The Winter Park YMCA Family Center is a step closer to expanding, but will it be for the last time? That question rankled residents and perturbed some members of the City Commission at Monday’s meeting, as they fought over how much is too much for the building’s expansion.
The vote passed 3-2 on first reading to allow a rezoning that paved the way to expansion, but not without a fight. And the Commission will face residents one more time before the deal is done.
Some neighbors characterized the YMCA along Lakemont Avenue as a corporate behemoth as they asked the Commission to reject a proposed zoning change that would allow the facility to sprout a bigger parking lot and a zero-depth pool.
“The scale of the project shifts it from a neighborhood Y to a regional Y because most of their members don’t even live in the area,” said Margaret Deboer, adding that the Y had seen mostly non-resident signatures in its petition to gain support.
She also accused the Y of being secretive to nearby neighbors about its plans in the past, and said this time was no different.
“We’ve had to do this because not once have they reached out and spoke to us,” she said. “We have not even seen the new developer’s agreement that they shared with you today.”
City Planning Director Jeff Briggs said that despite complaints from neighbors about expansion, the Y does its best to blend in with the neighborhood.
“It must work, because we have two brand new houses under construction across the street,” he said.
Though some in the audience agreed that the Y had done a good job of melding with nearby residences, they expressed fear that if the Y’s expansion remained unchecked, it could keep growing forever.
“Any other place this would be a fairly benign request: a parking lot and a pool,” Commissioner Tom McMacken said, adding that the Y had agreed not to do so 15 years ago. “We had a developer's agreement. We shook hands, and said no more. It’s about the city being able to trust the entity that negotiated this.”
“The line has been crossed,” McMacken said. “It’s been violated already.”
Mayor Ken Bradley said that an agreement in 1997, which largely stated that the Y wouldn’t expand again, was ill-advised.
“It’s ludicrous of a commission to accept an agreement that says ‘I will never do anything,’” Bradley said.
Though detractors of the expansion, which would add a pool suitable for young children, the elderly and the disabled as well as adding another 30 parking spaces, were among the most vocal, they were outnumbered by the Y’s proponents.
“Sports are un-measurable for how important they are to kids,” resident Tonya Mellen said. “If we can’t provide it and the city can’t provide it, the Y provides it. I ask you not to consider the Y anything but a very, very important community asset. They’re not a corporation and they do not make money.”
Before the vote that would make it a step closer to reality, Fay Register, a Maitland resident who said the zero-depth pool would finally give her access to water activities, implored the Commission to allow it to be built.
“It would allow me the dignity to get into a pool by myself,” she said. “No I don’t live in Winter Park, but I am one of those grateful Y members that appreciate what they do for myself and what they do for other people in the community.
“When somebody in your family is struck with a debilitating disability that takes away their freedom. I ask you that you’ll be able to look back upon this day to say, ‘I am so glad that I voted to expand the Y so they could have that pool and the extra parking.’”