The City of Orlando is preparing to kick off a year of "Complete Streets" master planning for about 720 acres that make up its Downtown South Neighborhood Improvement District (DSNID), aiming to steer future redevelopment along the frontage of main thoroughfares with better design, landscaping and multi-modal transportation.
The DSNID is made up primarily of the Orlando Health medical campus and the "SoDo" mixed-use areas, and is bounded by S.R. 408 to the north, Michigan Street to the south, Orange Avenue to the east and Interstate 4 to the west.
Created in July 2011, the DSNID is a relatively new legal entity with its own board, and an advisory council with community members. The city is in the process of hiring an executive director for it.
That board approved on April 10 the hiring of GAI Consultants and S&ME (Littlejohn) to plan the enhancement of S. Orange Avenue's streetscape with Florida Department of Transportation's design consultant VHB, Inc., as well as create a "Complete Streets" Master Plan for the district, development rules and code amendments to enforce change on future redevelopment.
The two contractors will split more than $370,000 for the project. Orlando's City Council is expected to approved those agreements and contracts on Monday, giving GAI and S&ME the green light to start.
"We've wanted to do a comprehensive transportation plan for this district for some time, and over the years the idea has taken form as a complete streets corridor vision," Andrew McCown, planning manager with GAI Consultants' Community Solutions Group, told GrowthSpotter. "The first part will be led by us performing workshops and stakeholder interviews to develop an overall plan for how we'll go about the more detailed design of specific streets. It will give us a high-level view of major corridors like Orange Avenue, Division Avenue, Michigan Street and Kaley Street, which can later guide the individual street designs."
The first two detailed designs will be for Orange and Division avenues. Orange Avenue is already scheduled for major reconstruction by FDOT next year or in 2019, so GAI and S&ME will be representing the district as its design voice.
Focal points in the "Complete Streets" design will be pedestrian aspects like wider sidewalks and crosswalks, increasing the tree canopy, low-impact design like urban stormwater gardens, and a whole new approach to parking requirements for development that favor shared parking between properties. Additional easement and right-of-way acquisitions may be recommended.
"All the commercial property owners along the (Orange Avenue) corridor in particular have a big stake in how that road gets rebuilt, its an enormous traffic thoroughfare for the city," McCown said. "And those properties along the street often back right up against neighborhoods, so you get push-back from residents who don't want retail encroaching further. So it's a delicate situation from that side, making sure these properties redevelop in a sensitive way."
Beyond making each street "complete," the Master Plan will present a multi-modal transportation solution, including a street hierarchy for bikes, pedestrians, cars and trucks. It will also recommend streetscape materials (softscape, hardscape and site furnishings), lighting and opportunities for art and graphics in the district.
"That district has the hospitals, working industrial properties and neighborhoods all around. So this is an opportunity to look at a large area with a diverse population and diverse uses, and think about what a city should be like in the future," said Jay Hood, director of landscape architecture at S&ME.
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"We'll also start thinking about how autonomous vehicles factor into all of this. How will people travel differently? It's exciting to think about what that can be," he continued. "We're studying about a 1.8-mile stretch of S. Orange Avenue here, with a finite amount of right-of-way. How do you apportion that to best serve the whole community? Along with wider sidewalks, it may be how you turn some of that over to cyclists and to stormwater, like with 'Green Streets' that capture stormwater in landscaped zones using rain gardens and pervious pavement."
Over the next three to six months, the private planners will host several workshops with stakeholders from the DSNID. They'll determine how to conduct the detailed design studies for specific streets, and produce the district's Framework Master Plan.
McCown and Hood's teams will then develop streetscape and corridor plans for each thoroughfare, beginning with Orange and Division avenues. Each will include a detailed vision, with rules that dictate how a property owner must treat frontage if they redevelop.
The planners' aim is to finish the Framework Master Plan, specific plans for Orange and Division avenues, and any associated code updates by Spring 2018.
Existing property owners would be grandfathered in, with the new standards being enforced only on future redevelopment. But in McCown's experience, district planning like this often spurs land values to rise, with sale and redevelopment coming faster than expected.
"The key is to be ready with your new standards so as that happens, the changes get made," he said. "This won't happen overnight, but there is a natural attrition and gradual improvement along the corridor."
The DSNID doesn't have a large fund reserve yet, but as it builds in the future grants could be offered to property owners to improve their property's frontage proactively instead of waiting for eventual sale and redevelopment, McCown said.