Plans to construct a new bank in Winter Park have been approved – on the condition the bank plays a part in helping traffic flow at an infamously congested intersection nearby, or at least prevent it from getting worse.
The Winter Park City Commission gave a green light last Monday for a new 3,872-square-foot Fifth Third Bank branch with additional office space at the northwest corner of Aloma and Lakemont avenues.
But Commissioners gave approval on one condition: That the bank negotiates with a neighboring property owner to place an easement that would connect the planned parking lot with a potential development next door – an addition that Commissioners believed could keep traffic from getting worse.
Residents leaving the neighboring property or the bank looking to head south on Lakemont or east on Aloma could move northeast through the parking lots and back onto 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.
“I see the public purpose here very clearly,” Commissioner Carolyn Cooper said.
“I just want the city to have an easement that connects these two pieces of commercial property that happen to be located at a very busy intersection.”
Residents had spoken up during the April 27 meeting about the new bank having the potential to make traffic worse at the bustling intersection. 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 added, 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.”
“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.
Kathy Helsby, the neighboring property owner to the west, had pushed for the easement during the same meeting. But attorney Arthur Baker, representing Fifth Third Bank, had originally told City Commissioners his client was not interested in building the easement, mainly due to there being no guarantee a development would be constructed next door.
The bank would be willing to negotiate an easement, Baker said, as long as it’s subject to the discretion of Fifth Third Bank and a final site plan for the neighboring development is submitted within the next two years.
“I think this conditioned approval resolves our fears of some of the uncertainty,” Baker said.
City Commissioners approved the conditions, but Helsby claimed Fifth Third Bank had been less than cooperative so far in negotiating, suggesting an easement may never be constructed.
“They stated that they’ve done everything they can to come to us and work this out,” Helsby said.
“We’ve had no cooperation so far.”