Osceola staff wants major changes to Tavistock Sunbridge plan

Osceola County's planning staff is pushing for a dramatic rewrite of the Phase 1 master plan for Tavistock Development Company's Sunbridge project.

Entitlements consultant Richard Levey and other members of the Tavistock team had an hours-long meeting in April with the county's Development Review Committee. Following that meeting, Levey told GrowthSpotter he was confident the developer could address concerns raised by county staff about the Concept Plan (CP) for the massive community's first development phase.

But in the lead up to the May 17 DRC meeting, county officials released a second round of detailed comments, and Tavistock withdrew from the agenda to try to process the recommendations. 

The suggested changes indicated the two sides were much farther apart in their vision of how to implement the mixed-use policies that were codified with the 2014 adoption of the Northeast District element of the comprehensive plan.

Osceola County Planning Director Kerry Godwin told GrowthSpotter the mixed-use code allows for some flexibility in the implementation of the plan. But some of the elements in the CP appear to conflict with the original intent of the NE District. It could be July before the case comes back to DRC, he said.

"Their concept plan is the largest we have received in a mixed-use district," he said. "They proposed transportation network changes. They decreased employment and increased commercial."

The Sunbridge plan also eliminates all of the square footage entitlements for industrial uses in Phase 1, and reduces the size of the special district so it would only accommodate utility services.

Levey said the developer felt the site wasn't appropriate for warehousing and truck traffic, and Tavistock felt they could make up for the loss of jobs with more "community center" uses, which includes a mix of commercial, office and multifamily development.

Godwin said the county wasn't looking for a warehouse district. "We saw that as more of a research, office-industrial district," he said. 

And some planners were concerned that replacing industrial with commercial uses would translate to an increase of retail and service sector jobs. 

"We don't want to see low-wage employment," Godwin said. "The NE District was set up to reverse that trend and create high-wage employment."

Staff also voiced concern that Sunbridge wouldn't have enough rooftops in Phase 1 to support the amount of commercial development in the plan. They don't want strip-centers lining both sides of Cyrils Drive, the community's main east-west corridor, and they don't want to draw shoppers in from other markets.

They recommended eliminating most of the community center commercial uses along Cyrils and replacing it with employment (165,000 square feet) and residential uses. The staff-generated CP includes a small neighborhood commercial center (20,000 square feet) and setting aside 15,000 square feet for civic uses.

County Manager Don Fisher told GrowthSpotter he would meet with Levey and Tavistock President Jim Zboril to nail down details about the style and form of the non-residential development.

But he said the DRC comments don't necessarily reflect his views -- or those of the senior staff -- because Tavistock has built such a strong reputation for delivering quality developments that generate high-wage jobs.

"I have much less concern over some of these issues that were in the DRC comments," he said on Friday.

And Fisher loves the marina district proposed for Sunbridge. "With some developers, you look at a picture and it's just a pretty picture," he said. "With Tavistock, you look at a picture and you have confidence they can deliver it."

Fisher said he and Zboril are committed to working "together to bring this in for a landing."

The NE District element includes policies that require the developer to create an economic development plan and implementation strategy. The developer must meet job creation benchmarks in Phase 1 before proceeding to the next development phase.  

Fisher said his next meeting with Tavistock would focus on that topic. The last thing the county wants is to see Sunbridge evolve into a bedroom community.

"We want more jobs per housing," Fisher said. "We want to change the employment ratio. That's something we all agree on." 

Zboril said Tavistock's track record demonstrates the company's ability to create successful communities with significant economic impact. 

"Creating a large-scale community requires thoughtful planning, preparation, execution and substantial capital investment," he said. "That is what we do. We have committed countless hours and hosted numerous collaborative meetings with county staff, global experts and regional leaders and this is now at a point where Don Fisher and the county leadership are becoming more involved to move this forward." 

Fisher said he's not concerned about the pace of the review.

"Something of this scale deserves a lot of time for review, because both of us want the best plan when the day is done," he said. "There’s going to be modifications on both sides along the way."

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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