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Residents Continue Pushback on Winter Park Commons Plan

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The debate over a 53-unit townhome project resumed at the Nov. 8 city meeting as residents continued to speak against its development.

Winter Park Commons is planned on a 4.5-acre site between Swoope and Webster avenues that was formerly owned by Patmos Chapel Seventh Day Adventist Church. New owners, Metro Winter Park, LLC, are seeking conditional use approval and previously complied with Planning and Zoning Board requests that include maintaining design continuity with neighboring homes, the preservation of trees on the property, and providing additional stormwater retention. But the plans face additional opposition.

Concerns over parking and traffic, voiced by residents at the Oct. 25 commission meeting, were also addressed with a proposed widening of the Swoope Avenue right of way to accommodate on-street parking, and a redesign of a Webster Avenue entrance/exit that provides a clearer division between incoming and outgoing traffic. However, commissioners and residents felt that concerns over neighborhood compatibility had not been properly addressed.

The areas in question involve the design of three multi-family buildings – two along Swoope Avenue and one by Webster Avenue – that are adjacent to single-family homes. Commissioner Kris Cruzada spoke with residents living near the property and discussed their concerns during the Nov. 8 meeting.

Concerns with neighborhood continuity in units 8, 9 and 15 are prompting another round of design changes for the Winter Park Commons townhome project. Residents also continue to express concerns with the addition of another rental property in their single-family neighborhood.

“It’s really their history and heritage that they’re focusing on,” he said of the residents, many having lived in the neighborhood since they were children. Cruzada also stated their desire to encourage the construction and sale of more single-family houses. “When a multi-family (building) goes up next to a single-family (home) – it’s just a losing proposition with more single-families being lost.”

Attorney Becky Wilson, speaking on behalf of the developer, noted the R-3 zoning of the church property and pointed out that adjacent residents had the same designation on their land. She also questioned commission’s hesitancy to approve the project when there are already apartment buildings in the neighborhood. “It just doesn’t seem fair that we have to be the single-family (project) when the folks across the street, and the city itself, built a three-story building next to those single-family homes.”

Mayor Phil Anderson raised the question of single-family residents with R-3 zoning possibly building multi-family units on their property at a future date.

“I think it’s well within the right of the landowner to do what’s in their best interest,” said Cruzada. “But from what I gathered from the residents – they would give up that R-3 designation if it encouraged this developer to build single-family residential.”

Webster Avenue resident Willie Clark Jr., whose home borders the Winter Park Commons site, was one of 12 residents to speak during the public comments segment and summarized his neighbors’ feelings toward the project and their own R-3 zoning.

“Believe me, we don’t want to change,” he said. “We are family-oriented and keeping it that way. We’re used to a family neighborhood – neighbors get to know each other, greet each other, say hello. I want to see a variety of kids growing up in our neighborhood like it was when I was a child. I want to see that once again ’cause things are changing. I hope it changes for the best.”

Wilson, who communicated with Metro Winter Park, LLC representatives during the proceedings, stated the three buildings in question could be redesigned to resemble neighboring single-family homes at the cost of one apartment unit. Commissioners indicated a willingness to accommodate requests for variances within the complex to allow the unit to be moved into an interior building, but asked to see the necessary revisions to the site plans.

The vote on conditional use approval was tabled until the Dec. 13 commission meeting.

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