A Brief Conversation with Sara Whiting, member of the Winter Park Planning and Zoning Commission.

Sara Whiting sits on our Planning and Zoning Commission. I don’t know her well but I do know her as a thoughtful and serious person. Here is a recent email thread between us on the subject of the Comprehensive Plan.

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Peter, I embrace change, if it is for the better!

The idea of 2.3 story maximum came from the citizen’s survey. Sun Trust is great, and look across the street- it has a 2 story building with a huge setback across Park Avenue from it.  I think one thing that brings character to Winter Park is the personality of development, the diversity in heights and setbacks and facades.  There’s my comment on entire district changing over time.

I think the CRA has been a success. I do question the increase in Operating and Maintenance expenses of the proposed Community Center, and the request for 1/3 the required parking spaces by the Community Center, in an area of town where parking is a complaint.

Again, I appreciate your passion for Winter Park!
Sara

On Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 3:30 PM, Peter Weldon <[email protected]> wrote:

Sara,

Thank-you for sharing your thoughts in more detail.

Sorry for the typo… the code structure that was rescinded was something called the Planned Development Overlay. I happen to agree that this should have been rescinded. This code structure, in part, allowed the scale of the buildings and parking that have proven to be so objectionable to many. With this gone we were left with the pre-existing rules that were already very restrictive.

For example, the one parking space per 250 square feet requirement as a practical matter made 3 story buildings along Park Avenue highly unlikely. So what is the reasoning behind lowering the height limit along Park Avenue to two stories? This is down zoning. Is there something wrong with the SunTrust center in your view? How does the SunTrust center detract from the “excellence” and “character” of Winter Park? Do you remember what was there before?

The previous codes allowed up to four stories in various parts of what is a newly defined “Central Business District.” P&Z policy recommendations restrict all of this to three stories and THAT is only available with a super majority vote of the City Commission under your rules. This is down zoning. As a practical matter no one is ever going to reinvest in anything in the CBD because it is uneconomic to do so under the rules you are putting through. This reduces the value of the existing properties. Why? What is really to be gained here? There are already many 3 and 4 story buildings in the CBD. What is the value of reducing the property values and diss-incenting any redevelopment here? I do not equate “excellence” and “character” with the imposition of codes that reduce property value and deter reinvestment. And of what use are super majority voting requirements? This is just an effort to legislate personal preferences beyond your tenure.

Sara, I thought this was an interesting statement, “If a zoning district is allowed higher density, it will be applicable to all properties in that district, not just the one. Therefore the character of that entire district will change over time.” You seem to presume that change is a bad thing in all cases. Further, you are not “allowing higher density” in the CBD and CRA. You are in fact REDUCING EXISTING DENSITY. The assumption you seem to be making is that REDUCING EXISTING DENSITY adds “excellence” and “character.” No, it will add nothing. Nothing will be redeveloped. Nothing will happen (except maybe law suits brought against the city). Property values will go down along with tax revenues and “excellence” and “character” will prove a pipe dream.

The commercial core of downtown Winter Park achieved some measure of excellence and character through reinvestment, not through zealous building codes. It was the Park Avenue property owners who agreed to pay the cost of rebuilding the Avenue in the 1990’s, bricking the street, widening the sidewalks, improving every element of the streetscape. It has been the CRA that has financed $3,500,000 in low cost housing, a planned $10,000,000 community center, and millions more in social programs primarily for West side residents, not to mention reinvestment in improving central park and various streetscape projects. All this was accomplished by encouraging specific redevelopment that was both economic for the investor and beneficial for the city. Do West New England Avenue and Hannibal Square lack “excellence” and “character?” If your answer is “yes” please tell me what you would like to see there and explain how it gets paid for.

Winter Park needs a commercial redevelopment plan, not a do nothing zoning plan. The key is targeted use, compatible design, and quality architecture, not lower height limits and rules that deter risk taking.

Here is one statement I agree with, “to maintain (and improve) the property values throughout our entire town, we must maintain the character and excellence in our town.” I share your objectives of “excellence” and “character.” The observable reality is that it takes reinvestment to realize these objectives and the new land use restrictions in the Comprehensive Plan will set us back decades in this quest.

Sincerely, Pete Weldon

From: sara whiting [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 10:00 AM
To: [email protected]
Cc: MayorandCommissioners; Jeffrey Briggs
Subject: Re: Land Use

Peter,

Thanks for the comments.

–I don’t know what “Planned Development Overall” was rescinded.
Many have been discussed, nothing passed that was rescinded that I recall, from the current Winter Park Zoning Code of 1971 and Comp Plan of 1991.  Perhaps you are thinking some ideas discussed were passed?  Please tell me what was rescinded. Thanks!

Winter Park is planning to ADD a “Planned Development” component, increased development potential in 4 areas of the city – W Fairbanks, Orange Ave, Wymore, “Holler blocks” of Fairbanks.

So I don’t see where Winter Park has down-zoned commercial.

As an aside, since you stressed the effect on our revenues on this point, residential property tax revenues in Winter Park are four times greater than commercial. From the purely statistical basis regarding effect to our property tax revenue, ensuring our overall residential property tax basis stays healthy is four times as important as commercial property tax revenue stability.

–And your second point, on how will we maintain revenues by devaluing our properties. Your prediction of properties’  future values doesn’t include the variable of how the overall city’s character affects an individual’s property value. In other words, your prediction is as if one property is allowed higher square footage, but all other properties of that class weren’t. Which as you know is not a fair way to operate zoning. If a zoning district is allowed higher density, it will be applicable to all properties in that district, not just the one. Therefore the character of that entire district will change over time.

This is the fallacy I see with the several arguments over future commercial property valuation – to maintain (and improve) the property values throughout our entire town, we must maintain the character and excellence in our town. All arguments I have seen focus on one property’s value, forgetting that as a community, what one person builds affects the value of its neighbor, and its neighborhood!

I hope this gives you some insight into my personal thoughts.

Again, I enjoy discussion, and appreciate your insight and your compassion for Winter Park!

All the best, Sara

On Mon, Feb 16, 2009 at 6:01 PM, Peter Weldon <[email protected]> wrote:

Sara,

Well, I hope you and the other P&Z members know what I think by now. I don’t know exactly what you voted for along the way to where we are today but I think someone on P&Z needs to start asking some questions loudly and publicly.

Why, after rescinding the Planned Development Overall is it appropriate and necessary to down zone hundreds of millions of dollars of taxable properties throughout the city? (The city tells me that there is $265,000,000 of taxable assessed value alone in the newly defined CBD as of January 9, 2009.)

How does down zoning our most valuable commercial real estate protect the character and quality of Winter Park?

How are we going to keep our parks maintained, buy new park land, maintain tens of thousands of trees on city right of ways, keep first class public safety, etc. etc. by devaluing our property?

Sara, please don’t dodge the bullet here. Put your hand up, ask the right questions, and demand satisfactory answers.

I have been sufficiently vocal. It is time for P&Z members to justify their policy recommendations in rational, professional terms.

Regards, Pete Weldon


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