Enzian Theater’s expansion plan cleared its biggest hurdle on June 21 when the Maitland Planning and Zoning Commission recommended, in a 3-1 vote, that the City Council approve the project.
The theater’s expansion has been rumored for more than a decade, but the effort officially began in November 2012 when the cinema filed a preliminary proposal. That proposal, first reported by Orlando Weekly in April 2013, morphed into the plan that the City Council will vote on in August.
The plan, dubbed “Enzian Forever,” calls for two new theaters (bringing the number to three) and a new lobby, restrooms, kitchen and employee offices. The additional theaters would seat 80 and 50 in table settings. Construction would be on the east and north of the existing structure and would preserve the current entrance, Eden Bar, live oaks and fountain. Square footage would increase from 9,439 to 25,175.
The project has been controversial, and the final plan contains concessions to the P&Z Commission and neighborhood residents. For instance, the main theater would be reduced from 230 to 210 seats, and outdoor screenings have ended. Other revisions have addressed “dark-sky” lighting, landscaping, and visual and noise buffers, the latter of which will be partially accomplished by a 6-foot-tall wall on the property’s east side. But the biggest issue has been parking.
With the extra theaters, Enzian’s potential attendance could approach 500 (including Eden Bar patrons), necessitating an estimated 200 parking spots. However, the lot, after construction, would contain just 114, down from the current 124. So Enzian has an agreement (which some have criticized as non-binding) with Park Maitland School to use 88 school spaces, bringing the total to 202.
“I am confident that we have the number of spaces to accommodate two additional screens,” Enzian executive director David Schillhammer said.
In addition, the theater is providing free valet service and has partnered with Maitland to enforce no-parking rules on neighborhood streets. But the changes were not enough to completely satisfy the commissioners, who recommended a “yes” vote to the City Council only after five modifications, among them the inclusion of more parking signage and a lighted crosswalk between the school and Enzian.
“Enzian has respected and is committed to following the process as outlined by the City of Maitland, and we’ve done our due diligence on that over many years,” said Schillhammer. “We continue to respect the process … and we will continue the address the outstanding issues that remain with respect to the commission and our neighbors.”
Commissioner Jamie Kay Sokos expressed the majority opinion when she said, “Almost all of the concerns were addressed in some way … so it appears like they are committed to making the plan work.”
Commissioner Barry Kalmanson disagreed and cast the lone dissenting vote, saying, “It seems like this is half-baked. … They haven’t solved the parking issues. It’s the elephant in the room.”
Though most speakers at the meeting supported the plan, with many calling Enzian a “cultural gem” and citing the economic benefits of the plan, seven citizens agreed with Kalmanson. Among them was Enzian’s oldest and closest neighbor, Erin Miner.
“I do object to the constant noise, traffic and parking we have had to endure over the past 30+ years,” Miner said in a recent public e-mail to the P&Z Commission. “They plain and simply do not have the space or parking to expand, and … the City of Maitland [should] make sure the ambience of our uniquely established neighborhood is protected for once.”
If the plan is approved by the City Council, groundbreaking would likely occur in spring 2019, said Schillhammer. With construction predicted to last at least a year, work would likely finish after the 2020 Florida Film Festival.
The theater has raised about $5 million of the $6.5 million cost, according to Schillhammer.