City commission, at its Dec. 13 meeting, voted unanimously to grant conditional use approval to Metro Winter Park, LLC for a controversial townhome project that has undergone substantial revisions due to the expressed concerns of nearby residents.
Winter Park Commons, a 53-unit multi-family rental development, will move forward on a 4.5-acre site between Swoope and Webster avenues, formerly owned and occupied by Patmos Chapel Seventh Day Adventist Church. Developers previously complied with Planning and Zoning Board requests to maintain design continuity with neighboring structures, provide additional stormwater mitigation, and preserve existing trees. But the proposal faced opposition over the possibility of increased neighborhood traffic, on-street parking, and the construction of triplex buildings near existing single-family homes.
Residents voiced concerns during public comments at the Oct. 25 commission meeting, and again at the Nov. 8 meeting, prompting developers to decrease the number of proposed units in two areas of the property and rework building designs. The revised concept, brought forward at the Dec. 13 meeting, replaces multi-family buildings along Capen and Webster avenues with single-family structures. Developers will also add five on-street parking spaces at the north side of Swoope Avenue while increasing drive lane width to 23 feet along the southern property boundary.
Attorney Becky Wilson, speaking on behalf of the developer, cited an independent traffic study meant to address possible impacts of the new development. “Overall, our project takes up less than 1% of the capacity on those roads,” she said in reference to traffic on Swoope, Capen and Webster avenues. She also noted study results that show the roads are currently operating at 60% of their adopted levels with an average of 32 trips recorded during PM peak traffic hours.
Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio voiced additional concerns over increased traffic and pedestrian safety toward Denning Drive. Commissioner Todd Weaver suggested median modifications and easements to allow for a pull-out at the W. Swoope Avenue bus stop that will be addressed at a later meeting.
Neighbors also raised questions about the possible spread of mold and asbestos in the demolition of the existing Patmos Chapel church building, and cited reports of homeless individuals using the structure as temporary housing. Wilson stated that the developer would comply with guidelines in the mitigation of hazardous substances during demolition, and will work with the police department to assist transients living on the property.
However, despite the modifications and compliances, residents do not claim a victory as they see the construction of rental units as detrimental to the identity and history of the neighborhood.
“Every Winter Park resident should take note of how this Winter Park Commons project played out,” said resident Gigi Papa. “It’s not going to change, it’s not going to get better.”
Webster Avenue resident Willie Clark Jr., whose home borders the Winter Park Commons site, was among the neighbors who have continued to speak out at each meeting where the project has been discussed.
“We’re used to a family neighborhood,” he said at the Nov. 8 meeting. “Neighbors get to know each other, greet each other, say hello – I want to see that once again.” He repeated the sentiment during public comments at the Dec. 13 meeting.
“I’m not against progress. I know things change, but during the change we have to watch out for our neighborhoods.”
Mayor Phil Anderson advised residents of a commission workshop on CRA-led housing, scheduled for Jan. 11, that will focus on affordable housing and single-family construction. The next commission meeting will take place on Jan. 10. For additional information on city meeting schedules and agendas, log onto cityofwinterpark.org/government/meetings.