Editorial: What might be built on town land in Winter Park?
October 22, 2013
Development plans are percolating in the town of Winter Park centered on town-owned property on the northern end of downtown, known as the Sitzmark Properties.
A public meeting to unveil possibilities for those properties is taking place at 10 a.m. to noon, this Friday, Oct. 25, and is an opportunity for the general public to hear options concerning commercial development in that area of town.
Public input will be useful to refine those plans, and the town council aims to discuss a preferred option for that property at a 5:30 p.m., Nov. 5, town council meeting.
The town has held several meetings on this subject, discussions during public council meetings, some with planning commission members present.
Yet five council members were present at one particular workshop on this subject, and the Sky-Hi News has learned from sources — meeting attendees who say they checked for postings — that the meeting was not posted for the public to attend.
The Town of Winter Park denies this, claiming it was posted near the front door of town hall.
A few of these meetings were invitation-only. Key stakeholders were invited to attend meetings, in which town council members stayed below a quorum threshold. Town officials say the reason for these invitation-only meetings was to obtain "targeted feedback."
The Sky-Hi News attempted to attend one such meeting and was denied access.
In the spirit of the state's open meetings laws, this falls short.
We see this potential Winter Park downtown development — initiated by the town, on town property — as having great public interest.
It is poised to be a significant addition to the downtown for all those who work, live and play in Winter Park.
But any time public bodies conduct business — no matter how well intentioned that business might be in planning for the future of a town — in what is perceived to be a secretive environment, it creates distrust among members of the constituency.
The Open Meetings, or "Sunshine Laws," of this state exist to ensure matters of importance to the public are discussed in the open.
Any government body that attempts to skirt those laws undermines our democratic system of governance.
We remind the town of Winter Park and all elected officials who serve on public boards in this county that transparency is key to gaining a healthy exchange of ideas on public matters.
Always follow the letter — and spirit — of the Sunshine Laws to ensure this happens.