Planning and Zoning Board: Winter Park, FL
This past week I went to a Planning and Zoning Board meeting at the City Hall for the town of Winter Park, where Rollins College is located. The purpose of this board is to review buildings, zoning, and plans that would impact the Winter Park community. After the public hearings, the board makes a recommendation to the city council who will have the final say in whether or not the resolutions pass. In this particular hearing, the board was deciding on two separate issues. One centered around changing the zoning of a particular business in a residential area to include more parking. The second was another motion to rezone, but this time it was for a cemetary. As it currently stands, the cemetery is zoned as parks and recreation land. The cemetery wishes to expand their services to hold funerals and wakes by adding on to the building that is presently on site. This would require a rezoning the property to commercial land.
There are eight board members on the Planning and Zoning Board in Winter Park. Three of them are women and five are men (one of the men on the board is the chair of the committee). All eight of the members are white. This is highly unrepresentative of the larger Winter Park community. Winter Park is 76.8% white, 7.9% black, and 9.3% hispanic or latinx (Neighborhood Scout). Although this community is predominately white, one would expect to see at least one individual of color serving on the board. Because zoning disproportionately affects racial minorities by through “exclusion … and intensive expulsive effects, resulting from zoning’s targeting of minority residential neighborhoods for commercial and industrial development” it is concerning that there is not more diversity on the board to represent all of the demographics in Winter Park (Whittemore). This is especially worrisome in Winter Park where racial segregation is still clearly present as the majority of black residents are concentrated in Hannibal Square, a small portion of Winter Park proper (Wolf). By working towards a more inclusive Planning and Zoning Board, the City Council will have a better chance of putting more measures of integration into effect within the city while being sensitive to past ills that the board has historically caused for minority communities.
The hearings for the particular session I listened in on, however, were not racially charged. It was clear that these motions for rezoning occured in predominantly white neighborhoods as the twenty five or so attendants at the meeting were mostly white. The first item of order was resolved quite quickly with a motion that passed unanimously. There was only one public opposition whose concern about the property lie in a misunderstanding about how the owner was going to adapt the retention pond on site to account for Florida’s dangerous hurricane season.
The second hearing was where most of the contention lied. The cemetery that was under review for a possible rezoning was located in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The residences of this neighborhood were very concerned with how the increase in business that the cemetery is hoping to provide would impact their safety and sense of community. With thirty-two children living in the area and no sidewalks, the transition from traffic concentrated in funeral processions to an increase in overall congestion is a primary area of concern for the parents and neighbors in the community. Another issue the public brought up was the upkeep and curb appeal that the cemetery is currently lacking. They showed evidence of overgrown medians, mediocre upkeep on the edges of the cemetery’s property, and poor clean up efforts following past hurricanes. These concerns diverted from the purpose of the hearing which was strictly centered around the rezoning of the property. Each person who wished to speak on this issue was given three minutes and the few individuals who went over the limit were not chastised by the members of the Planning and Zoning Board. Despite the very angry and heated public, everything seemed very fair and democratic.
At the start of this hearing, one of the members of the board declared her obstension as she claimed a conflict of interest. This was a highly democratic decision as it set the tone for a very fair hearing. When a vote was finally called, in addition to her obstension, six members voted yes and one voted no. Therefore, the motion carried and the resolution will now pass to the City Council where a final decision will be made on the prospect of rezoning for this cemetery. In the closing remarks, the chair of the committee urged the residents to separate their emotions and other issues from the main focus of the public hearing for this property. Although I understand that the main causes of concern for the residents did not lie in the actual rezoning of the cemetery, the implications of that measure were clearly significant to the residents of that area. Not a single individual from the public stood up in support of this measure. There were no neutral remarks either, but this is to be expected. A committee meeting like the one I attended only brings about the most extreme of views on certain issues. Because of the clear safety concerns that the residents raised, I do not agree with the resolution of the Planning and Zoning Board. Holding public hearings is for receiving public input, but in this case the meeting may as well have been closed as none of the public’s opinion seemed to matter.
City of Winter Park: Planning and Zoning Board. Government Boards of Winter Park, 2 April 2019.
Schiller, Andrew. “Winter Park, FL Demographic Data.” NeighborhoodScout, NeighborhoodScout, 27 Mar. 2019, www.neighborhoodscout.com/fl/winter-park/Demographics. Accessed 10 April 2019.
Whittemore, Andrew H. “The Experience of Racial and Ethnic Minorities with Zoning in the United States.” Journal of Planning Literature, vol. 32, no. 1, Feb. 2017, pp. 16–27, doi:10.1177/0885412216683671.
Wolf, Collin. “New map reminds us that Orlando remains incredibly segregated.” Orlando Weekly, 18 May 2019, https://www.orlandoweekly.com/Blogs/archives/2018/05/18 /new-map-reminds-us-that-orlando-remains-incredibly-segregated. Accessed 10 April 2019.