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Photo by: Isaac Babcock - The candidates for Winter Park Commission and mayor face off in community-held debates before the March 10 election.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 6 years ago

Winter Park candidates spar in local debates

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Winter Park candidates debate
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

Winter Park took a better look at the four candidates vying for two open seats on the City Commission this month as an ongoing series of public debates were held throughout the city. The four Winter Parkers – Cindy Mackinnon and current City Commissioner Steven Leary running for mayor, and Gary Brewer and Greg Seidel running for City Commissioner – made their views clear on the many issues facing the city leading up to the election on March 10.

The four candidates spoke before a packed room on Feb. 10 as the Winter Park Voice hosted a debate at the University House.

One of the first questions posed to the candidates was whether Winter Park needed stricter land-use rules to limit the number of large-scale, high-density projects. Developers getting grand variances and exceptions has been a point of great contention among many city residents.

Brewer said that change – or more development – is inevitable within the city, and that’s it’s up to the City Commission to carefully guide how it grows. Seidel said that much of the controversy boils down to trying to avoid an increase in traffic. The city can do more to add to their “tool box” to decide if a larger projects makes sense, he added.

“If we can get that toolbox up and running, we can be looking at these things,” Seidel said. “Instead of having an emotional debate about what the change is going to be, we can have a more logical, civil debate so we can all have our input.”

Mackinnon noted that the city has the right rules in place, but needs to avoid the “pack ‘em and stack ‘em” style of development seen along Denning Drive.

“I would have never of approved a project like that,” Mackinnon said. “I think we need smart development on our corridors, on Lee Road, on Fairbanks.”

Leary said that every city has a way of dealing with variances and that the Winter Park needs to protect people’s property rights when looking at potential projects.

“You can’t get the code perfect every time; you never know what’s going to come up,” Leary said.

“We also have property rights. When you talk about the apartment building at Canton and Denning, I understand people don’t like it… In 2006, [the developer] was given the right to build that building.”

Leary added that he would keep the city moving in the right direction if elected mayor.

“I’ve set my course these past four years,” Leary said. “I’ve helped lead this city and I’m proud of our accomplishments. I’d appreciate your vote so we can keep going with all the great things we’ve been doing.”

Mackinnon made her closing statement with a series of retorts against Leary.

“Proud of a record?” Mackinnon said “Proud of a traffic-choked 17-92? Proud of a Trader Joe’s where people have to walk across five lanes of busy traffic? Proud of the concrete canyon we have now on Denning?”

The candidates all met again at the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 13. The forum brought forth new questions, including how to deal with the city’s parking problems.

“We’ve always had a parking problem and we’re probably always going to have a parking problem,” Brewer said.

“Where there is opportunities to add parking, I’m all for it. Merchants need that. Stores that are paying $80 per square foot have to have customers. If the customers can’t find Park Avenue to be convenient, they’re not going to shop there.”

Brewer and Seidel squared off at a separate debate at the Winter Park Public Library on Wednesday, which touched on the very building they stood in and how it could eventually be replaced.

“The library is obviously one of the core values [in Winter Park],” Brewer said. “There’s a task force that has been reviewing sites and have identified three…I’ve actually offered a fourth alternative – a property directly across the street that’s a parking lot owned by Rollins College right in front of Dinky Dock.”

“I certainly don’t want to see this asset lost.”

Seidel suggested that whatever course the city takes regarding the library, the public needs to be well-informed and involved in the process. He also added that if a new library is built, it should stay within the downtown core area of the city.

There is one final debate between the mayoral candidates organized by the Rollins College Democracy Project scheduled for Feb. 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Mills Memorial Hall Galloway Room on the Rollins College campus at 1000 Holt Ave.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot for the March 10 election is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 4.

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