- April 19, 2019
The dirt parking lot off Pennsylvania Avenue near Cask & Larder might not appear significant at first glance. Winter Park residents have parked their cars on the property for years without a second thought.
But for many residents in the west side of Winter Park, the gravel-covered lot represents an ongoing struggle to keep the pieces of their vanishing neighborhood together. Decades ago the lot was once the site of home – it’s still zoned as R-1A residential to this day, but it may not be for much longer.
Some residents see it as a sign of the constant gentrification that eats away at an African American community in the city.
Winter Parkers spoke out in defense of the west side neighborhood during Tuesday’s Planning and Zoning Board meeting as board members considered a request from Cask & Larder to rezone the lot as PL, a requirement in order to beautify the lot with paving and landscaping.
City staff recommended the request be granted, with Planning and Community Development Manager Jeff Briggs adding that the lot has been a parking lot for at least 40 plus years anyway. The building where Cask & Larder sits today was once the site of Harper’s Tavern, opened by Francis Harper in 1929 during the prohibition. The building burned down in the mid ’90s, but was later reconstructed before Cask & Larder opened in 2012. The restaurant has continued to use the same dirt lot for parking.
“At least the length of time that I’ve been here since 1977, it’s been a dirt overflow parking lot for Harper’s Tavern,” Briggs said. “That’s just sort of been a grandfathered in use of that property. The problem dates much further back from that time period.”
But for nearby residents, it’s a matter of principle. Just on the other side of a fence sits multiple homes in the west side neighborhood. The dirt lot is just up the road from Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church as well. Residents like Forest Michael said that in any other neighborhood in Winter Park such a request would never be granted due to the late night noise and headlights from cars. A property zoned as R-1A residential would also never be changed to make way for a paved parking lot, Michael said.
“Would you want this in your neighborhood?” Michael said. “…I know I don’t.”
“The effect of this change is to damage the residential character in the Hannibal Square neighborhood community.
Resident Mary Daniels said that it makes no difference how long the lot has been used for parking. It’s still a residential lot in the west side of Winter Park – an increasingly rare spectacle as outside development continues to encroach into the area.
“I don’t want to see that community keep being etched away, where you approve something and it sets a precedent,” Daniels said.
“We can get up here and oppose until our faces turn blue, but it’s you who sit in a positon to make a difference. If staff and the Commission don’t do their due diligence, there won’t be anything left of that community.”
Daniels added that if the board chooses to approve the rezoning they should consider a developer’s agreement that would change the lot back to R-1A if it were sold to another party.
Cask & Larder chefs, owners and operators James and Julie Petrakis expressed their willingness to find a compromise and respect the nearby neighborhood.
“Our objective is to make that corner more attractive,” James said. “It’s kind of an eyesore as you enter Winter Park and I think it could be a lot nicer.”
“We don’t want to set a precedence that we’re going to develop this property. We’re willing to write in a variance that says that if we ever sell it, it would go back to R-1A or do whatever it takes to be of assistance to the neighborhood.”
James and Julie Petrakis also submitted a request for a new outdoor seating area for the building, mentioning during the meeting that they plan on relocating their other restaurant, The Ravenous Pig, into the Cask & Larder building as well since its lease on Orange Avenue is ending soon.
The Planning and Zoning Board voted to table the item to a future meeting, due to the landscaping improvements not being specific enough, and to give the board more time to analyze how the relocation of The Ravenous Pig comes into play.