Winter Park residents raised concerns last week that a new bank set to be built at the northwest corner of Lakemont and Aloma avenues could further complicate an ongoing traffic problem.
The Winter Park City Commission gave preliminary approval last Monday for a new 3,872-square-foot Fifth Third Bank branch, which would include two drive-in tellers and an additional 5,410 square feet of office space.
But local residents feared the project would aggravate an existing traffic problem at the intersection and surrounding roads. Cars pulling out of the Whole Foods Plaza, they said, routinely turn left despite a right turn only sign to head east on Aloma or south on Lakemont.
Many cars, residents fear, will also cross Lakemont after exiting the plaza and make three point turns in the driveways along Edwin Boulevard before turning south.
Winter Park resident Stephanie Murphy said the development would only force more cars to use the side streets as pivot points.
“I think traffic needs and development are disconnected right now,” Murphy said. “That process needs to be fixed, particularly as it relates to this proposal.”
The developer of the bank project conducted a traffic study that got the green light from the city’s Planning and Zoning Board, but Murphy argued it doesn’t take into account side streets such as Edwin Boulevard and that the impact to the intersection is, “nominal, because it’s already such a mess.”
“In this case we still have time to stop pretending there won’t be additional cars on Lakemont and Edwin and in our driveways and work together to develop a traffic plan that will mitigate the dangers before approving the project,” Murphy said.
“This is a great project, maybe even a perfect project, but only if the goal is to make traffic even worse at one of the city’s busiest intersections,” Winter Park resident Beth Hall said.
Winter Park dentist Kathy Helsby said that the traffic problem could be relieved if the City Commission gave approval for an easement that would connect the parking lot of Fifth Third Bank with a future parking lot for her planned dental office directly to the west.
Residents leaving the dental office or the bank looking to head south on Lakemont or east on Aloma could move northeast through the parking lots and back on Lakemont, as opposed to making an illegal U-turn on Aloma or taking the Edwin Boulevard loop all the way back around to the north, she said.
“I see the easement as a win-win for everybody,” Helsby said.
But attorney Arthur Baker, representing Fifth Third Bank, said his client is not interested in having the easement connect the two parking lots.
“One key issue I want everyone to focus on and think about is that by allowing that type of an easement between the commercial property to our west, you’re going to allow south traffic on North Lakemont Avenue to go right and use our property as a cut through,” Baker said. “We’re going to be increasing through traffic here. Residents are not a fan of increasing through traffic to benefit a commercial property to our west.”
Baker added that there’s no development agreement in place yet for the dental office, so it’s unfair to force the project to have an easement.
The City Commission requested Baker speak with Fifth Third Bank to try and reach a compromise before bringing it back for another vote.