I offer insights into the proposed Charter Amendments below and recommend a NO VOTE on all of them.
The Winter Park City Charter has required a simple majority of the commission to approve all laws, 3 of 5 members, at least since 1915.
The current commission is proposing six charter amendments for the March 8, 2022 city election, five of which if passed would require “Supermajority” votes to pass certain changes, 4 of 5 members. That is, a minority of 2 of the 5 members would be able to block passage. Charter proposals historically come from an appointed, independent Charter Review Task Force, which was not done in this case.
When considered as a whole, “Supermajority” voting requirements lock in the status quo to the determent of reasoned changes. In my experience, the vagaries of individual motivations to run for public office are many, and the quality of judgment of those winning election is never assured. Given these realities, “Supermajority” requirements lead to reasoned initiatives being blocked by an unreasoned minority. I believe Winter Park residents are best assured a reasoned outcome from a simple majority vote of the commission on all matters, that is then subject to modification by a simple majority. Given our cycle of annual elections and three year terms, simple majority governance has served our city well for over a century. So, why does the current commission want you to agree to overturn over 100 years of successful precedent and support “Supermajority” voting?
As shown below, the proposed Charter Amendments were not initiated based on broad considerations of good governance, but due to the current commission disagreeing with recent past decisions. Their amendments are not designed to improve our governance, but to make it more difficult for future commissions to act in ways the current commission disagrees with.
- Question #1: Require Supermajority Vote to Sell City Property Shall Sections 2.08 and 2.11 of the Winter Park City Charter be amended to require at least four of five members of the city commission to vote in favor to approve the conveyance of fee simple title of city owned property?
There may be good reasons to sell or swap city owned land that would be stopped by a minority of the commission if this amendment passes. A current example is the 4 acre city owned Progress Point property which could be leveraged to raise significant money to improve or expand existing city parks.
The question fails to require a “Supermajority” for purchasing real property, revealing an inherent bias of the current commission. A relevant example is that 3 of the 5 commission members are now voting to commit 3 to 7 times fair market value to buy the Winter Park post office property and move the post office out of downtown. If you support a “Supermajority” to sell city land, why wouldn’t the converse also be desirable?
- Question #2: Require Supermajority Vote to Rezone Parks and Public Lands Shall Sections 2.08 and 2.11 of the Winter Park City Charter be amended to require at least four of five members of the city commission to vote in favor to (i) approve a comprehensive plan future land use map amendment or rezoning of city-owned park land; and (ii) approve a comprehensive plan future land use map amendment, rezoning or change of use of land currently zoned public and quasi-public district or zoned parks and recreation district.
There may be good reasons to swap park and/or rezone park or public use zoned land that would be stopped by a minority of the commission if this amendment passes. Any proposal to change park or public use zoning would necessarily offer the residents a significant net benefit that would be the subject of judgment. The current commission has designated 1.5 acres of the Progress Point property as “park” and they are afraid this may be reversed in the future. This amendment is designed to make it nearly impossible to reverse their current preferences and unnecessarily limits changes that would offer long term benefits to Winter Park residents.
- Question #3: Require Supermajority Vote for Residential and Lakefront Property Map Amendments Shall Sections 2.08 and 2.11 of the Winter Park City Charter be amended to require at least four of five members of the city commission to vote in favor of a comprehensive plan future land use map amendment or rezoning (i) from a residential category to a non-residential category, or (ii) to lakefront property from a residential use to a commercial use, mixed -use, medium density residential use or high density residential use?
As a practical matter, this language only targets a few lots on Lake Killarney and 17.92 that were the subject of a hotel proposal that was denied by the commission. So, why make this a Charter Amendment? What justification is there to make it nearly impossible to, for example, convert existing medium density residential condos on Lake Killarney to mixed use at some point in the future?
Current rules already prohibit any rezoning to “high density residential use” (25 units per acre) so why is this even mentioned?
- Question #4: Require Supermajority Vote for Density/Intensity Increases Shall Sections 2.08 and 2.11 of the Winter Park City Charter be amended to require at least four of five members of the city commission to vote in favor of approval of a comprehensive plan amendment, land development code amendment or rezoning that increases the maximum allowed residential units per acre (density) or floor area ratio (intensity) by more than twenty-five percent from the existing maximum allowed density or intensity of use?
This amendment is designed to prohibit the original approved (now “rescinded”) Orange Avenue Overlay (OAO) that removed residential density entirely from some properties and allowed it to be consolidated on other property with no net increase in total density. The original OAO also allowed for increased floor area ratios based on contribution of civic amenities not otherwise required, such as more public space and greater setbacks. There can be significant benefits for residents from flexibility in these development criteria that would be nearly impossible to realize if this amendment passes. This amendment would also deter investment interest in Winter Park. The current commission does not trust future commissions to make such decisions in the best interest of the residents. Governance, or personal bias?
- Question #5: Require Supermajority Vote to Approve Development in Wetlands Shall Sections 2.08 and 2.11 of the Winter Park City Charter be amended to require at least four of five members of the city commission to vote in favor of development orders authorizing development within wetlands?
This amendment came about because commissioners believed a proposed development off Howell Branch Road contained a “Wetland” (it did not). Development in a “Wetland” in Winter Park would typically be to build a boat dock on a lake front property. Such development is subject to strict design and mitigation strategies developed over years of experience and requires special permits. Approval of “Wetland” development in Winter Park already requires a conditional use approval by a supermajority of the commission, making this proposed amendment unneeded overkill that does not belong in a City Charter.
- Question #6: Ordinance Changes During Adoption Process Shall Section 2.11 of the Winter Park City Charter be amended to require an additional public meeting and reading of a proposed ordinance before its adoption if during the adoption process either (i) a substantive or material change is made, or (ii) a change is made to a proposed zoning or comprehensive plan amendment ordinance resulting in an increase in the maximum allowed density or intensity of uses or a change to the permitted uses?
The existing charter says; “If there is a change in substance in the text, then the reading at the time of change will be deemed the first reading.” A change in density or intensity or uses clearly constitute a change in “substance” which would require a 3rd reading under existing rules. Adding the proposed language may make it more likely such approvals will be dragged out to a third reading, but the consequence is only to allow more time for those objecting to pressure one or more commission members to change their vote, hardly a matter of constructive governance.
When considered in context, the proposed charter amendments are a hodgepodge of grievance from the current commission that overturns over 100 years of successful simple majority precedent. None of the amendments improve the governance of Winter Park and in my view should be rejected by the voters. Please join me and 8 other Winter Park Mayors and Commissioners in voting NO to all these amendments.