An ordinance passed by Winter Park’s Planning And Zoning Board last Tuesday would ban fast food restaurants on Park Avenue — a response to the uproar from residents and merchants after Park Avenue tenants BurgerFi and Firehouse Subs joined the corridor.
The ordinance changes definitions in the city’s zoning regulations for what counts as fine dining and fast food, making it easier for code enforcement to regulate.
A group made up of Winter Park Chamber of Commerce officials, Park Avenue tenants and attorney Frank Hamner drafted and presented the ordinance to voice the demands of local merchants and property owners along the Avenue.
“One of the things we heard from the get-go is to keep the fast food off the Avenue,” Hamner said. “We heard a lot of different ways to do that, but many of them just seemed simple and don’t work in application.”
This “bottom-up” ordinance gives several criteria for what makes a restaurant “fast food.” The use of disposable tableware, payment before food is consumed, and customers ordering from a wall menu and busing their own tables are just a few of the characteristics.
If an incoming restaurant shows two or more of these traits, they’d be turned away.
“We don’t want fast food on Park Avenue,” said Winter Park Planning Director Jeff Briggs. “This is prohibiting it, and it’s a really good definition that staff can work with.”
The team developed the ordinance by communicating with residents, property owners, merchants and city staff, gathering a consensus that fast food restaurants would threaten the charm and success of the Avenue.
“It truly comes from a street-level view of what’s going on in the Avenue, what you want to see for the future of the Avenue and really with a primary goal being to preserve what we have on Park Avenue,” Hamner said.
Chamber of Commerce president Patrick Chapin noted that a grandfather clause would exempt BurgerFi and the incoming Firehouse Subs from being banned, due to the restaurants already agreeing to a business model that follows specific dining standards set by the city.
“The stake’s in the ground now, and we’re moving forward in terms of every other business,” Chapin said. “There’s expectations for Firehouse Subs also; they came in under a guideline letter agreement that they will have to hold to.”
New definitions for fine dining establishments include having a host or hostess that greets customers, table service and a menu that consists of fine dining cuisine, which ranges from appetizers to entrees to deserts.
Restaurants not meeting this new definition would be placed into a new non-fine-dining category, which would be limited to only 15 percent of the Avenue’s storefront space.
“This captures those entrepreneurial type restaurants that want to come in and don’t want to go to full sale table service with table clothes, fine china, or a hostess or host seating everyone, but want to put out a good quality product on the Avenue,” Hamner said.
But the ordinance also affects incoming bakeries, coffee shops and candy stores.
One amendment introduces a regulation on “menu creeping” – when a coffee shop or bakery starts to sell items that don’t fit their business description, including sandwiches or other savory items.
Local merchants approved it in order to create a sense of fairness due to the higher impact fees that come with owning a restaurant.
But language in the ordinance requiring bakeries and coffee shops to submit their menu for approval from code enforcement raised concerns among board members about stifling creativity and staying competitive.
“By the time they go through this procedure, their business could be folded,” said board member Shelia De Ciccio. “That is extremely restrictive language.”
Winter Park’s Planning And Community Development Director Dori Stone said that while the language seemed constrictive, the ordinance had in fact been approved by the Park Avenue Merchants Association, and that that the merchants’ desire to remove fast food restaurants from the Avenue was their main priority.
Board member Bob Mahn agreed with the ban on fast food and recognized that the changes had been approved by the merchants and land owners themselves, but showed concern of having such a negative response to the fast food tenants.
“I don’t like that being a knee-jerk response to an anti- concern,” Mahn said. “But if it gives the restaurant owners some comfort in knowing that, so be it.”
The board voted to approve the ordinance on the grounds that the language concerning menu items be made more flexible.
The ordinance now awaits approval from the City Commission.