Winter Park workforce housing project back on track
After an initial setback, Winter Park’s Fireside Creek workforce housing project is moving forward thanks to approval of a variance for the lot coverage.
On Tuesday, the Board of Adjustment approved a variance for the project to allow for 56% coverage on the lot, specifically to allow for uncovered parking, since the zoning for the lot restricts coverage to 40%. Discussion and public comment on the variance took place over two meetings, with the first on May 11.
“I think the town and the developer have met the obligations for this variance and that the additional spaces will not alter the neighborhood and allow for a good development,” Brad Holzwarth, chair of the board, said.
Winter Park Partners, the developers of Fireside Creek, told the board that they were asking for the variance to keep the project financially feasible, since covered parking would cost eight to 10 times as much as per space as uncovered parking.
In addition, the developers want to make sure there is enough parking for the residents so as to minimize street parking. With the variance, the project would have a total of 70 spaces, which is more than the required amount.
“The current site plan was settled on based on the awkward lot configuration, vehicular circulation, as well as turning radius and movements for trash and emergency vehicles,” Jim Potter, a Winter Park Partners representative said.
Surrounding neighbors of the project lobbied heavily for the variance to fail, citing concerns about increased traffic and changing the character of the neighborhood. Neighbors had previously defeated a height variance for the project, which shrunk the total number of units at the development from 66 to 50.
John Thompson, president of the Wolf Park Townhomes Homeowners Association, told the board that he believes the project would change the character of the neighborhood because of the strip style parking and density of the buildings.
“We do oppose the over development of this site,” Thompson said. “Fireside Creek is not going to solve our workforce housing problem with one swift project. Attempting to increase the density significantly beyond what this unique and challenging site can reasonably support … seems very short-sided to me.”
However, local business owners, longtime residents and other neighbors showed up to support the project and the variance. Many business owners shared their recent challenges hiring and keeping staff because of the lack of affordable housing.
Others argued the project was important to maintain the character of the town by allowing employees to live where they work.
“Essential character is subjective, but to me, essential is the key word and nothing could be more essential than affordable housing,” Ryan Barwick, owner of Grand Adventures and Mad Adventures, said. “I implore you to approve this request to meet the demands and needs of your constituents.”
Ultimately, the board agreed and none of the five deciding members spoke against the lot coverage variance.
Winter Park Town Manager Keith Riesberg said the next steps will be taking a resolution to the town council that will likely increase the town’s financial contribution to the project so that it can move forward with capping rents at 120% Area Median Income.
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Winter Park approved an across-the-board raise for town staff that had initially been paused due to the coronavirus pandemic’s expected impact on the budget.