Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Text of Email to Neighbors of Windermere Community Church

I wanted to thank all of you for emailing me about the Windermere Community Church application [to add independent and assisted senior living], which the Orange County Planning and Zoning Board heard last Thursday.

I considered all testimony and evidence carefully and made a motion to deny the application's transmittal for lack of consistency with the County's comprehensive plan and compatibility with the adjacent neighborhoods. My motion carried 6-1. The Planning and Zoning Board's recommendation will go to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration in the next month or so.
The ballfields, a condition in the development plan approved by Orange County in 2000, fulfilled the Church's 5% open space/civic requirement under the Horizon West Code. (Our revised Code increased the requirement to 7.5%). As I pointed out, the County's Future Land Use Element made the civic space contribution "permanent." In any event, I can't imagine a school on the church property without ballfields.

I presented information from the County's demographic study. Over the next two decades the need for senior housing to accommodate our aging population will become acute. The Lakeside Village Special Area Plan and the County's Comprehensive Plan require a mixing of uses and housing choices for all age groups.

My sense, at the end of the hearing, was that no one felt good about the discord in our community. Perhaps no one felt more pain than Pastor Matheson, who had no intention to upset the Church's neighbors.
I am hopeful that, before the Board of County Commissioners considers the application, representatives of the Church and the surrounding neighborhoods can come together and reach a consensus that: (1) preserves the ballfields and establishes a time-frame for their establishment; (2) preserves and extends a pine tree buffer between the Church property and the neighborhoods; (3) allows a reasonable amount of senior housing in a pleasing, aesthetic form that enhances our community.

I would ask those neighbors who walked door-to-door, conducted research, organized the email campaign, and otherwise took the lead, to form a committee to meet with Pastor Matheson and other Church representatives. I am asking for everyone's reasonableness and good faith.

My role with this application is officially done, but please let me know if I can assist you in any way.  I am truly appreciative for the community's very passionate interest and involvement--and wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Rick Geller

(Jan. 26, 2010 UPDATE: Windermere Community Church withdrew the application before the County Commission could act on it.  The Church indicated an intent to submit a revised application.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Florida Senate Vote Removes Last Barrier to Rail Transit

Click to enlarge

The Florida Senate's lopsided 27-10 vote yesterday removed the last barrier to rail transit in Central Florida.

If the links in the right-hand column under "Rail Transit Ridership Surging" hold true, SunRail's ridership will exceed expectations.  Estimates place ridership at about 7,500 daily passengers after completion of Phase I. One lane of I-4 during rush hour accommodates about 2,500 vehicles.

SunRail's capital cost to State and Local government--$600 million--is roughly the cost of building a freeway cloverleaf interchange. I don't recall comparable debate over constructing the 429/Florida Turnpike interchange a few years ago or any similar highway infrastructure.  We accept spending tax dollars on roads without serious question.  (UPDATE 9/21/10--The Orlando Sentinel is reporting the cost of connecting the Wekiva Parkway to I-4 is $450 million.) 

The debate over SunRail, Tri-Rail, and rail transit in general revealed a fundamental misunderstanding about transportation subsidies.  Opponents describe highway and road spending as an "investment" while describing mass transit spending as a "subsidy" for "losses." The reality is that taxpayers highly subsidize all forms of transportation. According to a research arm of the Pew Charitable Trust, at least 50% of federal highway spending is subsidized (not counting gas taxes, classified as user fees). We "lose" quite a bit on roads, even locally. A few years ago, Orange County was spending $350 million annually on road construction and maintenance. That figure was down to around $155 million the last time I checked, but still represents a large sum, and does not include the roadway spending of all Central Florida muncipalities. The cost of drive-only sprawl is not cheap.

Fiscally-conservative members of the Central Florida legislative delegation--Andy Gardiner, Eric Eisnaugle, Lee Constantine, Steve Precourt, and, last year, Dan Webster--have all supported SunRail.  SunRail is cost effective compared to acquiring right-of-way, building, and maintaining 60 miles of interstate highway lane. 

We don't have the resources to build enough roads to support demand as the decades unfold.  Between 1980-2000, vehicle miles traveled increased 76%, while highway lanes increased 1.5%.  Our drive-only sprawl patterns have resulted in the congestion that wastes more than a week of our time every year, imposes enormous hidden costs on the economy, and takes us away from our families.  Either we pursue the vision in the map above, or it gets much worse.

50 mph sign mocking drivers at a standstill on I-4.

The cost of reducing hours of delay in Orlando this decade has included the addition of lanes on the interior median of I-4, construction of the 429 and 419 beltways, re-construction of the John Young Parkway interchange, partial reconstruction of the 408/I-4 interchange, and two economic recessions.  We still spend more than a week of our lives every year sitting in congestion. 

Enormous highway capacity building projects in Central Florida cannot keep pace with demand. 

Construction of the 429 and 417 beltways have taken vehicles off Central Florida's arterial roads, helping to hold vehicle miles traveled fairly steady on arterials this decade, but at a cost to drivers in expressway tolls.  The Orlando/Orange County Expressway authority collected about $205 million in tolls for its entire system in the fiscal year ending June, 2009. 

The hidden cost of traffic congestion is over $800 million annually for the Orlando area, according to the Texas Transportation Institute's assumptions.  

Click HERE for the data underlying these charts.   

Click HERE for a MetroPlan transit vision map. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nehrling Society Purchases Historic Gotha Homestead

Congratulations to Angela Withers, Theresa Myers, and the rest of the Henry Nehrling Society on achieving an elusive goal--purchasing the Henry Nehrling homestead.  This decade-long effort demonstrated perseverence and triumph. 

Only six acres remain of the original forty--the rest lost to development.  The property and historic home's restoration becomes the Society's next goal. 

                                The Henry Nehrling Home
Click HERE to link to the Nehrling Society's webpage and click on "Play Video" to learn about the Nehrling property's historic significance.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Change Zoning Laws for Safer Roads

The Orlando Sentinel published the following op-ed:

(Click to enlarge)

Sidewalks three feet from travel lanes with cars whizzing by at highway speeds--about a half-mile from Windermere Preparatory School.

C.R. 535 in front of Windermere Preparatory School.  Posted speed: 40 mph.  Actual typical speeds: 40 - 50 mph.  No crossing walk across C.R. 535.  No wonder we don't let our kids walk to school anymore.

Our zoning laws require, or encourage development in the sprawl pattern, represented by the bottom of the diagram. All travel must go to, and concentrates on the collector or arterial road. Form-based codes can facilitate development in a more traditional, walkable form, represented by the top of the diagram.

The Orlando Sentinel published a very kind and supportive letter-to-the-editor from Marilyn Marks, on November 22, 2009:

Three cheers for Ideas that favor pedestrians

Rick Geller's down-to-earth My Word column, "Change laws for safer roads," on Tuesday was superb.

I never realized why I shudder while driving on West Colonial Drive's long, endless blocks of parking-lot fronts. It is maddening and just plain ugly.

You can forget parking at one place and attempting to walk to another store across the street. Why not consider the Miami plan, which creates better environments for the pedestrian? We should not continue to duplicate these Neanderthal-like massive concrete blocks of parking-lot frontages.

After all, this is Orlando, the City Beautiful, right?
         Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel

Friday, November 13, 2009

Metro Orlando Most Dangerous for Pedestrians in the Nation

Typical road sprawl on Colonial Drive--Economically failing and unsuitable for pedestrians

Colonial Drive--An Alternative Vision (Courtesy: Canin Associates)

The report released this week by the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership ranks Metro Orlando #1 in the nation for pedestrian danger. The report states 50% of pedestrian deaths are occurring on road sprawl. Instead of balancing the needs of motorists and pedestrians, we're engineering roads with the dimensions and encouraging the speeds of interstate highways. Click HERE to link to the report.

In its lead editorial this morning ("Walk the Walk, Nov. 13) the Orlando Sentinel correctly identifies poor planning as a culprit and suggests more vertical mixed-use development, like in Chicago and Portland, instead of sprawl development patterns.

However, our zoning laws make that illegal in many instances.

Central Florida's local governments should look to the example set by Miami last September--a comprehensive new zoning code that integrates road planning with creating attractive, pedestrian-oriented environments. Click HERE to link to Miami's new zoning code website.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Mike Thomas slams Horizon West

Horizon West Neighborhood Center Walgreen's--Cross a highway with 55 mph traffic for a tube of toothpaste? A pedestrian's daunting view.

Baldin Park CVS--A drugstore in a true New Urbanist community to which people can walk or drive. In addition to on-street parking, a parking lot is behind the building.

The Winter Garden Historic Downtown District. Unlike Horizon West so far, Downtown Winter Garden contributes a real mixed-use, New Urbanist business district in West Orange County, within safe walking distance from numerous homes. The West Orange bike trail connects Downtown Winter Garden to nearby Oakland Park, the County's first certified green residential development.

Home in Oakland Park with no garage in front. The garage is loaded from an alley, which improves the aesthetics.

Typical front-loaded garage home in Providence, Horizon West, with a very wide driveway. Providence lacks the alleys found in New Urbanist communities.

Mike Thomas's column in yesterday's Orlando Sentinel describes accurately how Horizon West strays from the principles of New Urbanism. In my view, Horizon West's problems stem from drive-only suburbanism, not walkable New Urbanism. New Urbanism's guiding principle is to establish environments for the pedestrian--not six lane arterial highways with strip shopping centers. In a comment published afterward on www.OrlandoSentinel.com, Mr. Thomas clarifies, "It is the bastardization of the original intent of New Urbanism that I'm condemning."

I'm grateful that a strong consensus has developed in Orange County Government to improve Horizon West. My fellow Planning and Zoning Board commissioners and County staff (chief of urban design Jim Ward, assistant county attorney Vivien Monaco, among others) indulged me with dozens of hours as we re-worked the ordinance to eliminate loopholes, upgrade design standards, and provide incentives for mixed-use development off the arterial roads. The County Commission unanimously approved our revised Village Code last June on a motion by Commissioner Boyd, seconded by Commissioner Fernandez.

The Planning and Zoning Board backed me unanimously, and Commissioner Boyd and his fellow commissioners followed suit, when we refused to accept Seidel Road as another typical multi-lane arterial highway, cutting off the ability of people to walk between where they live, shop, dine, and go to school.

Here's Mr. Thomas's column:

Nothing 'new' here--It's the same old sprawl

October 29, 2009

Developers have unlimited imagination when it comes to concocting real-estate scams.

Here at Horizon West, we see the latest one.

It is called "new urbanism."

Horizon West is a sprawling, fledgling 59-square-mile development in the boondocks of southwest Orange County. It should not be here.

Until a few short years ago, there was nothing here but swamps and dead citrus trees.

But the landowners got together to decide how best to get it paved. And they sold glassy-eyed county officials on ... new urbanism!

They would build self-contained, densely packed villages where residents would talk on quaint front porches, enter the garage through the back alley, and walk or bike to village centers and town centers to work and shop. No expansive yards to maintain, no ugly driveways emptying into the street.

Green paving!

And there was a precedent.

Only a few years earlier, the County Commission approved Avalon Park out in the hinterlands of east Orange County.

Only in Florida could you have new urbanism without the urban.

"I think this is extraordinarily good planning," said then-County Mayor Linda Chapin about Horizon West.

"In 20 years of experience, this is the most sophisticated planning I've seen," state planner Charlie Gauthier said at the time.

"Horizon West ... is a perfect example of how government can encourage development without encouraging urban sprawl," said our editorial board.

They were about to put 60,000 people in the middle of nowhere, all without encouraging urban sprawl.

New urbanism has become a virus that spread the illness it was supposed to cure.

This is not to say Horizon West, or at least the part of it that has been built, is hideous. It is what it is: a network of sprawling commuter subdivisions far from any urban center.

There is little mixing of homes, condos and apartments, as you see at Baldwin Park. There is no coherent whole created from a tapestry of different parts.

Residents don't walk to stores, don't walk to schools and don't walk to parks. When they go to work, they get in their cars and take their place in the long rush-hour lines.

"It has not developed into the vision we all wanted," says Rick Geller, a county Zoning Board member appointed by Commissioner Scott Boyd. "People were expecting Horizon West to look like Baldwin Park or Celebration. But instead it looks like suburban sprawl."

Like Avalon Park to the east, the homes went in at Horizon West, but the job centers did not. And so people drive to work, often long distances on the expressway. To ease the traffic jams, rural two-lane roads such as County Road 535 are being expanded into four-lane thoroughfares.

They slice the development into pieces-parts.

County ordinances require walls for developments situated on these roads.

What you have are people who live across the street from a Walgreens getting in their cars, driving to their development entrance, then driving across the street to get toothpaste.

A guiding principle of new urbanism is that you put the stores in village centers, creating easy access for residents living around them. This was done at Baldwin Park.

But the chain stores wanted to be on thoroughfares in Horizon West, and the county naturally caved in. The result is strip shopping centers and parking lots — prettier than most, but strip centers and parking lots nonetheless.

On a tour of the place, I saw a total of two people on sidewalks.

In some developments, they even left out the back alleys — a big no-no in new urbanism. Instead of quaint homes and front porches facing the street, there are lines of garage doors and wide driveways. The reason for this, of course, is that alleys take up land that developers don't want to give up.

As Geller explains, Baldwin Park was built by one developer with one plan. Horizon West has dozens of landowners, developers and builders, each looking to maximize return on investment.

Baldwin Park also has the advantage of being in the urban core, with the roads and infrastructure in place. There are no thoroughfares cutting through it.

Geller led a charge to scale back plans to widen one road. He wants curbside parking to lower speeds and make it more pedestrian-friendly. Boyd wants to move a proposed high school closer to residential areas.

It seems too little, too late. But Geller says most of the development remains to be built — including the main town center — and can be improved upon.

"If we're going to have sprawl," he says, "I'd like it to be new-urbanist sprawl."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Architecture, Not Parking Lots, Should Define Streets

At the last Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, I failed to win approval of a motion to "minimize" parking in front of a proposed 12,000 square foot, two-story professional office building on Apopka-Vineland Road. (The vote, 3-3, was technically "no action.") The applicant is proposing the new building to replace an existing one-story medical office building at the "Four Corners," just south of Conroy-Windermere Road, to continue and expand her medical practice.

We have degraded Central Florida's roads by lining them with parking lots.

The Windermere and Dr. Phillips communities opposed development at the "Four Corners" for many years. In the 1990's, the County Commission approved development along with expanding the intersecting roads to four lanes to support it. The concession to the community was a "Community Village Center" ordinance. The ordinance required "pedestrian oriented" development with a "streetscape" that would have "definition." The ordinance required development that would have a "sense of place."

I have never seen a parking lot with a "sense of place." A streetscape requiring "definition" needs architectural definition in addition to landscaping. We lose architectural definition by moving buildings far from our roads.

A huge parking lot in front of a building is not, by any stretch, "pedestrian oriented." Most people will not walk more than a 1/4 mile before opting for their cars. When we set back development 1/8 of a mile or more from the sidewalk, we make walking less convenient and encourage automobile travel, even by those who live in the subdivision next door. This development pattern unnecessarily adds to automobile congestion.

A professional office building, Perkins, and a CVS hide much, but not all of the parking on the northeast side of the Four Corners intersection. At the southeast corner, the stunning Tavistock Financial Center hides parking below and behind the building. Tavistock has set the correct example.

Tavistock Financial Center--No parking lot in front--Across from the proposed professional medical office building on Apopka-Vineland Road

Unicorp learned from the aesthetic mistake of placing huge parking lots along Sand Lake Road. Unicorp's most spectacular development to date, Dellagio, hides parking below and behind the buildings.

Dellagio. Sand Lake Road is to the right.

View of Sand Lake Road toward Plaza Venezia. Parking lot placement in front of buildings is an aesthetic error.

Celebration and Baldwin Park internalize their parking in the middle of blocks, which allows for on-street parking to buffer pedestrians.

Aerial View of Celebration Town Center. Buildings brought close to the street hide parking lots.

Aerial view of Baldwin Park. Buildings hide parking lots, in the middle of blocks.

Street-level view of Post Lake Apartments in Baldwin Park. Notice the parking lot hidden by the building at the far left.

Grocery stores and big box stores, where numerous customers make large, bulky purchases, can justify parking lots in front. But even in those instances, like the Baldwin Park Publix, developers should plan for future buildings to hide much of the parking lot. Another possibility: corner entrances can disperse parking at half the depth on two sides of the building, like at the Publix in Watercolor, Florida, in the Panhandle. One side can have a pedestrian orientation--ideally with small businesses wrapping an otherwise empty wall. The pedestrian side can connect to a residential area.

Watercolor, Florida Publix--Entrance at the corner to disperse parking on two sides.

The application for the 12,000 square foot Four Corners professional office building goes to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration in October. Section 38-1476 of the Orange County Code requires five parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of office use. Sixty more parking spaces lining Apopka-Vineland Road is too much. The County should insist on a parking lot to the building's side and rear, with perhaps a limited amount of parking in front for medical emergencies.

I agree with the Commissioners who did not support my motion, who took the principled position that we should amend the ordinance Countywide for uniformity. The more predictability we give developers and the community, the better for everyone.

Monday, August 31, 2009

JCC Grand Opening Draws Hundreds

District 1 Commissioner Scott Boyd addressing the crowd at the JCC Grand Opening ceremony. He paid special tribute to Harris Rosen for his philanthropic efforts on behalf of the entire community.

Rick with Melissa and Caroline at the Grand Opening ceremony.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New JCC Opens in Dr. Phillips

Friends--The Jack and Lee Rosen Campus JCC had a "soft-opening" in early August. The architecture, designed by Helman Hurley's Mike Chatham, is iconic. At 34,000 square feet, it's larger than I ever advocated, and the inside is nicer than I ever imagined. Harris Rosen and his construction superintendent, Daniel Guttierez, made sure it got done right.

The gym floor "floats," cushioning shock on the knees. Above you'll find a photo of probably the first-ever documented basketball game at the new JCC, within hours of the doors opening. Having grown-up shooting baskets at the old JCC in Cincinnati, it was wonderful to see the kids running out there and grabbing basketballs.

The JCC's crown jewel--and the reason I became fundraising co-chair with Val Denner in 2003--is the award-winning preschool. No longer housed in trailers, our smallest children now have a school facility worthy of the community. Special thanks to the Dr. Phillips Foundation for the infant and toddler rooms.

The Darden Food Pantry will help families of all faiths who find themselves in short-term, urgent need, as a result of illness, divorce, job loss, or other unexpected event. Special thanks to Patty DeYoung and the board of directors of the Darden Foundation.

The JCC is open to the entire community.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

P & Z: Make Seidel Road Pedestrian-Oriented

ORLANDO, July 16 -- The Orange County Planning & Zoning Board unanimously rejected plans to turn Seidel Road into a 110 foot-wide, high-speed arterial highway slicing through Horizon West Village F, east of S.R. 429. The Horizon West Code requires roads that "encourage" pedestrian use.

"The arterial roadway plan was not consistent or compatible with the Code and the comprehensive land use plan," said District 1 Planning & Zoning Commissioner Rick Geller. "No one in their right mind would let their kids cross, or themselves cross this roadway" on foot.

The design featured 11 foot lanes plus a foot of curb--the width of an interstate highway lane. Pedestrians would cross four high-speed travel lanes plus two turning lanes, totaling over 70 feet of pavement. Traffic engineers were contemplating 45 mph traffic.

"This design will induce traffic," Geller said. The proposed roadway would "create hundreds of [traffic] trips" by requiring residents in high density apartments and condominiums to get into their cars merely "to go across the street to go shopping." He said it would also require students to use automobiles to go across the street from the future Horizon West high school in order to visit the Neighborhood Center commercial district and park.

"I'm afraid we're making the same mistake we made on [County Road] 535," said Geller, where eight lanes of 55 mph traffic create a barrier between high density apartments and condominiums on one side of the road, and the future Lakeside Village commercial Center, on the other.

Arterial highway separating apartments on C.R. 535 in Horizon West from the future Village Center commercial district. This road design induces traffic by requiring residents to use their cars merely to travel across the street.

Renzo Nastasi, Orange County's director of transportation planning, said the 110 foot wide design was ten feet less than standard arterial roadways, including 535 and Apopka-Vineland Road.

"It's not good enough," said District 6 Commissioner Sheila White.

"There are more things we can do," said Nastasi.

Geller criticized the lack of on-street parking in front of the commercial Village Center located on Seidel Road. He pointed to Village Code provisions requiring on-street parking in front of ground-floor retail located close to the road. Geller said on-street parking is essential for buffering pedestrians and cafe patrons.

After the hearing, Geller noted that, under the Horizon West Code, on-street parking counts towards parking requirements and that developers would merely shift parking from parking lots located behind commercial buildings to the street.

Geller proposed consideration of boulevard designs, where medians on both sides of the road separate higher-speed through traffic from low-speed local traffic with on-street parking.

"I'd like to see that for future roads," said District 3 Commissioner Joe Roberts.

Vice Chair Kevin Seraaj said similar boulevards in Chicago, where he grew up, were both safe for pedestrians to cross and moved traffic.

Octavia Boulevard replaced an elevated freeway in San Francisco.

Jergan Duncan, a transportation planner with Canin Associates, informed Geller after the hearing that, according to the Federal Highway Administration, vehicles hitting pedestrians at 30 mph will cause death 45% of the time. The figure climbs to 85% of the time when vehicles travel at 40 mph. Duncan said decreasing the speed from 40 mph to 30 mph over the course of a mile lengthens travel time by only thirty seconds.

Source: Congress for New Urbanism, Emergency Response and Street Design (June 2009), available at: http://www.cnu.org/sites/www.cnu.org/files/CNUEmergency%20Response_FINAL.pdf.

Aside from making Seidel Road slower and safer, Geller said the landowners and developers will save considerable sums in paving costs if the street lanes decrease to 10 feet in width.

A land planner for a significant Central Florida developer, who observed the hearing, summarized, "The road did not fit the context."

The Planning & Zoning Board unanimously approved the Village F's rezoning to Planned Development except for Seidel Road's design. The Board approved a condition to re-engineer Seidel Road as pedestrian-oriented, with 30 mph traffic. The recommendation goes to the Board of County Commissioners for approval.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Re-Imagining Our Roads

The Orlando Sentinel published the following op-ed:

(click to enlarge)

West Colonial Drive near Kirkman--typical arterial road sprawl.

Village at Lake Lilly Apartments, Maitland, Florida

9th of July Avenue--Note the low speed lanes on the side for local traffic. Even the billboards blend into the built environment. "We don't need Buenos Aires' scale, but we do need vertical mixed use buildings..."

Buenos Aires street life--Parked cars buffer pedestrians and cafe patrons

Charles de Gaulle Avenue in Paris. Again, medians separate lanes for slower, local traffic. Boulevards like this one inspired 9th of July Avenue.

Here's an interesting video about multi-way boulevards constructed in San Francisco after the City tore down elevated freeways:

San Francisco: Removal of the Embarcadero Freeway from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

County Commission Unanimously Passes Horizon West Code

ORLANDO, June 2 - The Orange County Commission unanimously approved sweeping revisions to the Horizon West Village Code. The Commissioners adopted the ordinance 7-0 on a motion by Commissioner Scott Boyd, seconded by Commissioner Mildred Fernandez.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Rick Geller spoke in favor of adoption. Afterwards, Geller said, "This ordinance will hopefully make it possible for Horizon West to look more like Baldwin Park and less like suburban sprawl."
The new Village Code contains new provisions intended to improve the architecture and layout of Horizon West neighborhoods. The Code closed a loophole allowing front-loaded garages with little setback.

The new code does not increase residential density, which was set by Special Area Plans, some adopted in the late 1990s. The new Code reduces Neighborhood Center business districts from four to two acres. Mixed use development, with dwellings over retail is encouraged.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

County Commission Votes 7-0 to Move Magic Gym

ORLANDO, April 29--The Orange County Commissioners voted 7-0 on a motion by District 1 Commissioner Scott Boyd to begin negotiations with the City of Winter Garden to relocate the Orlando Magic Gym.

The City of Winter Garden committed to paying $900,000 for site preparation. This will save Orange County taxpayers at least $1 million, including $100,000 needed to remediate lead at the Dr. Phillips site, formerly a gun club. Dr. Phillips leader Robert Kelly spoke of the community's desire not to host the Magic Gym in a single family residential neighborhood.

Orange County Parks official Matt Sudemeyer recommended the Winter Garden location. The Winter Garden location is near the 429 beltway, making it accessible to a larger portion of West Orange County. Officials expect the Winter Garden location to serve more children, in nearby lower income neighborhoods, who otherwise do not have regular access to YMCA-type facilities.

The County and City will negotiate a joint use agreement.

Rick Geller's comments: This is a win-win for Dr. Phillips, Winter Garden, and Commissioner Boyd, who is making it happen.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Horizon West Code On Way to Commission

Classic Summerport Home--no garage in front

ORLANDO, April 18 - Orange County's Planning and Zoning Board unanimously approved sweeping changes to the Horizon West Code in an attempt to steer development back to the original vision. The County Commission will consider the new Code for final adoption.

Instead of development along the lines of that seen in Baldwin Park, Avalon Park, or Celebration, development in Horizon West has mostly followed the suburban sprawl model, with isolated single-uses, according to District 1 Planning and Zoning Commissioner Rick Geller. "Development has taken on some characteristics of New Urbanism--small lots for example--but without enough mixing of uses."

The new Code provides incentives to developers and builders to: (1) construct a small corner general store in neighborhood centers to lessen traffic outside of neighborhoods; (2) serve more homes with alleys or side-entry garages to lessen the number of front-entry garages; and (3) dress up stormwater retention ponds with trees, pathways, park benches, reflecting pools, and other amenities.

Entrance to Independence

The new Code encourages the mixing of uses--with apartments over offices and retail, like that seen in Avalon Park.

Mixing uses creates character--Avalon Park apartments over retail

One of the more disappointing aspects of Horizon West has been suburban-style, single-use apartment sprawl, said Geller. The new Code brings apartment buildings to the street in block formations, with parking both on-street and hidden behind buildings, like in the Baldwin Park Town Center, with more architectural variety.

Apartment sprawl in Horizon West

"Post Properties REIT did it right in Baldwin Park," said Geller. "Seventeen buildings scattered about the Town Center, none looking the same."

Post Lake Apartments at Baldwin Park -- 17 Scattered Buildings with Different Architecture

The County faced economic pressures to place neighborhood commercial areas on the arterial roadways, instead of in the center of neighborhoods. The result, according to Geller, is a less walkable neighorhood. "No one will walk a half-mile from the Altis Apartments along C.R. 535 to the Subway up by Chase Road," said Geller. "We need to do a better job of locating commercial uses where they're in easy walking distance from where people live, in an attractive Main Street setting, and not across a highways."

Baldwin Park Town Center--pedestrian oriented and within walking distance of numerous homes, condominiums, and apartments, including those on the top floors

Lake Burden Neighborhood Center in Horizon West--isolated by wetlands and eight lanes of highway

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dr. Phillips Community Doesn't Want Magic Gym

A Magic Gym is Planned for Our Park - Who’s Idea Was That ?
By Robert Kelly

Somehow the County did not understand when your HOA board and the Southern Dr. Phillips Homeowners Coalition told Teresa Jacobs (our County Commissioner from 2000-2008) that we did not want the gift of a free Magic Gymnasium in our Dr. P. Phillips Community Park.

Commissioner Jacobs acknowledged our decision and said she had a needy West Orange County location instead. Other plans had been discussed by us from the beginning for Phase 2 of the park, such as boardwalks, trails, health circuits in keeping with its natural habitat and buffer with the surrounding neighborhoods. Since she vacated her seat, Scott Boyd, the new Commissioner, was reminded when he asked us the same question. But the Parks & Recreation Department has already been spent money to survey our park and intends to build this gym.

The Magic Gym will be over 24,000 square feet, with 100+ parking slots and two bus spots. This is similar in size to the Dr. Phillips YMCA. The building will contain a full court basketball and volleyball gym, a weight room, two activity rooms, a game room and locker rooms. The facility will be open later than the current park closing hours, and will host many functions such as competitive and recreation basketball leagues, volleyball, teen dances, health classes, teen center, after school camps, and summer camps and other activities for all west Orange County residents. When we asked why here, when we have the Dr. Phillips YMCA and the new JCC opening a mile south, we were told the Parks Department needed to pick a site that they owned. So, why this one? We are not in need of such a facility. Other parts of Orange County are more deserving.

Parks Department offered another strange justification in their interpretation of a flawed survey that convinced the Parks Department that we wanted that Magic gym. Do you remember the Dr. P. Phillips Community Park Phase 2 survey in late 2007? It never asked if we wanted that Magic Gym. Instead it asked about boardwalk, trails, restrooms, picnic pavilions, fitness course, multi-purpose center, recreation programs, meeting rooms, lockers. The 12 options offered in the survey never included a volleyball or basketball gym. The write-in answers are more telling. Out of 1,128 surveys, only 8 asked for basketball (2 said NO basketball) and 6 mentioned volleyball! With no gym mentioned on the survey or the write-in responses, how could they assume we wanted it? And they never told us we were getting what they thought we wanted. So the story and the survey is flawed.

Out of 1,128 surveys, only 8 asked for basketball

The Magic Gym is an unwelcome hazard to us in the form of continuous day long traffic load, surge traffic at late hours for the sports and teen functions, and the additional cars and pedestrians roaming around our streets and hanging around the path to Sand Lake Point and Sand Lake Cove. The users will be from all over Orange County, Osceola County and tourists. We believe this gym will not be an asset to our community but rather it will be a nuisance and risk.

But we have learned that Winter Garden has the land, public need, and the desire to host this center on a suitable site in a commercial area. We are attempting to steer the gym in that direction.

This HOA has spent hundreds of hours keeping tourist activities and commercial land use away from our homes. We DO NOT want to accept a night time sports and teen facility inside our quiet neighborhood. It is incompatible because the Dr. P. Phillips Park is a "Community Park" designed for the local Dr. Phillips residents, and NOT a Super Regional Park that a Magic Gym would make it. Our Neighborhood already hosts the school, park and soon another 500 new homes along the one two lane 25 mph boulevard.

Say NO THANK YOU to a Magic Gym. Keep the Dr. P. Phillips Community Park a community park as originally promised and DO NOT turn it into a Magic Gym park.

Robert Kelly

President, Buena Vista Woods Homeowners Association

Rick Geller's Comments:

The Orlando Magic is a great organization and will, no doubt, build a first-rate facility. I would like to see the Gym located where the community welcomes it, and where it can serve children who might not otherwise have regular access to a YMCA or a JCC. The Dr. Phillips Community Park site is contaminated with lead, which will reportedly require $100,000 in remediation expense by Orange County taxpayers.
A 24,000 square foot commercial building does not fit the context of a residential neighborhood with 2,500 square foot homes. Therefore, I question the site location, in direct view of homes in Sand Lake Cove and Diamond Cove, without any natural tree buffer.

The City of Winter Garden has long sought this facility. The Orange County Parks Division should suspend the request for construction bids, due in late March, and reconsider whether the Dr. Phillips Community Park location is, in fact, the most appropriate.