match the historic character of Winter Park.

PJW: Should the needed State and Federal approvals and funding be forthcoming to initiate the Central Florida Commuter Rail system (this remains uncertain), the city is expected to receive funds sufficient to construct the operational elements of the commuter rail station (estimated at $3,000,000). The city’s total investment is $375,000. If the $3,000,000 for the operational elements of the commuter rail station is not forthcoming from State and/or Federal sources it is unlikely Winter Park will participate in the system unless we agree to a bond issue to pay these costs (which I believe is unlikely given the financial constraints noted above).

The city has estimated that as much as an additional $1,400,000 would be needed to redevelop the existing Amtrak station so its design is consistent with the operational elements of the commuter rail station. The city has requested full funding for his Amtrak station improvement but these additional dollars may not be available.

So, the “investment” referred to above relates only to the $1,400,000 estimated to redevelop the existing Amtrak station. If State and/or Federal funds are not available for this improvement it could be done at city expense at the time the commuter rail station is built, at some later time, or not at all.

_____  Designating areas and buildings as historic in an effort to maintain or enhance the historic character of the downtown Winter Park area.

PJW: As a practical matter, existing zoning constraints in the central business district make it very unlikely that any changes could be approved that change the character of the downtown Winter Park area.

Further, we need to start talking about what historic means and the implications of designating areas and buildings as being “historic” before taking any actions in this direction.

The National Park Service over sees the National Registry of Historic Places. Their criteria are as follows:

    • Criteria for Evaluation The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:
A.     That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
B.     That are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or
C.     That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
D.     That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

In what ways does downtown Winter Park meet legitimate criteria for historic designation? While we may feel that Winter Park is a special place worthy of historic designation it is quite another thing to impose the constraints of “historic” designation without the full cooperation of property owners and others impacted by such a step. Asking citizens how they feel about historic districts has nothing to do with the substance of arguments for or against designating historic districts.

_____  Controlling development and density in certain areas, through codes and zoning, to preserve the character of the City of Winter Park.

PJW: We already strictly control codes and zoning in “certain areas” to preserve the character of the City of Winter Park. If you check this box does it mean you want more control over development and density or does it mean we have enough control? If you check this box does it mean you are willing to assume the increased tax burden that will be spread across a lesser number of properties of lower valuation because the city codes and zoning discourage residential and/or commercial reinvestment? What is the “character” of Winter Park and who is to be the arbitrator of what does and what does not “preserve” that “character?”

_____  Continuing the city’s “green” initiative, which could include retrofitting city properties to be more energy efficient, replacing city vehicles with hybrid/energy efficient vehicles, expanding the city’s recycling program, adopting “green” building codes, continuing to offer quarterly hazardous waste disposal, and adopting “green” landscaping codes.

Residential Building Codes

1. How concerned are you about the following trends in residential areas of Winter Park:

Trends

Not concerned

Somewhat concerned Concerned

Very concerned

Trend is not happening

Building larger new or remodeled houses
Demolishing older homes to make way for newer houses
Demolishing smaller houses
Eliminating open yards/green space to make room for larger houses
Cutting down mature trees to make room for larger houses

PJW: I question whether or not there is any “trend.” As noted above the codes have remained basically constant since the mid 1980’s in most material respects. Certainly there was an acceleration of residential redevelopment during the recent housing bubble but that bubble is clearly over. The presentation of these issues reveals a bias by the City Commission toward seeking more stringent controls over these “trends.”

Building larger new or remodeled housesIf you believe the existing floor area ratio constraints detailed above provide sufficient control over scale while protecting your property value and assuring a competitive market for Winter Park residential real estate then check “Not concerned.”

Demolishing older homes to make way for newer housesIf you believe the residential home owner and not the city should determine whether or not to demolish an existing structure and construct a new home then check “Not concerned.”

Demolishing smaller housesIf you believe the residential home owner and not the city should determine whether or not to demolish an existing structure and construct a new home then check “Not concerned.”

Eliminating open yards/green space to make room for larger housesIf you believe the home owner should have a right to use the long standing impervious lot coverage limit of 50% equally with all other home owners then check “Not concerned.”

Cutting down mature trees to make room for larger housesYou should know that the city already has stringent replanting and compensation requirements when mature trees are removed. The existing tree policy assures replanting and resulting canopy regeneration in all cases, even when a tree falls down or becomes a danger. Given the existing controls, if you believe the home owner and not the city should determine whether or not a tree comes down to meet the home owners needs to improve his property then check “Not concerned.”

As noted above, it is important that every Winter Park home owner think through the implications of further restricting residential redevelopment. More restrictive redevelopment means:

    • less flexibility for you to redevelop your property.
    • lower market value for your lot.
    • lower assessed value upon redevelopment.
    • lower property tax revenue for the city.
    • less competitive market for Winter Park real estate relative to other communities.

I believe it wise not to jump into this pool without knowing how deep the water is or its temperature. Improving our quality of life, and assuring the character and quality of Winter Park depends on our ability to generate increasing revenues for city government while keeping the cost of living competitive with other residential communities.

It is counter productive for our city to embark on more stringent residential building controls at a time when real estate values have fallen as much as 30%, property tax revenues are falling, prospects for growing future property tax revenues are declining, and while assessed values are increasing by 3% a year under “Save our home” rules.

2. New and remodeled houses built in the past few years have enhanced your neighborhood.

PJW: You might also consider whether new and remodeled houses in your neighborhood have helped protect your property value and increased property tax revenue to the city while your assessed value has been protected by the 3% “Save our homes” annual increase limit. You might also access whether you want to pay for incremental property tax through an increased millage rate required to maintain the city budget in the absence of new and remodeled houses in your neighborhood.

____    Strongly agree

____    Agree

____    Neither agree nor disagree

____    Disagree

____    Strongly disagree

____    Not applicable

3. New and remodeled houses built in the past few years are compatible with other homes in your neighborhood.

PJW: You might also consider whether diversity in architectural design adds interest and value to your neighborhood, and whether strict “compatibility” detracts from the interest and value of your neighborhood.

____    Strongly agree

____    Agree

____    Neither agree nor disagree

____    Disagree

____    Strongly disagree

____    Not applicable

4. The City of Winter Park should develop standards for new and remodeled houses and buildings to preserve the character of Winter Park.

Again, the City Commission is looking for an excuse to increase controls over residential redevelopment in an effort to preserve the character of Winter Park (as they see it). Do you feel comfortable that they know what that “character” is or should be? Do you feel comfortable that they will protect and grow your property value through such controls? Do you have any idea what these new controls might be?

____    Strongly agree

____    Agree

____    Neither agree nor disagree

____    Disagree

____    Strongly disagree

____    Not sure

Winter Park Post Office

1.   Presently the retail part of the Winter Park Post Office (where you buy stamps, mail letters, etc.) and the distribution center of the post office (with its accompanying asphalt and trucks) are located in downtown Winter Park.  Which of the following options do you prefer:

PJW: This issue is addressed above. The city has yet to hear from the US Postal Service on exactly what they will accept in exchange for transferring their current land to the city. I believe the $4 to $5 number below is too low given that the minimum current contractual requirement is for 23,000 square feet of new building and the land for it. At $200 a foot the building requirement totals $4,600,000 and the appraised value of the current post office property exceeds $7,000,000. You can do the math.

____    Keep the retail and distribution center of the post office exactly as it is

____    Build a new retail post office downtown and move the distribution center away from    downtown at a cost of $4 to $5 million. This will add one acre of parkland downtown.

____    Build a new retail post office and distribution center away from downtown Winter Park at a         cost of $4 to $5 million. This will add two acres of parkland downtown.

____    Not sure

Commuter Rail Service

1.   The city has entered into an agreement to provide financial support to the commuter rail system. Operating costs through 2017 are to be paid by another party, specifically the Florida Department of Transportation. Thereafter, for a minimum of 99 years, the city must contribute an estimated $1 million per year, in the absence of a dedicated funding source.  Are you in favor of the city supporting commuter rail in the absence of a dedicated funding source?

PJW: Commissioner Beth Dillaha with the help of anti commuter rail activists Jack Rogers, Ken Murrah, and Carolyn Cooper among others have been working for several months to fabricate an excuse to terminate the city’s existing commuter rail agreement with Orange County. This question is designed to elicit a NO response that they intend to use as justification for terminating the commuter rail agreement with Orange County.

It is imperative that you understand the factual circumstances before checking off this question. I refer you to the minutes of the recent City Commission work sessions on this subject and to my summary of the current circumstances available here.

At a minimum you should know that:

    • The total CURRENT city budget approaches $50,000,000.
    • The city has the right to opt out of the commuter rail contract with Orange County seven years from inception of commercial commuter rail service (not necessarily 2017).
    • The city will not contribute one dime in operating costs before it has the opportunity to opt out of the commuter rail agreement, or if a dedicated funding source exists.
    • The city will have seven years of detailed experience to help determine whether the opt out right should be used as renegotiating lever with Orange County or exercised at that time.
    • The existence of the commuter rail station will add to property values and give Winter Park an important advantage over cities we compete with for residential value and quality of life.
    • The existence of the commuter rail station will strengthen and sustain the viability and vitality of downtown Winter Park.
    • The city has the right under the commuter rail agreement to control redevelopment in the downtown area.

____    Yes

____    No

____    Not sure

2.   The city has applied for federal funding to redesign and reconstruct the Amtrak building in conjunction with the commuter rail stop.  If the federal government does not fund it, will you support or oppose the expenditure of approximately $1.4 million to reconstruct the Amtrak building in Craftsman-style making it consistent with the character of Winter Park?

____    Support

____    Oppose

____    Not sure


Comments are closed.