The Winter Park Planning and Zoning Board discussed eliminating an incentive that attracted eateries.
Winter Park continues to ask itself the all important question: Does the city have a parking deficit in its downtown area?
If you look back over the past 15 years, the answer is technically “yes,” according to city staff.
Winter Park Planning and Zoning Board members discussed a new proposed ordinance that could help stop a perceived parking deficit in the downtown area — but at the possible cost of fewer new restaurants coming to Park Avenue.
The ordinance in the land development code would take away a condition put in place in 2003 — a time when the Winter Park Village was booming and Park Avenue was in a lull.
“(The Winter Park Village) was the newest thing in town — we had never had a theater with stadium seating before; this was brand new and everybody wanted to go to one,” Planning Manager Jeff Briggs said. “We also had four new restaurants that were the first of the kind in the Orlando metropolitan area — it was the first P.F. Chang’s; it was the first Cheesecake Factory. Park Avenue for a while was in a downturn, because folks were trying out the Village.”
In response to this issue, Winter Park attempted to attract more fine-dining restaurants to the area to boost foot traffic along Park Avenue and Hannibal Square. This was done by removing a requirement that any restaurant entering a former retail/office space had to provide the additional parking required for restaurants.
Since 2003, 17 restaurants have been established in place of retail spaces within the Central Business District. Under existing parking codes — although largely unchanged since the 1970s — the CBD is technically 207 parking spaces short of what it needs to handle the restaurant guests.
“We’ve increased our parking deficit in the downtown code-wise by about 200 spaces,” Briggs said. “The question is how long can we continue allowing retail to restaurant conversions that are just adding to the deficit without addressing that situation?”
But the main potential side effect of an ordinance putting a stop to this would be far fewer restaurants coming to Park Avenue because available parking is at a premium, Planning and Zoning Board Chair Ross Johnston said.
“So in essence, this is an intended consequence that we will probably freeze the number of restaurants on Park Avenue where it is,” Johnston said. “Looking at the deficit, doing the math, a restaurant would not likely convert retail.”
“It would not be impossible, but it’s going to be more difficult,” Briggs said. “If the Gap wants to change to a restaurant, they’ve got a parking garage. They can meet the parking requirement. ... But there are only a limited number of property owners that have the parking. It will restrict the growth.”
The ordinance would fix the aspect of unfairness to developers looking to add a new restaurant on an empty lot in the CBD, Briggs said. The three-story, 52,601-square-foot mixed use project set for the parking lot next to the Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream Shop had to come up with numerous parking spaces for its restaurant components. That project brought before the City Commission last year by Battaglia Group Management LLC was denied because of issues with compatibility and the lack of required parking.
“It’s not fair to any of the property owners building new,” Briggs said. “Every other owner up and down the avenue gets to convert from retail to restaurant for free. This levels the playing field.”
Briggs said there are many other moving pieces in the overall parking landscape along Park Avenue and Hannibal Square. A potential partnership between the city and Rollins College for shared parking within a new garage at the corner of Lyman and Knowles avenues could change things.
Although the CBD is technically 207 spaces short, a question still lingers: Does Winter Park really have a parking issue?
Briggs said it depends on whom you ask.
“If I don’t mind parking up by St. Margaret Mary, I can find spaces up there, so people say, ‘We don’t have a deficit; I can find parking,’” Briggs said. “But everybody else wants to park at least where they can see the building, and they can’t find any.”
Briggs said staff will bring the same discussion before the City Commission Sept. 27.