Winter Park residents expressed concerns about losing green space and about stormwater issues that could cause flooding.
Winter Park’s new library and event center are moving closer and closer to construction — but not before being vetted by the city’s Planning and Zoning Board.
Members of the city board took their first look Tuesday, Sept. 11, at the blueprints and design of the major project set for the northwest corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Park — the site of the now-closed Rachel D. Murrah Civic Center.
The $30 million project — referred to in its entirety as The Canopy — includes the new 34,400-square-foot library, 13,564-square-foot event center, a porte cochere to pick up and drop off visitors, an outdoor amphitheater on Lake Mendsen, and a 213-space parking lot, with the possibility of creating 24 more parallel parking spaces along Harper Street.
The project has made its way through the pipeline since March 2016, when voters approved the bond referendum of up to $30 million to construct the library. That was followed by a long legal battle during which a group of Winter Park residents disputed the ballot language of the referendum and where the project was being built. The location of the proposed library project was not included, leaving some residents feeling deceived when the city pressed on with the Martin Luther King Jr. Park site after the bond referendum passed.
A judge ruled in December 2016 the city had the right to move forward with the park site and that Winter Park had conducted a transparent process through several meetings to choose Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
But almost two years later, the project still faced scrutiny from disgruntled residents, many of whom had petitioned in 2016 to keep the library out of the park.
Issues such as stormwater drainage tied with the area’s history of flooding during hurricanes, surface parking eating into green space, and the small amount of additional space the new library has in comparison to the existing building all were mentioned during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Resident Sally Flynn took issue with the city spreading out surface parking in the park when the original ballot language on the referendum referred to a “parking structure” with the project.
“This project goes from bad to worse as it moves on — both financially, aesthetically and ethically,” Flynn said. “One of the things we were told was (the library) couldn’t be anywhere else, because there had to be a parking structure and that could not happen where the library is now. Now (the city) voted that down, and there’s no parking structure. We’re spreading parking and cement over where there’s green space. … We’re just taking more and more of that park. It is not following the rules of the referendum. This is a project that Winter Park cannot be proud of.”
Resident Pat McDonald shared Flynn’s sentiment.
“The vote (for the referendum) was not overwhelming in favor — it was quite a close vote,” she said. “I will tell you that I’ve talked to many people who voted ‘yes’ and are kicking themselves now, because they’re not getting what they voted for.”
Conversely, resident Jim Barnes spoke in favor of the project as presented Tuesday.
“I support the new library and event center,” said Barnes, who also agreed with the city’s approach to the parking. “I think the structure will be world-class.”
Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Ross Johnston acknowledged the many issues that residents had with the project but noted most of them regarding the current design of the project aren’t up to the board but rather the City Commission, he said.
“The city decided on all of this, then it came to P&Z, and then it goes back to the commission after we do this,” Johnston said. “A lot of people came up here and said, ‘I’m totally opposed to it.’ The architecture, the structure, the percolation — a lot for these things have been agreed to — are not really on the purview right now of discussion tonight.”
Johnston added the project meets code and that the city’s plans to interconnect Lake Mendsen and Lake Rose with an underground pipe should take care of any stormwater issues.
The board gave the project preliminary approval with a vote of 4-0, subject to a stormwater study to make sure the project is compliant with the St. Johns River Water Management District.