- June 1, 2022
Residents have been clear in stating what they want for the east side of Winter Garden — above all else, they desire affordable housing and safety.
The city of Winter Garden hosted a series of charrettes and community meetings last week to refocus its efforts on the revitalization of east Winter Garden.
The project concentrates on 10th and Center streets, the intersection of Ninth Street and Story Road, and the corner of Ninth and Plant streets — with emphasis on Center Street and Orange Technical College – West Campus. OTC campus preservation is important to residents because it is the former site of the segregated Drew High School.
More than 110 residents, most of them living in east Winter Garden, gathered at City Hall Thursday, June 2, to share opinions on what they want their revitalized neighborhood to look like.
City staff and representatives of the Dover, Kohl & Partners town planning firm updated participants on the plan that was started in 2017 and interrupted, in part, by the pandemic. A poll determined more than half the attendees took part in charrettes five years ago.
After the presentation, residents were invited to create maps of how they envisioned the future of the east side.
“Those ideas become the plan,” said Jason King, vice president and senior project director for Dover Kohl.
City Commissioner Mark Maciel, who couldn’t be present at the meeting, addressed folks through a phone call and said city staff has been working hard behind the scenes.
“I think now you’re going to see things kick off and move rapidly,” he said.
He urged residents to stay involved in the planning process.
City Manager Jon C. Williams said the city is eager to receive feedback and to improve the east side in terms of homeownership, economic development, health and safety.
The presentation included solutions that were short-term (two to five years starting in 2018), mid-term (six to 12 years) and long-term (13 to more than 20 years). Williams said most of the short-term goals have been accomplished. This includes adopting and promoting the East Winter Garden Plan, extending the life of the CRA from an expiration date of 2023 to 2033 (which is expected to generate $20 million to $30 million over the 10 years), installing a traffic light at the intersection of Plant and 11th streets, creating a code enforcement strategy, and continuing to annex properties into the city.
More annexations are expected, including enclaves along Hennis and East Crown Point roads.
The city also continues to work with Orange County Public Schools to find an alternate location for a proposed bus compound on the Drew High/OTC property on Story Road.
The presenters polled residents on their participation in city events in downtown Winter Garden and east Winter Garden, as well as what they would like to see in the former Center Street business district.
Some residents opposed bringing businesses back to Center Street, preferring businesses — such as minority-owned restaurants, offices and possibly a hotel —be placed along East Plant Street to free up land for affordable housing. Residents want to maintain the neighborhood scale along Center but don’t mind multiple-story commercial buildings on Plant, where there are fewer residents.
One attendee questioned where parking would go if businesses were on Center.
“Space there is limited,” another said. “If you’re going to put business there, you can’t take away from the homes that are also there. … There was a business district but there were also homes for people to live. If you put a parking garage there, you’re taking away the potential for affordable homes.”
“You design around those houses,” King said. “Every building there is going to be in the plan.”
Dover Kohl has been involved in the successful transformation of main streets in several black communities, including Thomasville, Georgia; Detroit; South Miami; and Montgomery, Alabama.
It takes five steps, King said: rezoning to make nonconforming properties legal again; investing in streetscapes, because private investment follows public investment; involving the CRA using tax-increment financing; building a residential population within walking distance; and reviving city parks.
Charrette attendees were polled on options for Center Street, such as wider sidewalks, landscaping, bike racks, benches and streetlights. A majority were in favor of these amenities. Other suggestions for east Winter Garden were senior housing, a community center, outdoor game areas, green space and a pavilion.
OPEN DESIGN STUDIO
The design team spent Friday holding smaller community discussions on economic development and the return of the east-side business district, housing, and the preservation of Drew High School’s legacy.
“You cannot have any economic development with high crime,” said Ed Johnson, who was born at the former West Orange Memorial Hospital and grew up on Lincoln Terrace in east Winter Garden. “That (revitalization plan is) pretty, but until we get the drug issues under control, this will not be safe. This will not go anywhere. … We have got to get this area under control — from crime to infrastructure. Everything needs to be put under control here. … If you don’t feel safe, it isn’t safe.”
In the Drew High School forum, King said the property takes up about seven city blocks and there is room to implement a number of suggestions.
Natalie Lipsey, town planner and urban designer with Dover Kohl & Associates, has been studying the space and presented ideas.
“There are a lot of buildings there … and we want to keep as many as possible,” she said. “Some are trailer buildings, which could be changed into courtyard communities. (You could have) affordable housing center around a communal green corridor. Mixed-use or different businesses, cafes, laundromats, salons, cafes, could be with apartments above.
“The larger buildings could be meeting rooms, art studios, community space, different classrooms that would provide technical or soft-skill classes, incubator and a historic center — the focal point of the street,” Lipsey said.
The north end of the property could offer sports, recreation, green space or a farmers market.
WORK IN PROGRESS
Saturday morning, the city and the design team gave a walking tour of downtown Winter Garden and presented all the work completed last week. Everything presented will be printed in a book that can serve as a guide for the city.
For information and updates on the plan, visit PlanEastWinterGarden.com.