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Developers still in pursuit of Winter Park's 'Blake Yard' site amidst bids debate

Developers still in pursuit of Winter Park's 'Blake Yard' site amidst bids debate
Outlined in yellow is the former Blake Yard site on Comstock Avenue. This aerial shows the design proposal for four luxury townhomes by bidder Rowland & Company. (Phil Kean Design Group)

Two local developers aren't giving up on their pursuit of a 0.45-acre downtown infill site owned by Winter Park after city commissioners delayed a sale decision last week.

With the final decision now expected on May 8, the twice-high bidder implied in a letter from his attorney on Tuesday that legal action could be taken next, if his original bids aren't accepted.

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Formerly known as the Blake Yard site, the small parcel at 301 W. Comstock Ave. lies one-and-a-half blocks from Park Avenue. The city published a Notice of Disposal (NOD) in February, seeking purchase bids for the property.

To recap, bids were made in March from Winter Park Redevelopment Agency, Ltd., an affiliate of Sydgan Corporation developer Dan Bellows, for $425,000, proposing two duplexes or a single fourplex with 2,000-square-foot units.

Local general contractor Rowland & Company bid $370,000, proposing four townhomes of 2,100 square feet each, featuring architecture by Phil Kean Design Group.

Bellows' high bid didn't meet the property's August 2016 appraised value of $450,000, which the two bidders weren't made aware of in the NOD document.

Commissioners asked on April 10 for a second round of bids that met this price minimum. Rowland's came in at $455,000 and Bellows at $450,000, though Bellows asked in his e-mailed submission to automatically increase his bid to $1,000 more than the highest bidder.

While that's not commonly accepted in NOD bid responses, Winter Park's NOD didn't prohibit it, so Bellows' bid was acknowledged as $456,000.

Commissioners couldn't agree on April 24 to award the contract to either bidder, with some concerned about Bellows' "+$1,000" bid tactic. They did not formally reject the bids, and put the decision on hold.

Now for the upcoming May 8 meeting, staff are recommending commissioners reject all bids and turn the property over to the city's real estate broker CBRE, to solicit new buyer offers.

Other options offered by staff include accepting Bellows' original highest bid, or accepting Rowland's highest by deciding the "+$1,000" tactic wasn't valid.

Winter Park's city attorney advised that since the property was acquired prior to establishing the Community Redevelopment Agency and for purposes other than community redevelopment, the city doesn't have to follow the NOD process, according to staff notes. The attorney added that commissioners have the legal authority to choose any option.

"I've come this far and spent this much money, so I'll continue pursuing it," bidder Beau Rowland told GrowthSpotter on Wednesday. He'll likely attend the May 8 meeting and ask commissioners to choose his previous bid.

"I don't want to lose it now. And from a communal standpoint, I'm certain the proposal we put together with Phil (Kean Design Group) was the most attractive."

Rowland said he has invested more than $25,000 thus far in preparing his offer, which included a trip to Miami with designers to research small swimming pools above townhome garages.

Rowland's career as a general contractor has focused strictly in commercial and multifamily until the last two years, when he began pursuing infill townhome projects with Phil Kean Design Group. His company and family are supplying the equity for new residential development projects.

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Bellows, on the other hand, is insisting the city honor the sealed bid process and sell the property to his affiliate at $425,000, as recommended by staff on April 10.

His attorney Bradley Luczak sent a letter to staff on Tuesday, detailing their contention that the city solicited competitive bids twice for the property, and both times Bellows' affiliate had the highest bid and was recommended by staff, but not chosen by commissioners.

"To sell the property to anyone other than (Bellows' affiliate) WPRA under these circumstances would be arbitrary, capricious and tantamount to 'moving the goal posts' for the purpose of preventing WPRA from being the successful bidder," Luczak wrote.

To not select either of WPRA's bids "may embroil the city in a costly legal dispute," he added.

The property used to house electric utilities equipment until new David Weekley townhomes started being built around it, prompting the city to relocate its storage yard. Townhomes and single-family homes built around the property have sold for $599,000 or more.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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