Winter Park residents got their first look at two of the Winter Park City Commission Seat Four candidates as incumbent Pete Weldon and challenger Todd Weaver took the stage for a debate Friday, Feb. 8, at the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce.
Both Weldon and Weaver responded to questions about topics such as growth, medical marijuana dispensaries, undergrounding power lines and the best way to spend CRA funds.
A third candidate, Barbara Chandler, declined an invitation to participate in the debate.
“My purpose in serving the city for the last 12 years is to keep Winter Park the special oasis that we all love,” Weldon said. “I started volunteering my time for the city 12 years ago. I served on the Tree Preservation Board, the Code Enforcement Board, Planning and Zoning under three different mayors and I was elected to the City Commission in 2016. I’ve proven my commitment to protecting our oasis.”
Weaver spoke to his own experience and what makes him the best candidate.
“I’m running, because I bring breadth and depth of experience and a unique skill set to the job,” Weaver said. “I have 40 years of hands-on experience in many areas. I’m a UCF mechanical and aerospace engineer. I have a general contractor’s license, and I’ve been a developer. I have two successful ongoing businesses here in Winter Park.”
The candidates were asked about what can be done to bring attractive development to the gateway entries to the city.
“I’ve been working on this for at least six years and going back before that on P&Z, I looked at all our codes in the context of ‘What is Winter Park?’” Weldon said. “When we look at developments, we don’t want to have larger apartments — that’s why I led the effort to get rid of them. What we want to do is we want to develop around open space, just like Central Park and just like the Hannibal Square park area. I am a supporter of low-height, mixed-use projects — especially on Orange Avenue.”
Weaver said Weldon takes more credit than he should.
“Mr. Weldon takes credit for taking the R-4 designation out of our codes,” Weaver said. “Actually, that was done by public outrage over the Paseo and a few other earlier projects. He does point out that Hannibal Square and Park Avenue are very good examples of mixed-use development. ... But we also see mixed-use development all along 17-92 from Lee Road throughout Maitland, and I haven’t met a single soul that likes that kind of development. Right now, we have no transparency on what the mixed-use codes look like. ... I believe we need to look ahead at traffic, at infrastructure and a lot of other things that go concurrently with raising our population and our density.”
Both candidates were then given a question on which takes priority — undergrounding utility lines or undergrounding fiber optic lines.
“They’re both pretty important,” Weaver said. “Fiber optics has the advantage of decreasing the chance of hacking from outside sources. Going forward, it also is the control device for the quiet (railroad) crossings. We can use it for coordinated signaling for our major thoroughfares, which I think we’re sorely in need of. All of those things can run concurrently — I wouldn’t place a priority over one or the other.”
Weldon pointed out his track record of supporting the fiber optic lines within the city.
“I voted to invest $600,000 of our tax money two years ago to build out the fiber optic connections out of our corridors in order to initially connect our water/sewer and electric control systems — exactly for the reason Mr. Weaver said, to provide added security and reliability to our systems,” Weldon said. “Down the road, there are lot of technological changes on the horizon. … I intend for Winter Park to be a leader as all those technologies roll out.”
The candidates also addressed assisting the city’s senior population.
“The complete streets makeover that we’ve done on Denning — it’s continuing now — what that does is it allows shorter crossings of the traffic lanes, and that’s a good thing for slow-walking seniors like myself and Mr. Weldon,” Weaver said with a laugh. “Our downtown is lacking in some areas as far as ADA standards for wheelchairs and things like that. … There’s a lot for things we can do and piece by piece we can resolve it.”
Weldon said it’s a difficult issue, and he has heard plenty of complaints from senior residents about their lack of mobility.
“They’re scared to go out onto Aloma or onto 17-92,” Weldon said. “What we have to do is work more closely with Lynx, (which) has senior transportation services. I’ll be happy to study that more closely with Lynx to see if we can’t get more done in that regard.”
In Weldon’s closing statement, he urged Winter Park voters to search for substance.
“I don’t deal in platitudes and pandering — I am always looking behind the façade, working to understand and deliver tangible results that create value for our residents and for our city,” Weldon said. “I have proven you can trust me to protect Winter Park and make smart, responsible decisions on your behalf.”
Weaver took a different approach with his closing remarks, reaching inside a brown sack at his side and pulling out a sizable red cabbage that he then set on the table in front of him.
“I’m not only an engineer, I’m a contractor — I’m also a skilled welder, machinist, carpenter, plumber, electrician, stonemason, auto mechanic and harmonica player,” Weaver said. “I’m a bee keeper and vegetable gardener. I picked this beauty here this morning. If you’ll elect me on March 12, we’re going to have a hell of a victory party, and we’re going to have some really good coleslaw, too.”