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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Monday, Oct. 8, 2018 1 year ago

Winter Park City Commissioners question fairness of existing lot split policies

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If you live within the North Park Avenue or Orwin Manor neighborhood areas, it can cost you $6,000 to ask if you can split your lot. Everywhere else: $500.
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

Is Winter Park treating all of its residents fairly?

That’s the question that Winter Park City Commissioners asked at their Monday, Oct. 8, meeting regarding the city’s existing policies regarding subdivisions and lot splits.

Language in the city’s comprehensive plan prohibits the subdivision of lots within Orwin Manor and the North Park Avenue neighborhood planning area into new lots with less than the required 75-foot width (85-foot width for corner lots).

Any kind of lot split also is prohibited on lakefront land, though only a couple of the 215 lakefront properties would realistically meet all the zoning codes and standards anyway, Winter Park Planning Manager Jeff Briggs said.

The word “prohibit” doesn’t actually mean prohibit in these policies, though. It essentially means the lot split can’t be approved without a variance, Mayor Steve Leary said.

The concern? The required fee to request that variance.

“If you do want to ask for a variance in either of those two areas or you do want to subdivide or split a lakefront property, then you’ve got to amend the comp plan,” Briggs said. “That application fee, because we have a city-wide notice, is $6,000 — versus if you’re in a different neighborhood and want to ask for a lot split variance. The normal $500 application fee would apply.”

Leary said the system in place is unfair, because it forces residents with lots of at least 100 feet in those specific areas to pay the much larger fee of $6,000.

The policies — which affect 19 homes in the North Park Avenue area, 41 homes in Orwin Manor and the couple of eligible lakefront homes — should be changed and the word “prohibit” should be removed, Leary said.

“For just simply to ask the question, ‘Would you consider splitting my lot?’ they have to pay $6,000, versus the other 99.25% of Winter Parkers who can pay $500 to ask the question,” Leary said. “This in no way guarantees the lot splits will be easier. All it does is level the playing field.”

City Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel agreed the policies are wrong.

“I have a hard time with this, because we’ve taken two areas (North Park Avenue and Orwin Manor) and treated them very differently than every place else in Winter Park,” Sprinkel said. “That’s my problem — I’m very much not in favor of an elitist kind of government and that’s what we have here. We have created something for a very elite few — that’s just contrary to everything I believe in.”

According to the staff report, residents within those specific neighborhoods asked for these policies back in 2009 — an effort to keep the mix of larger and smaller lots in the neighborhood.

“The concern is the precedent set anytime a lot split is approved with variances for 50-foot lots,” the staff report states. “How does the city say ‘yes’ to one owner and then say ‘no’ to another owner when the facts (50-foot lots) are exactly the same? That forces the city to either say ‘yes’ to all requests or ‘no’ to all, and thus in effect ‘prohibit’ such variances.”

But Leary insisted it was only a small group of residents that advocated for the policies, he said.

“It’s prejudicial the way it is now, because a small number of people petitioned and moved the comp plan task force in 2009 to include these two zones in the comp plan,” Leary said. “This did not exist when people bought these properties. It’s extremely prejudicial. … I think it’s offensive.”

The majority of the City Commission — Commissioners Carolyn Cooper, Peter Weldon and Greg Seidel — believed the policies should remain.

“I am 100% in favor of continuing with the existing policies as they are currently set, especially given that they are a reaction to requests of our residents,” Cooper said. “I’m on board keeping it as is, but I’m happy to look at the cost.”

“That’s why those folks did it: they care about the character of their neighborhood,” Seidel said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people going around and trying to take care of what they feel is their neighborhood.”

With not enough support for a motion to change the policies, Leary ended the discussion and moved on with the meeting. 

“For some reason, you all have singled out a very small portion of this community,” Leary said.

Tim Freed was the managing editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Southwest Orange Observer. He previously spent six years covering the Winter Park/Maitland area and is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

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