Because of a little-known bill now sitting on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk pending his signature, Winter Park City Commissioners may vote to scrap the Orange Avenue Overlay (OAO) in its entirety.
City Attorney Kurt Ardaman explained that the bill amends what’s known as the “Bert J. Harris, Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act.” It makes it easier for property owners to file suit against the city government if they feel local land-use regulations unfairly burden them. The bill allows for a suit even if property owners have no formal development plans. If DeSantis signs the bill, Ardaman said, the City would have to pass the OAO before July 1 to be exempt from the changes.
City Commissioners say the goal of the OAO is to make Orange Avenue more like Park Avenue—with additional green space, better parking, more comfortable sidewalks, and a 1.5-acre park at the corner of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive. Commissioners have been working on the project for more than two-and-a-half years, first passing an overlay amendment, then rescinding it amid public controversy. According to Winter Park Mayor Phil Anderson, the City was in the final stretch of passing a new OAO until commissioners learned about the new bill, HB 421 & HB 1101.
Vice Mayor Carolyn Cooper brought up the matter at the May 26 commission meeting, asking the city attorney to explain the legislation—passed by both the Florida House and Senate—and discuss how it might affect the implementation of the OAO.
At the May 27 work session on the OAO and Progress Point property, Bronce Stephenson, director of planning and community development, reviewed the timeline for amending the City’s comprehensive plan. It would take a minimum of 70 to 90 days to pass the OAO.
Once the minimum timeline was established, all four commissioners quickly voiced their concerns.
“If this bill is not vetoed by the governor, and I don’t think it’s going to be, I’m not interested in doing this, unless you can tell me I’m not infringing on the entitlements of current properties,” Cooper said.
Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio expressed concern with current Orange Avenue property owners already in litigation. While she acknowledged that the OAO likely gives property owners more than it takes away, she felt this new law would encourage their efforts and cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. “For now, I’m willing to just let this go and work on some things we’ve been wanting to do for the citizens,” DeCiccio said.
“You’re exactly right,” said Commissioner Todd Weaver in response. “I’m closing in on some 40 of these OAO work sessions. It breaks my heart to table this, but I don’t see that we have any other choice. We’re going to be in court for years.”
Mayor Anderson summed up the conversation with a recommendation to move forward while waiting to see if DeSantis signs the bill. The governor’s decision will ultimately affect the path the commission chooses to take.
“We know that Orange Avenue is the most dangerous road in the city. It’s horrible for parking, and we came into this process to fix it. Progress Point has been an eyesore for years, and we want to clean it up and help,” DeCiccio said.
Vice Mayor Cooper requested the city attorney look into the possibility of signing an agreement with property owners that would limit litigation in exchange for increased floor area ratios and other concessions already included in the OAO.
Although all expressed concerns with the effects of HB 421 & HB 1101, the commissioners also agreed that creating Progress Point was critical—with or without the passage of the OAO.
For more information, see the full May 26 commission meeting.