A 204-unit apartment complex is slated to rise out of an empty lot of sand and asphalt next to the Winter Park Village.
The Winter Park City Commission voted 4-1 on Sept. 24 to develop a plot that may finally turn into a vision that had been painted for the city of a place where residents played, worked and lived on the same block. The project is up for a final vote at the Monday, Oct. 8, Commission meeting.
“This project we’re talking about tonight is where we get the live along with the work and play,” Winter Park planning director Jeff Briggs said.
Briggs took the city on a trip back in time, telling the City Commission and residents a story of what once was. Back in 1957 when the Winter Park Mall was built on the property now occupied by the Winter Park Village, it offered towering skylit ceilings and monumental water fountains, but no place to live.
It thrived anyway, on the strength of a broad selection of stores under its 400,000-square-foot roof and a lack of any nearby competition. The next nearby mall was more than a decade from construction. Park Avenue was largely a commercial district, not a shopping district.
But that would change rapidly as the Winter Park Mall saw malls spring up in Altamonte Springs, Sanford and Oviedo, just as Park Avenue was reinventing itself as a walkable retail mecca.
As it fell into shambles in the mid-1990s, the Mall gave way to a new concept — the Winter Park Village. Originally envisioned as a groundbreaking multi-use concept, the Village offered restaurants, stores, a 20-screen movie theater, plus office space and apartments.
The only problem with the last part of that equation was scale, Briggs said. Less than 60 residential units were built — all of them above The Cheesecake Factory — not nearly enough to support the commercial and retail sides of the Village on their own.
Like the Mall in its heyday, the Village thrived anyway, but largely from residents outside its sealed asphalt footprint. Parking snarls the lot on weekends as visitors fill the Village for its shops, restaurants and theater.
Enter the concept discussed at the Sept. 24 meeting: a 204-unit apartment building set to be built directly across West Canton Avenue from the Village.
“This completes the Winter Park vision for live, work and play,” said attorney Rebecca Wilson, representing the builder, Winter Park Town Center Development LLC.
Residents would live next to the Village, adding more customers and workers without more parking hassles. A 357-space parking garage would be built for the building’s residents.
But the idea of any apartment being built at the corner of West Canton and North Denning Drive had some nearby residents up in arms.
“I wasn’t in favor of adding 140 units along Denning [Drive], I wasn’t in favor of adding 194 and I’m certainly not in favor of adding 204,” resident Mary Randall said. “That would double the density of that block. It’s already a nightmare to go out there into traffic. I can’t find a parking space when I go to the Winter Park Village. You have to park half a mile away to go to someplace in the Village.”
“Winter Park is not a community of apartments,” resident Sally Flynn said. “Having a bigger tax base is not necessarily good if it means you can’t get your car from this place to that place in the city. I hear this is done all over the country, but we are not all over the country. We are Winter Park. Please preserve it.”
Mayor Ken Bradley said that he thought the city had done well to balance itself out in different scales of development and that the apartments would fit right in.
“The joy of this city is that we have a little of everything, and we have done a good job to keep it that way,” Bradley said. “I think this city has proven that we have capability for numerous types of projects… and that is what makes us a complete city. This project, it’s been a long time.”