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Winter Park to examine its 420 acres of city property for sale, development

Winter Park's City Hall building, located in the city's downtown on Park Avenue.
Winter Park's City Hall building, located in the city's downtown on Park Avenue. (George Skene / Orlando Sentinel)

Winter Park is taking a fresh look at its 420 acres of city-owned property, updating a master plan last touched in 2013 to determine what land it wants to continue owning, what to sell off, what it should develop and what new property it may want to acquire.

City Commissioners asked staff on March 28 to refresh a list of more than 150 city-owned parcels. Staff have updated the city's master plan for those properties, and highlighted privately-owned parcels that may be strategic choices for future acquisition.

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Commissioners will review that list for the first time on Monday. While this draft covers many properties, staff say the most pressing to decide on are the future of the existing Winter Park Public Library, Progress Point and properties adjacent to City Hall.

"Commissioners could take action as soon as Monday on specific parcels, but they likely won't adopt the whole master plan after just one meeting," city manager Randy Knight told GrowthSpotter on Thursday. "The most important to talk about is the library. If they sell that property, they could use some of those proceeds toward issuing less debt for the (new library) project."

Commissioners will be asked to choose an option for each property in the coming months to finalize the master plan for city-owned properties.

CITY HALL (401 S. Park Ave.)
The 2.8-acre parcel is home to Winter Park's 28,967-square-foot city hall building, which houses 12 or more departments of city government.

The current building space is adequate to meet today's needs and those projected for the future, per the staff report, but a plethora of options exist for the expansion or redevelopment of this property in the heart of downtown.

Highlighted in blue is the 2.8-acre Winter Park City Hall property, on the corner of Comstock and Park avenues.
Highlighted in blue is the 2.8-acre Winter Park City Hall property, on the corner of Comstock and Park avenues. (Orange County Property Appraiser)

Potential new options pitched by staff: 
-- Move City Hall to another location and sell the downtown property. This has been discussed in the past and rejected by commissioners, who felt City Hall should remain on Winter Park's "main street" of Park Avenue. With the city's public library relocation now approved, one option would be to move City Hall to the existing library location.

-- Build a new stand-alone City Hall on the existing site, which would likely require another referendum.

-- Build a parking garage behind City Hall, and/or in conjunction with the building of a new City Hall, to provide additional public parking for downtown. This could be easier if the city acquires additional properties behind City Hall.

The city's latest parking study from two years ago identified a parking shortage downtown of up to 300 spaces at peak times, Knight said. Since then about 70 new ground-level spaces have been added, but there's still a perception by staff of a 200-space shortfall downtown.

Staff recommend that commissioners explore the concept of moving City Hall to the existing library site. That library building could be analyzed to determine it if can be retrofitted to accommodate City Hall. A new building could be explored as well, with proceeds from the sale of Park Avenue's City Hall site and other properties used to fund the new construction.

"There's a part of me that thinks it's a good move to put City Hall at the library site, and for the city hall building to become retail on the first floor that furthers the retail experience as you walk Park Avenue," Knight said. Demolition would be permitted on that site if its ownership ever changed hands, with up to three stories of redevelopment permissable.

WINTER PARK PUBLIC LIBRARY (460 E. New England Ave.)
The 1.7-acre property features a three-story, 32,980-square-foot building today with what staff describes as a fairly new HVAC system and energy-efficient lighting.

In mid-March, city residents voted to pass a referendum to build a new $30 million library, events center and parking garage at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.

The Winter Park Public Library.
The Winter Park Public Library. (Orlando Sentinel)

City staff say options include selling or ground leasing the property (could require rezoning from current R-4), leasing the existing building, or explore moving other city functions to the site.

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Their recommendation is rooted in the City Hall relocation idea. If that option proves unattractive, market the site for sale or lease.

PROGRESS POINT (1150 N. Orange Ave., and 1211, 1241, 1242 & 1210 Palmetto Ave.)
These 3.76 acres are occupied by buildings of 17,833 and 6,125 square feet.

The land was acquired by Winter Park in 2011 through a property swap with a CNL Commercial Real Estate affiliate. The city never developed the land or found a buyer until it issued a "notice of disposal" in early 2015.

The city was offered $4.5 million last year by ROC Seniors Housing Fund Manager, slightly above its appraised value, with ROC Seniors proposing an upscale assisted living facility and retail/dining component, as GrowthSpotter reported in September. The city debated that appraisal value last year, and the offer was withdrawn.

The focal point of the Progress Point property, 1150 N. Orange Ave., is noted in the map above.
The focal point of the Progress Point property, 1150 N. Orange Ave., is noted in the map above. (Winter Park)

Staff are recommending a survey of property owners along Orange Avenue for potential users of a future parking garage on the site. The survey can help determine demand, the preliminary cost for a garage, how much area merchants would contribute and what other development could happen on the site.

Staff could prepare and mail those surveys within a month if approved. This step would help the city determine how much of the property can be entitled for future sale.

Another consideration is to relocate Palmetto Avenue rather than vacate the right-of-way. This would include costs to relocate utilities, and impacts on surrounding property owners. Relocating Palmetto is the best real estate solution because of makes Progress Point a slightly larger site.

Staff also recommend considering various entitlements on the property. Concerns were raised last year about accepting a project that needed to be entitled. Staff say commissioners should decide on a development plan and make the necessary changes to the Future Land Use Map and Zoning map if needed, prior to any advertisement or sale. That process should start by looking at preliminary traffic analysis for various use scenarios, to determine impacts on Orange Avenue.

"Progress Point is another one we want to get moving on in the short term," Knight said. "I think (commissioners) will direct us to work on the entitlement process and get that on the market by the end of the year."

Once the commission decides on entitlements, staff would recommend hiring a commercial real estate broker to market the land. That hiring can be made at any point in the process.

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BLAKE YARD (301 W. Comstock Ave.)
This 0.45-acre parcel lies at the dead end of W. Comstock Avenue, zoned PQP and surrounded by residential properties.

A neighboring owner, Forest G. Michael of Michael Planning of Florida, has proposed the property be converted to a garden-oriented park, dubbed the Hannibal Market Garden. At least 13 homeowners contiguous to the parcel are in support of the communal garden, he said.

"We don't want this upzoned to residential, we wnat it to maintain its public status for the neighborhood," Michael told GrowthSpotter. "We think its time residents got together and make improvements to our part of the neighborhood. This community garden can be a place to recreate on public land."

Potential options staff have highlighted include converting this to a public parking lot to support area businesses and the Winter Park Farmers' Market, though staff concede this wouldn't be popular with adjacent residents.

The city could also sell the property, use as a neighborhood park, or approve one of Forest Michael's plans, staff wrote in their draft report. Staff have recommended marketing the site for sale.

NORTHWEST SPORTS COMPLEX (1938 Durham Ave.)
This 14.17-acre property was once used as a tree farm by the city, and is now identified in the Parks Master Plan as a future sports complex. Development for that sports use is in the five-year Capital Improvements Plan for 2019.

The property is surrounded by residential, with access currently off Durham Avenue. The city has talked with the Winter Park Housing Authority about swapping properties, and building a new housing authority complex on this site, with future athletic fields moved to Housing Authority land.

That concept has stalled at the moment due to issues on the Housing Authority end but could resurface, staff wrote. Potential options for this site include staying with the current use as a natural area, selling the property for residential use, or sticking with the five-year CIP plan (with staff recommending the latter).

OLD SWOOPE WATER PLANT SITE (631 N. New York Ave.)
This 0.99-acre parcel was a former water plant site, and offers little visibility from New York Avenue.

The property is surrounded by an office building, parking lot and railroad tracks, and the city golf course's 7th hole. The Golf Course Task Force has proposed using the property as a golf training facility.

Potential options include continuing its current use as a miscellaneous storage site by the city, marketing it for sale, or holding the property until deciding on any potential use associated with the golf course (with staff recommending the latter).

2600 LEE ROAD
This 0.45-acre site was bought by the city in January 2015 for $990,000, with the former adult entertainment building on it since demolished. It has been posted for sale by the city since acquisition, but has not sold.

Potential options include continued marketing of the site by city staff, or hiring a broker to list the property

FORMER BOWLING ALLEY (1111 W. Fairbanks Ave.)
The city is in the process of acquiring this 1.63-acre property for a projected $2.9 million, with closing scheduled for May 17.

It features 250 feet of frontage on Fairbanks Avenue. The city is acquiring this in part to improve traffic flow on Fairbanks by dedicating at least 22 feet to the Fairbanks right-of-way.

To make a significant traffic difference, more ROW must be acquired by the Florida Department of Transportation or the city in the future from properties to the east, staff wrote.

Options for this site include dedicating that 22 feet of frontage for future expansion of Fairbanks Avenue, then use the remaining 1.5 acres to expand MLK, Jr. Park, or market that remainder for commercial use.

Staff recommend completing the MLK, Jr. Park Master Plan in coordination with the new library, event center and parking garage design, then deciding on this property's future.

POTENTIAL ACQUISITION TARGETS
City staff compiled a conceptual list of the following properties that could make sense for a future municipal purpose, but Winter Park has not attempted to negotiate with any of these property owners. The following are offered just for discussion:

U.S. Post Office (300 N. New York Ave.)
The two-acre site adjacent to Central Park was identified in the past by the City Commission as a potential site to expand the park, or for another municipal use. The city has sought a right of first refusal on the property, but to date that hasn't been secured.

The U.S. Postal Service has told the city it would provide first notice if the property is put up for sale, staff wrote. The city had a tentative deal previously to acquire the property, but USPS would require Winter Park to build a new distribution facility and a new retail space in exchange, at an estimated cost of $6 million or more to the city.

City commissioners declined that deal, believing the property may become available in the future as USPS consolidates operations.

Property west of Public Safety Building (501 N. Virginia Avenue)
This 1.7-acre site is adjacent to the Public Safety Building, and has been discussed as a logical location for some back-of-house City Hall functions, which if pursued would create a municipal complex. The site is currently owned by HWP Partners LLLP, an entity registered with attorney Frank A. Hamner P.A. of Winter Park, with officers Juliette A. Holler and Roger W. Holler III, family behind Holler-Classic Automotive Group of Winter Park.

Properties behind City Hall (183-219 W. Comstock Ave.)
Five parcels totaling 0.52 acres are the only remaining parts of the City Hall block downtown that the city doesn't own. If Winter Park wants to redevelop this block and include a parking garage, it would be beneficial, but not mandatory, to own the whole block, city staff wrote.

Leila Trismen, owner of three of the five parcels, has submitted an application to demolish the buildings, and has plans to build an office building on the site, staff reported. The other two properties are owned by Immos Oviedo LC, and W.E. and Jimmie W. Winderweedle.

901-1071 W. Fairbanks Avenue
These eight parcels with eight separate owners all abut MLK, Jr. Park.

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Like with the city-owned parcel at 1111 W. Fairbanks, the dedication of 22 feet of frontage from these properties would allow a dedicated turn lane along Fairbanks Avenue, but buildings on some of these lots are too close to the road to avoid demolition, if that ROW was granted.

Acquiring all these properties would allow MLK, Jr. Park to be expanded all the way to Fairbanks, provide the ROW needed for a dedicated turn lane, and square off the former bowling alley block, staff highlighted in their report.

Howell Creek Properties (2981 Lolissa Lane, and three parcels on Temple Trail)
These 43.41 acres (outlined in green below) are all owned by JBC Land LLC, are primarily wetlands and not buildable.

Outlined in green are the 43.41 acres of interest along Howell Creek.
Outlined in green are the 43.41 acres of interest along Howell Creek. (Winter Park)

Owning the property would give the city roughly 4,600 linear feet along Howell Creek, from Howell Branch Road to Lake Waumpi, and allow the city to obtain open space within a unique linear expanse of natural wetland, staff wrote.

Winter Park is currently having the property appraised, and is working with the state to secure funding for the acquisition, according to the staff report.

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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