Local developer and property manager Battaglia Group is putting plans on hold for a three-story Class A office and retail building in Downtown Winter Park, after city commissioners voted not to approve the project Monday night despite staff's endorsement of a Developer Agreement.
It means for the foreseeable future, Winter Park won't be adding 34,411 gross square feet of Class A office space in the highest priced office submarket of Greater Orlando, or a new upscale Spanish tapas concept in Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant, which Battaglia had signed for one of two ground-floor dining spaces.
Located at 158 E. New England Ave., the 0.61-acre parcel is currently a city-managed surface parking lot, and lies east of the intersection with S. Park Avenue, behind the corner Peterbrooke Chocolatier.
Battaglia Group owns the site, and produced initial designs for a 52,600-square-foot building early last year, first reported here in April 2016.
Several variance requests were made, including a building height of 45 feet in lieu of C-2 zoning's maximum 40 feet. But the sticking point for commissioners was the building's shortfall on required parking, and their unacceptance of a parking solution using Battaglia's private Bank of America garage directly across the street.
"We worked with staff and the city's attorney to establish a Developer Agreement that detailed all the provisions of managing, sharing and validation of parking, ... but unfortunately the commissioners weren't of the mind to approve a project that included any kind of parking variance," Battaglia Group Management COO Daniel Butts told GrowthSpotter.
"Parking is such a hot button issue right now for Winter Park's Central Business District, the (commissioners) are just hesitant to proceed with a project of our scale until they get more comfortable with the overall parking issue."
Commissioners indicated that results in August of a new Kimley-Horn and Associates' study on Downtown Winter Park's parking solutions could provide the evidence they need to accept Battaglia's variance request, and approve the project.
"We're not happy, but won't make this a battle," Butts said. "We'll take a step back and reevaluate if we continue to work with staff and wait for the (Kimley-Horn) results, or analyze if there's other uses for the property that would create a similar value. Fortunately we don't have to do anything now, and have some momentum on leasing for this project."
The crux of the argument are outdated requirements in Winter Park's city code that overestimate parking needs for office buildings, which don't distinguish between urban and suburban, single- or mixed-use buildings, and shared-space districts like Park Avenue.
City staff recommended approval of Battaglia's variance request to use a parking ratio of three spaces per 1,000 square feet for the office/retail space, versus current code of four per 1,000 square feet.
Battaglia's new building would have 54 parking spaces in an underground level, with additional parking to be provided across New England Avenue in the Bank of America parking garage, which Battaglia Group owns and has significant unused capacity.
VHB's study showed that the 278-space parking garage had between 119 and 151 spaces open during the daytime, on average. VHB demonstrated in its report how office users would occupy a certain number of spaces during weekday business hours, while retail and restaurant patrons would fill those same spaces on evenings and weekends.
"We have almost half our garage next door that's vacant," Butts said. "We'll see what Kimley-Horn says about the code, hopefully that is should be broadened, and in certain areas code requirements should be reduced for shared-use environments like the CBD."
Battaglia proposed that every restaurant customer would have to utilize valet parking, and rules for that valet operator solely parking in the garage would be part of the Developer Agreement. That deal would also have enforceable requirements that Battaglia only lease to office tenants with staff that met its parking limits.
The building's space would have brought an estimated 120 Class A office professionals to the Park Avenue submarket, which is commanding office lease rates near $40 per square foot, the highest in Greater Orlando.
The lease agreement with BarTeca, parent company of Barcelona Wine Bar, is still in place with the option for either party to walk away, Butts said. The prospective tenant was still on board as of Tuesday, "they have some patience," he added.