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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 3 months ago

Winter Park rallies residents to protect home rule

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The City Commission is urging residents to contact local leaders over a series of controversial bills.
by: Tim Freed Associate Editor

The city of Winter Park is rallying its residents to speak up and protect the city’s right to control its own destiny, pushing for them to write to state representatives in the wake of several bills.

A letter was been distributed to residents of Winter Park letting them know their quality of life could change if a series of bills passes at the state level.

“I am writing to you today about matters important to the future of the quality of life in our great city,” City Manager Randy Knight wrote in the letter on behalf of the Winter Park City Commission. “There are several proposed House bills and Senate bills before the state Legislature that would preempt the home rule authority of your local elected officials and apply one-size-fits-all statewide rules that may or may not be in your best interest. “

Home rule language in the 1968 Florida Constitution revision reads: “Municipalities shall have governmental, corporate and proprietary powers to enable them to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions and render municipal services, and may exercise power for municipal purposes except as otherwise provided by law.” 

This allows cities to make decisions and priorities through their elected officials, but a series of bills could challenge this authority, Knight wrote.

The first is House Bill 773, which would prohibit the city from regulating short-term vacation rentals. Services such as Airbnb can be convenient but also can result in noise problems, inadequate parking and strangers wandering through neighborhoods. The bill would preempt the city’s ability to regulate these rentals.

“We do have an ordinance in place that we do use to enforce issues and problems that we have that result from rentals of single-family dwellings,” Winter Park Fire Chief and Code Compliance Director Jim White said at the most recent Winter Park City Commission meeting. “It basically covers that you can’t rent or lease those units for less than 30 days. We’ve been attacking this for the past couple years.

“Where we have the problems are homes that are routinely rented in residential areas that are used for things other than single-family occupancies or vacations,” he said. “They’re used for weddings and parties, where we then have sound and noise problems and parking issues.”

An area that could be affected by House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 432 is the city’s community redevelopment agency. Those bills would make it possible for a CRA to be phased out if not reauthorized with a super majority vote in Winter Park. 

The CRA — which receives and invests tax increment financing revenues into certain city projects — was created in the mid 1990s and has helped pay for numerous streetscape upgrades to the Hannibal Square area, Park Avenue, Orange Avenue and Morse Boulevard. It also helped pay for housing rehab programs and the construction of the Winter Park Community Center.

The desire to preserve home rule ties back to the city’s desire to maintain its own unique character and charm, Commissioner Peter Weldon said in a statement.

“Winter Park has a long history and with that comes pride of ownership among those choosing to live here,” Weldon said. “Winter Park residents want our city to reinforce our unique character, not to be the same as other communities. State mandates impose one-size-fits-all dictates that limit our flexibility to adapt in ways that fit Winter Park’s character. A perfect example of this is last year’s state laws that took away our right to manage where and how wireless telecommunication poles are implemented.”

Tree planting, trimming and removal also could be controlled and regulated by the state under House Bill 521 and Senate Bill 574. 

“It has been modified several times but in its current form, this bill would still impair the city’s ability to regulate trees near power lines,” Knight wrote in his letter to residents. “It would also shift the responsibility for electric utility storm repair costs, even those outside our electric service area, from other electric providers to the city to pay, in certain circumstances.”

Knight urged in the letter for residents to voice their opinions and contact Sen. Linda Stewart of District 13, Rep. Mike Miller of District 47, and Rep. Robert “Bob” Cortes of District 30.

“It is extremely important for citizens to contact their state representatives to let them know what they want and expect,” Weldon wrote. “These people are supposed to represent us, not lobbyists and Tallahassee power players. The great advantage of a democratic republic is that we each get to hold our representatives accountable. If they don’t hear from those who elect them, they are likely to be directed by those who didn’t elect them.”

“It’s important for citizens to tell their elected officials from local to state and national how they think and feel,” Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel said in a statement. “We are elected to represent the public and the trust the public has in us mirrors how well we can represent them. We do need to hear from all sides of every issue then make informed decisions.”

Tim Freed as an Associate Editor with the Winter Park/Maitland Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

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