Local News

Avon Park board denies parking variance request

AVON PARK - Downtown business owners spoke out against a requested parking variance for a Main Street building where the owners planned to operate a boarding house. At a recent Planning and Zoning Board meeting, the board denied the variance request by a 3-2 vote. Fernando and Yudith Fernandez purchased the old Touchton Building at 19 W. Main St. in 2006, and now with only one business on the ground floor they hoped to operate a boarding house on the second floor. With 16 rooms for occupancy, they proposed accommodating up to 53 adults. However, the parking requirements for the proposed residential use has been an ongoing issue between the city and the Fernandezes. "My investment is about a quarter of a million dollars … and nothing," Fernando told Highlands Today in October. After three different opinions on the parking requirements from the county, which was handling the city's planning and zoning duties, the city hired a consultant who determined the parking requirement was 1.7 parking spaces per unit.
The Fernandez's purchased a parking lot, but it is located more than the 200-foot-maximum distance from the building specified in the city code. At Tuesday's Planning and Zoning Board meeting, Board Vice-Chair Jean Jordan noted that the parking lot the Fernandezes purchased is more than twice the distance from their building allowed by zoning requirements. No one is going to park 400 feet away if there is parking on the street and you are going to take up that parking, she said to the Fernandezes. She didn't want to set a precedent by approving this variance, Jordan said. Board Member David Cloud said he didn't understand why parking is an issue when the code states that new or existing buildings with zero setbacks on Main Street are not required to provide off-street parking. The code does not address what is in the buildings, he added. City Manager Julian Deleon said there is a lot more to the parking requirement than just the two sentences that Cloud read. Yudith Fernandez said other buildings lack parking. Jordan countered that the other buildings are not residential. Business owner Randy Jordan said the city used to have "one-hour" parking signs downtown. He was concerned about parking being taken up in front of his business. People don't like to walk far, he added. "How is this betterment for our community downtown?" Randy Jordan said. "We need restaurants and other types of stores and businesses downtown that bring other people downtown." Cloud said the people living there (in the boarding house) would be downtown. Downtown business owner and Councilman Garrett Anderson said as a citizen with a business downtown, people won't park where they are supposed to park. It doesn't go along with the vision of Main Street as a business area. Business owner James Anderson said he has lived near mini-boarding houses and has had to continually call the law night after night until they left. "Anybody who wants to put something like this on Main Street, literally to me, has to hate Avon Park," he said. Jean Jordon made a motion to deny the parking variance and Paul Miller seconded the motion. The Planning and Zoning Board voted 3-2 to deny the variance, with Jordon, Miller and Roger Gurganus voting "yes" to deny the variance and Cloud and Rebecca Jaramillo voting "no." Deleon noted Thursday that the city code exempts the retail and commercial business from the parking requirements. A boarding house is classified as a residential housing use and does not meet the commercial/retail business designations for the code to qualify for a parking exemption.