Sarasota affordable housing group seeks rezoning to aid Orlando motel conversion

A Sarasota-based affordable housing operator is trying to overcome hurdles to rezone and repurpose a former crime-ridden motel in downtown Orlando's Pine Hills neighborhood as low-income apartments. 

One Stop Housing, a family-owned multifamily investment group with more than 1,800 rental units in Sarasota and Manatee counties, paid $3.424 million in mid-May for the 214-room Orlando motel, formerly dubbed the "Magnolia Inn & Suites." 

The 4.6-acre property operated under different names in recent years, and lies at 4919 W. Colonial Dr., two miles from downtown and just east of an intersection with C.R. 431. 

The previous owner tried to convert the motel to apartments in 2017, after earning an endorsement from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to offer federally subsidized rents to low-income tenants. 

But that conversion was not formalized with Orange County through zoning. Still recognized legally as a motel, those living there are considered homeless and can't utilize the address to prove residence for voting, or to receive mail.

One Stop Housing asked the county on Friday to rezone the property from C-1 Commercial to Planned Development, an indirect route to multifamily, and for waivers to reduce the required parking on site in order to free up space to build sustainable community gardens.

Since taking over the property in May, Travis Vengroff and his family, principals in One Stop Housing, have installed a new wooden fence around the back perimeter, new lighting and security cameras, and removed temporary chain-link fencing along the Colonial Drive frontage. 

Their planned $4 million renovation budget includes replacement of faulty plumbing and electrical wiring, which is not up to current code standards to support installation of kitchenettes and appliances in each studio room. 

New cabinetry, bathroom fixtures and toilets, sinks, fire safety sprinklers and tile flooring are also planned, Vengroff told GrowthSpotter

"We discovered 57 residents were living there without hot water in the first few weeks because of the former management," he said. "Many are former veterans. We got that fixed right away." 

The Vengroffs have rebranded the property as "Colonial Gardens," and plan to rent units at no more than $750 per month with basic utilities included. 

"We've hit snags so far with the (county) over what defines a single-room dwelling unit and the exceptions we need on the property to make it viable," Vengroff said. "People are living there either way, this is really about calling the property what it is: a residential apartment complex instead of an extended-stay hotel." 

The company does not pursue subsidies from government for its affordable housing, and generally doesn't keep HUD tenants long-term. About 30 of the property's units are currently on HUD-sponsored leases that Vengroff will allow to time out.

An 11,000-square-foot restaurant building separate from the former motel is also on the property, which has remained closed since 2016. Vengroff said they would pursue renovating and renting that out after the residential building is finished. 

This is One Stop Housing's second multifamily investment in Greater Orlando within the past year. It bought a 300-unit property in Kissimmee in late 2017, and has a 400-unit property on Orange Blossom Trail under contract. Following that it would have 914 apartments in the area. 

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