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Charity scraps plan for shipping container affordable housing in favor of conventional build

A Kissimmee non-profit is scrapping its plans to build an apartment complex with recycled shipping containers and instead focusing on conventional building techniques for the proposed 225-unit community.

The Rev. Mary Lee Downy, executive director of Community Hope Center, had pitched the project last year as an quick, sustainable way to provide affordable housing to Kissimmee’s homeless and poor. But told GrowthSpotter this week that after researching shipping container housing, she still had too many unanswered questions about the viability and longevity of the product.

“I know all kinds of random information about shipping containers,” she said. But she said there wasn’t enough data to determine costs or how long the building would last, and she wasn’t comfortable taking that risk when the capital campaign kicks off in January.

She met Wednesday with Osceola’s Development Review Committee to discuss a conceptual plan for the apartment complex at 2420 Old Vineland Road, just north of U.S. 192 in the heart of the city’s tourism corridor. Hope Village would be built on a 5.6-acre tract that was donated by the United Methodist Church in 2017. Her board decided the best use would be to close the affordable housing gap for people in crisis.

“We’ve modified the site plan quite a bit,” Downy said. “And we’re also working with some more partners on the project.”

Ability Housing will now be co-developer. Downey enlisted Bumpus and Associates as project architect and Hanson, Walter & Associates as civil engineer early on. SM&E recently joined the development team. The general contractor is Austin Commercial.

Community Hope Center won approval a few months ago to rezone the property to Commercial Tourist zoning, which allows high density housing. Downy said they’re now looking at doing concrete buildings. The existing church on the property would remain, and the office would be used by the charity to provide wraparound services for residents.

The biggest challenge the design team has had so far is fitting in the required parking, according to SM&E’s Lee Hale.

“The big concern with us is the site. It’s tight,” Hale said. He told county planning staff that the development team would likely seek a parking reduction waiver from the county because it’s unlikely that all residents would have cars. They’re also planning to build underground stormwater retention to maximize the density on the site.

DRC Chairman Jose Gomez questioned if the water table in that area is low enough to allow for underground retention. “You’re pretty close to Shingle Creek,” he said.

Other site-related challenges emerged during the meeting regarding the building placement and whether it would allow for firetrucks to navigate the property or turnaround, as well as the location of fire hydrants.

“As far as the utilities and the fire hydrants, I’ll make that work,” Hale said. “What’s really driving the bus on this site is the parking.”

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