Residents have made it clear what they want for the east side of Winter Garden — most importantly, they want affordable housing and security.
The City of Winter Garden held a series of charrettes and community meetings last week to refocus its efforts on revitalizing the East Winter Garden.
The project is focused on 10th and Center Streets, the intersection of Ninth and Story Roads, and the corner of Ninth and Plant Streets – with a focus on Center Street and Orange Technical College – West Campus. Preservation of the OTC campus is important to residents as it is the former site of the detached Drew High School.
More than 110 residents, most of whom live in East Winter Garden, gathered at City Hall on Thursday, June 2 to share their thoughts on what their revitalized neighborhood should look like.
City officials and representatives from urban planning firm Dover, Kohl & Partners briefed attendees on the plan, which began in 2017 and was partially paused by the pandemic. A survey found that more than half of the participants took part in charrettes five years ago.
After the presentation, residents were invited to create maps of how they envisioned the future of the east side.
“Those ideas become the plan,” said Jason King, vice president and senior project director at Dover Kohl.
City Commissioner Mark Maciel, who was unable to attend the meeting, reached out to people by phone and said city officials had been working hard behind the scenes.
“I think now you’re going to see how things take off and develop quickly,” he said.
He urged residents to get involved in the planning.
City Manager Jon C. Williams said the city is eager to hear feedback and look forward to improving the East Side in terms of home ownership, economic development, health and safety.
Short-term (two to five years from 2018), medium-term (six to twelve years) and long-term (13 to over 20 years) solutions were presented. Williams said most short-term goals have been met. These include the adoption and promotion of the East Winter Garden Plan, extending the life of the CRA from an expiration date of 2023 to 2033 (which is expected to raise $20-$30 million over 10 years), and installing a traffic light at the intersection of Plant and 11th Streets, creates a code enforcement strategy and continues to add lots to the city.
Further annexations are expected, including enclaves along Hennis and East Crown Point streets.
The city also continues to work with Orange County Public Schools to find an alternative location for a proposed bus service on the Drew High/OTC lot on Story Road.
The speakers surveyed residents about their participation in city events in downtown Winter Garden and East Winter Garden, as well as their desires in the former Center Street business district.
Some residents opposed moving businesses back to Center Street, preferring to place businesses — such as minority-owned restaurants, offices, and possibly a hotel — along East Plant Street to free up land for affordable housing. Residents want to maintain neighborhood size along the center, but don’t mind multi-story commercial buildings on Plant, where there are fewer residents.
One participant asked where parking would be if there were shops in the center.
“Space is limited there,” said another. “If you do business there, you can’t take anything away from the houses that are there. … There was a business district, but there were also apartments for people to live in. Anyone who builds a multi-storey car park there takes away the potential for affordable living space.”
“They design around these houses,” King said. “Every building there will be included in the plan.”
Dover Kohl has been involved in successful major street transformations in several black communities, including Thomasville, Georgia; Detroit; South Miami; and Montgomery, Alabama.
According to King, five steps are required: rezoning to make non-compliant properties legal again; investment in roadscapes because private investment follows public investment; engaging the CRA through tax increase funding; building a resident population within walking distance; and the revitalization of city parks.
Charrette participants were asked about options for Center Street, such as wider sidewalks, landscaping, bike racks, benches and streetlights. A majority approved of these amenities. Other proposals for East Winter Garden included senior housing, a community center, outdoor playgrounds, green space, and a gazebo.
OPEN DESIGN STUDIO
The design team spent Friday having minor community discussions on economic development and the return of the East Side business district, housing development and preservation of the Drew High School legacy.
“You can’t have an economic development with high crime,” said Ed Johnson, who was born in the former West Orange Memorial Hospital and grew up on Lincoln Terrace to the east of Winter Garden. “This (revitalization plan) is nice, but until we get the drug problem under control, this won’t be safe. This isn’t going anywhere. … We have to get this area under control – from crime to infrastructure. Everything has to be controlled here. … If you don’t feel safe, it’s not safe.”
Speaking at the Drew High School forum, King said the property is about seven blocks and has room to accommodate a number of proposals.
Natalie Lipsey, urban planner and urban designer at Dover Kohl & Associates, examined the space and presented ideas.
“There are a lot of buildings there… and we want to preserve as many as possible,” she said. “Some are caravan buildings that could be converted into farm communities. (You could) have affordable housing center around a communal green corridor. Mixed-use or miscellaneous shops, cafes, laundromats, saloons, cafes could be with apartments above.
“The larger buildings could be meeting rooms, art studios, common areas, various classrooms for technical or soft-skill courses, an incubator, and a historic center — the focal point of the street,” Lipsey said.
The north end of the property could offer sports, recreation, green space or a farmer’s market.
On Saturday morning, the city and design team gave a tour of downtown Winter Garden, showcasing all of the work that was completed last week. Everything that is presented will be printed in a book that can serve as a guide for the city.
Visit PlanEastWinterGarden.com for information and updates on the plan.
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