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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2019 1 year ago

P&Z recommends approval of new downtown hotel

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A proposal for a hotel in downtown Winter Garden that includes a parking revitalization plan inched closer to the City Commission.
by: Hannah Swayze News Editor

Plans are moving forward for a proposal for a 60-room hotel in downtown Winter Garden after the city’s Planning and Zoning Board recommended approval for the rezoning of the potential property Monday, June 3. 

The proposed spot for the new boutique hotel is 8 N. Highland Ave., across from City Hall. Currently, it is home to a single-story, masonry building constructed in 1964 and occupied by Creative Veteran Productions, a digital media production company. 

The proposal is to sell the property to development company JA Hospitality LLC, which plans to build a three-story,45,000-square-foot hotel that would include a restaurant, outdoor cafe, events space and second-floor outdoor swimming pool. 

So far, three community meetings have been held to discuss the project — the most recent held May 28. At the meeting, City Manager Mike Bollhoefer addressed concerns from residents in a presentation that featured an overhaul of the city’s parking management. 

Bollhoefer assessed the state of parking downtown to determine a way to fix complaints such as a lack of parking spots during busy hours, which has led to overflow parking on residential streets. 

“We flew drones over our parking lots for a series of days to look at the parking, and there was not a single time — not one time at all — where there wasn’t available parking for people,” Bollhoefer said. “The only time the parking in Winter Garden gets a little tough is a two-hour period on Saturdays, and even then, there was available parking.”

Bollhoefer also acknowledged the assessment was not done during a big event. Still, he believes the problem was not limited space but use.

“Seven days a week, we have more than enough parking,” Bollhoefer said. “We should manage it better.”

Bollhoefer proposed the profit from the sale be used to revamp the parking in the city, potentially creating 220 to 400 new parking spaces in the downtown area. 

The plan also would create new parking specifically for golf carts to maximize the use of space, pay for new wayfaring signs, create areas specifically for ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft, add additional resources for bikers, and provide shuttles for a micro-transit system to be used during busy times. 

Community Impact

Other concerns from residents included the location of the hotel, which is right next to a residential area. 

Jonathan Green was born and raised in Winter Garden, and his family lived in the city for several generations. He resides in the neighborhood adjacent to the proposed site and worries about the traffic, noise and the influx of people affecting the quality of life in the neighborhood. 

“We need to have change,” Green said. “And I know if we’re going to have this kind of thing in the neighborhood, we need to find a way to make it work.”

Bollhoefer said the hotel still will be required to abide by time restrictions enforced in the downtown area. Semitrucks will not be allowed on Bay Street. There also will be restrictions on noise and light. Dumpsters will be required to be enclosed. Construction would include an increased setback and landscape buffer along Bay Street to distance the residential properties from the hotel. 

To combat any traffic on residential streets, the city is considering installing a roundel — a large, circle traffic feature similar to a flat roundabout — to calm the intersection in the middle of the hotel and residential areas. 

The majority of attendees at the meeting spoke in favor of the project; only two of the 17 stated they were against it. 

Several business owners spoke in support of the project, citing the need for a place for clients to stay when they are in town and hoping to see the benefits of more consumers downtown shopping and dining.

Dennis Jones owns Winter Garden Wheel Works, a bicycle shop downtown. He said the district needs more people on the streets and more businesses and believes a hotel would be a perfect fit. 

“It’s going to bring a lot of life to downtown,” Jones said. “I never have too much business. I like it when it’s busy; I like having a lot of people in the store. I like to go to the restaurant. I don’t mind to wait 10 minutes to get a seat at the restaurant — it’s great. That’s what we want in downtown.”

Ultimately, Bollhoefer said he believes the hotel will be good for downtown in the long run. 

“We can’t just rest on our laurels,” Bollhoefer said. “We need to make sure that downtown can be successful in the long term. I think this hotel is one of the projects that’s going to do it and build the other projects coming down the line to make the city get better.”

Hannah Swayze was the News Editor at the West Orange Times & Observer and Southwest Orange Observer. 

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