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Naming the Park – What’s the Point

Let the city commission know what you think about the new “park.” Below is my letter to them.


Mayor and Commissioners,
 
I note you did not provide us the opportunity to suggest names for your new park.
 
https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/projects/progress-point-project/vote-for-new-park-name/
 
However, I want to recommend a name that captures both the history and expenditure of taxpayer dollars:
 
POINTLESS PARK

  • The park is 1200 feet from a 50 acre city park.
  • The park is located at the most dangerous pedestrian intersection in the city.
  • You wasted $4 million in direct costs and another $4 million in opportunity cost using this city land for an unneeded park.
  • The park is adjacent to very busy roads and a railroad track.
  • There are few residential properties within walking distance of your park.

Your sole justification for all this waste is to “preserve” land. There is no strategic insight or rationale serving the people of Winter Park that justifies this park. This will go down in Winter Park history as a totally pointless personal indulgence.

The perfect name: POINTLESS PARK.

If you had not reversed the 385 residential units in the original OAO, you could have sold a portion of the Progress Point land for enough money to pay for a park. In that case a park would have been justified by the usage base from the residential units, which would have served to draw more usage and surrounding retail and restaurant activity, as exists around Central Park and Shady Park. But no, you had to indulge a “preservation at any cost” dogma at the expense of current and future Winter Park residents.

How disappointing.

Regards, Pete Weldon

Posted in Policy.


Sign Pollution: There’s an Ordinance for That

By Guest Author Ellie Warner

Here in Winter Park we have a new Sustainability department with three full time employees and a yearly budget of $417,600.  We have a code enforcement department so alert that they flagged one political sign in my yard on a rarely traveled dead end because it was not precisely 10 feet from the curb.   Maybe the two departments could put their heads together and compare mission statements.

Natural Resources and Sustainability has an event coming up called Delivering Our City Knowledge Dock Party. I know this because they have littered two city owned narrow lakeside strips of land on Fawcett Rd. with that catchy acronym on signage.   

Is 10 identical signs on roughly 40 feet of otherwise pretty shoreline ridiculous overkill and perhaps not conservation minded?  It’s a clear violation our city’s temporary sign rules, that’s for sure. Code enforcement would be paying us a visit if we cluttered up our private property in this manner, but maybe it’s all good and unimpeachable if sustainability is in the mix.  

After a city website search turned up nothing, mention of the Delivering Our City Knowledge Dock Party was found only in the minutes of the Lakes Advisory Board. There’s a phone number on the signs, but why no mention or explanation on the city website of the kind of knowledge that will be ‘delivered’ for 2 hours?   So far they have demonstrated knowledge of high-volume clutter, but not of city ordinances the rest of us must live by.  But then again, what is the stated quest for sustainability if not a redundant sales pitch in which “success” means we pay higher taxes?

Posted in Policy.


Renew Your Vote By Mail Request

A new state law requires voters to renew their Vote By Mail request each calendar year. Renew your Vote By Mail request now for all 2023 elections.

You can renew or establish your Vote By Mail request by following the instructions here: https://www.ocfelections.com/vote-by-mail.

Regards, Pete Weldon

Posted in Policy.


Request Alternatives for the Old Library

The City Commission will consider the proposed lease of the old library building this coming Wednesday, January 11. City staff is recommending against entering into the proposed lease (click here for details).

Please review the staff recommendation and my letter to the commission below. Let the commission know your view on this issue. Please ask them to seek alternatives.

My recent letter to the commission:

Mayor and Commissioners,

Please fully vet all reasoned alternatives to the proposed lease of the old library building. The proposed lease does not substantially meet the requirements of the original RFP given the intent of the lessor to rent the building as small office suites and the lack of sufficient parking for the intended use. Further, the proposal greatly undervalues use of the land and would allow the property to be locked up for 70 years.

  • There is certainly a sales price for the old library property that can secure four votes, and with flexibility in building allowances and use as luxury condominiums, the price likely ranges between $10 and $25 million. This compares to a $4 million present value for the proposed lease payments. Further, as noted by staff, a long term land lease at market value likely has a present value exceeding $20 million.
  • Alternatively, the old library building can be used as city hall with existing parking capacity given the under utilization of other existing city owned buildings.
  • The cost of renovating the old library building to serve as city hall can be accomplished for significantly less than $10 million, and can be financed by leasing the existing city hall property while realizing a net profit to the city annually.
  • The design requirements for redevelopment of the existing city hall property are under the absolute control of the commission. Why not ask the development community what a land lease price would be under different development scenarios?

This is to specifically request that the commission:

  1. End consideration of the current proposed lease of the old library building.
  2. Issue a Request for Proposal to sell the old library land for use as luxury condominiums, requesting a price proposal under R4 Code limitations, and under parameters up to those realized in the adjacent Residences condominiums.
  3. Issue a Request for Proposal to lease the existing city hall property for redevelopment as both a 3 story or a 4 story mixed use building with parking structure. Also, complete a detailed study of using the old library as a replacement for city hall. This should be done as part of a complete space needs analysis for all city operations and staff.
  4. Schedule at least 2 public meetings noticed city wide to review the details of all proposals and studies before making any commitment.

You have an opportunity to create value for Winter Park residents. Please vet all reasonable alternatives fully and transparently. Your constituents deserve this.

Regards, Pete Weldon

Posted in Policy.


Chickens Come Home to Roost

The Winter Park City Commission is scheduled to vote this coming Wednesday, December 14th, on modifications to the “backyard chicken” ordinance. If you want to approve backyard chickens next to your home I suggest you let the commission know now: mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org.

The revised ordinance as proposed REMOVES the requirement that applicants obtain written approval for the keeping of chickens on their premises from abutting property owner(s).

There was significant push-back when this ordinance was proposed in 2020 that resulted in adding the neighbor approval requirement. Removing it now does not seem wise. Let the commission know your views on this issue.

Regards, Pete Weldon

Posted in Policy.


Please Create Value for Winter Park Residents

The city commission will soon be voting on a proposed lease of the city owned former library building at 460 E New England Ave. The lease terms discussed are 30 years at $250,000 per year for use primarily as office space, this is roughly 2 to 5 times less than tax-payers should be receiving for the property, and neighbors will be severely impacted by increased traffic. The existing building is 33,000 square feet and the property has 68 parking spaces, while our code requires 132 parking spaces for office use.

The commission’s request for proposal for the old library property was based on a “vision” of a “vibrant location for commerce and entrepreneurship while also supporting traditional office space elements.” This vision is unrealistic given parking limitations and distance from Park Ave/Central Park. Importantly, the present value of prospective lease payments to the city values the property at only about $4 million.

This lease proposal grossly undervalues the property, shortchanging Winter Park residents. Please tell the commission to stop pursuing this lease and to evaluate alternative uses of our property to generate value for Winter Park residents. You can reach the commission here: mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org.

My suggestions follow.

Alternative 1: Sell the property.

The 1.75 acre property is zoned R4, permitting up to 43 condominiums with no variances. This is a lower impact use compared to office space, is 100% compatible with the adjacent hotel and Residences condominium, and would be a social and financial winner for the city. Given recent condominium market values adjacent to and across the street from the old library, the assessed value is likely to exceed $30 million, making our land worth about $9 million (a 2019 appraisal suggests a $9 million land value if used for luxury condominiums). If the city would allow the same variances as the adjacent hotel and the Residences condominiums, the total value would likely exceed $100 million, with the land worth over $20 million to Winter Park residents.

Alternative 2: Use the property as City Hall.

As recommended by the Old Library Re-use Task Force, the best use of the old library is as a replacement for the current City Hall. This will make the current City Hall property available to be leased for redevelopment, realizing far greater rental income than leasing the old library, while realistically fulfilling the commission’s vision to create a “vibrant location for commerce and entrepreneurship while also supporting traditional office space elements.” For perspective, the three story Truist Bank Center and parking structure across Park Ave from the current City Hall are assessed at $30 million and are the same size as the current City Hall property at 2.8 acres. The current City Hall property would be worth much more than $30 million with mixed uses including luxury condominiums. Also, a parking structure would further support Park Avenue retailers and restaurants. Note that the commission can define uses and control any redevelopment.

Again, please tell the commission to stop pursuing a lease for the old library and to fully evaluate alternatives uses for both the old library and the existing City Hall properties. Tell them to create value, not destroy it. You can reach the commission here: mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org.

Posted in Policy.


Vote NO on the Orange County Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

Your ballot for the November 8, 2022 election includes an Orange County Rent Stabilization Ordinance for your decision. The smart vote is NO.

Approval of this ordinance will not result in more affordable housing. It will result in LESS HOUSING. This article provides a real world example of the implications. Recent economic realities make it clear that restricting supply drives competition down and prices up.

There are practical ways to realize more affordable housing in central Florida. These include expanding apartment friendly zoning, reducing building fees and regulations, and long term leasing of publicly owned land for private apartment development. Our County Commission should be taking steps that support increasing supply of rental housing, not the opposite.

History is clear that price controls work against their intent, no matter how good the intentions of those imposing them. A NO vote on this issue is recommended.

Regards, Pete Weldon
(407) 267-5320

Posted in Policy.


Weaver’s Short Term Rental Plan Fails to Move Forward

Commissioner Weaver’s initiative to enable short term rentals failed to move forward at yesterday’s commission meeting. Below are thoughts I shared with the commission. Please extend your thanks as well to: mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org.

Mayor and Commissioners,

Thank-you to commission members Cruzada, DeCiccio, and Anderson for declining to pursue a change in our short term residential rental policy.

Most telling were the comments by those in support of the changes. Each of them, including Commissioner Todd Weaver (2 years of forbearance is meaningless), has a significant, and some, a professional financial interest in enabling short term rentals in Winter Park. Well, its not all about the money.

If short term residential rentals become legal there is no way to reverse course and no effective means to police those who will always skirt whatever rules may be established. Given the cost of enforcement, a financial justification based on fee and tax proceeds going to the “arts” is a rationalization.

The self-interested proposal of Commissioner Weaver and the favorable vote of Commissioner Sullivan demonstrate a complete disconnect with the long-term values of Winter Park. Most residents move here because Winter Park is a wonderful community to raise children in quiet and cohesive neighborhood environments. Short term rentals would greatly diminish the attributes we depend on for our quality of life and property values. Perhaps most importantly, the absence of short term residential rentals is a differentiator that adds substance to our status as the best place to live in central Florida.

Thank-you and, please, let’s not go down this path again.

Regards, Pete Weldon

Posted in Policy.


Say “NO” to Weaver’s Short Term Rentals

City Commissioner Todd Weaver supports short term AirBNB rentals in Winter Park. This from the July 27, 2022 commission meeting:

“Commissioner Weaver – Said he conducted research on short term rentals and found that a Chamber survey revealed the need for more hotels, but he feels more rooms are needed and would prefer that city residents get revenue from room rental versus hotels. He provided information on other agency’s regulations which he consolidated and prepared a proposed ordinance which he provided to Mr. Knight.”

Astute observers may recall that Weaver was an “AirBNB Superhost” when he decided to run for city commission in 2018. When brought to his attention that short term rentals (less than 30 days) were illegal in Winter Park, Weaver told the Orlando SentinelIt was an innocent mistake,” and added that he had been donating proceeds from the rentals to various charities (as if that somehow excused violation of our laws).

Weaver continued to rent the “cottage” on his property at 1051 Lake Bell Drive since his election in 2019; itself a violation of our codes that state: “Guesthouses or garage apartments as permitted accessory uses may not have a kitchen area or cooking facilities. They also may not have separate utility meters or be rented, let or hired out for occupancy whether compensations be paid directly or indirectly.”

Further, Weaver’s conversion of a “shed” permitted in 2000 into an illegal rental “cottage” with bath and kitchen facilities was performed without a required permit. Additionally, evidence exists that Weaver enclosed and improved an open garage port into living space without a required permit.

Weaver’s promotion of short term rentals as a commission member makes it clear he is putting his self interest before your interest as a single family homeowner. (Why would a commissioner write his own proposed law?)

While Weaver can propose anything he wants as a commissioner, we can and should understand his true motivations and character. Please tell all members of the commission to abandon consideration of short term rentals in Winter Park single family neighborhoods. Write them at mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org.

Posted in Policy.


Ship of Fools

I was wrong! There is no way Winter Park can have smart, honest elected leadership.

The ship of fools is an allegory, originating from Book VI of Plato’s Republic, about a ship with a dysfunctional crew. The allegory is intended to represent the problems of governance prevailing in a political system not based on expert knowledge.

The latest confirmation of this reality in Winter Park is the “electric non-rate increase” coupled to an expected four year delay in completion of the city-wide electric undergrounding program. This delay will mean about $20,000,000 in increased undergrounding costs, $10,000,000 of which is a self inflicted waste of your money by the city commission.

Recall the January 2022 decision of the commission to increase electric rates by 8% solely to pay for undergrounding about 5,000 residential overhead service lines to be paid for by all 12,000 residential electric customers, a $10,000,000 decision paid for primarily by 7,000 residential electric customers who previously paid to underground their overhead service line. See: Resident Electric Bills to Rise 8% and Stop the Electric Service Line Vanity Project.

So, what could go wrong? Well, in February city staff made it clear that the cost of undergrounding was going up dramatically due to inflationary cost increases for required equipment and labor. The commission then paused the earlier rate increase to study further, but only after having paid $1,000 to each the 573 residential owners who had previously paid to underground their overhead lines while their street was being undergrounded.

  • Parenthetical: Anyone with a brain and experience would have known that the 2021 $1.9 trillion American “Rescue” Act was going to cause dramatic inflation in infrastructure spending. Over $7 billion was allocated to state, county, and municipal spending in Florida alone, all of which has to be used by December 31, 2024, and of which Winter Park is realizing $15.4 million without any limitations on use. The “ship of fools” is obviously not limited by jurisdiction or geography.

Stuck between their vanity and a hard place, the commission yesterday approved a new “plan” that will now have all 15,000 residential and commercial electric rate payers pony up $10,000,000 over the next 8 years to underground local overhead connections of about 5,000 residential customers. How’s that for fair and wise? An additional $10,000,000 cost increase is expected to result from inflation. Note that this means a loss of $20,000,000 in future electric surpluses that could have been used for rate decreases and other electric infrastructure programs.

Two standout crew members on this voyage are Utilities Board Chair Michael Poole and Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio. Poole bullied the utility board and commission into approving the service drop vanity project while DeCiccio in a recent city wide email intentionally misrepresented the cause of the four year delay in completing the undergrounding program by referencing only inflationary cost increases. The city’s own press release confirms the lie. (DeCiccio has a history of deceiving her constituents.)

So again, I was wrong and should have known. Plato’s “ship of fools” was written in 375 BC. But, if you are a smart, honest person with an interest in good governance, there is always hope. Please run for city commission and convince the 70% of electors who do not vote in our local elections there is good reason to do so.

Posted in Policy.