A Primer on Development

I offer the following points about development to share some of the realities I have learned as a member of the City of Winter Park Planning and Zoning Board. Much of the reaction to development approvals has been based on incomplete understanding of the city’s role in development.

While there will always be political differences on where private property rights begin and end, the Federal and State Constitution, Federal and State statutes, Federal and State Court rulings, the City Comprehensive Plan, and local codes define the width and shading of the gray areas. Interested citizens may wish to learn more about some of the many statutes that affect private property rights, such as Florida’s Bert Harris Act. Click here for references.

All of these various State and Federal laws pertaining to property rights pertain equally whether you seek to build a single family home or a large commercial development.

Here are what I consider to be some important points:

  • Every property owner has the legal right to apply for any project and any zoning change within the bounds of our rules, and the act of submission of a development application does not bias the approval process in one direction or another.
  • A property owner generally has no absolute right to change the zoning on their property unless and until the city commission approves a change in the zoning, except in certain unusual situations, such as where Constitutional rights have been violated, or where the existing zoning is inconsistent with the City Comprehensive Plan.
  • A denial by the city of a project which is compliant with law, the Comprehensive Plan and City Codes exposes the city to legal action for a taking or for a Bert Harris claim.
  • Winter Park rules require that buildings over 10,000 square feet (and a few other circumstances) are processed in a two-step “conditional use” approval. All conditional uses are deemed permissible if conditions can be attached to meet all the requirements of the conditional use code. This process judges the proposed development as to conformance with comprehensive plan policies, and as to compatibility and impacts with the type and size of buildings and the character of the surrounding area to determine what conditions might make the development work in that area.
  • While the “conditional use” process adds a degree of judgment and negotiation to the process, denial of any particular development on compatibility grounds where the project otherwise complies in all material aspects with zoning rules applicable to the property is likely to create legal consequences and cost to the taxpayers. The city commission as a governing body responsible for development decisions must weigh such consequences of denial.
  • The city can define boundaries through zoning rules, within the confines of the Federal and State Constitution and statutes. However, developers, determine how their money is spent within those boundaries as they are the party assuming financial risk.

Regards, Pete Weldon


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