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Proposal for affordable housing near Lake Eola drawing backlash

The proposed 13-story mixed-use tower would be sandwiched between an assisted living facility and the 16-story, luxury Star Tower condominiums.
The proposed 13-story mixed-use tower would be sandwiched between an assisted living facility and the 16-story, luxury Star Tower condominiums. (Fugelberg Koch)

A proposed mixed-income senior housing tower in downtown Orlando is drawing scrutiny for more than its design, according to the head of the city’s Downtown Development Board.

DDB Executive Director Thomas Chatmon made the comments Thursday at the tail end of the Appearance Review Board meeting, where members and staff provided a courtesy review for the Banyan Development Group’s proposed Mariposa Grove mixed-use tower.

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During the meeting, Mark Graban, a condo owner in the neighboring Star Tower, commented that he was concerned that the buildings – separated by about 13 feet – would be too close together and residents of both would feel claustrophobic.

Chatmon suggested there were other issues at play.

The developer is keeping three mature oak trees on Jackson Street. At the city staff's request, they expanded the landscape areas around the trees to protect their root systems.
The developer is keeping three mature oak trees on Jackson Street. At the city staff's request, they expanded the landscape areas around the trees to protect their root systems. (Fugelberg Koch)

“The elephant in the room guys is that this is affordable housing attempting to locate in what might be the most desirable neighborhood in downtown Orlando, in the proximity of premium housing with the Star Tower next door,” Chatmon told the ARB members.

The 13-story mixed-use tower at 417 E. Jackson St. would provide 139 age restricted apartments, with more than 75 percent reserved for low-income and very low-income households. The remaining 30 units would be market rate. The ground floor would have retail space fronting on both Jackson and Mariposa streets.

The 18-story Star Tower has 100 condo units that start in the $500,000 price range for a two-bedroom unit. Larger units sell for up to $1.5 million.

Chatmon said the juxtaposition of a Low Income Housing Tax Credit community two blocks from Lake Eola is politically sensitive. He asked the ARB to cognizant of that when they request design changes and upgrades.

“Because it is affordable housing, design budgets and construction budgets – the cost of the project – will be a constraint. It is an intangible that will be a factor here, but so are the Mark Grabans of the world,” he said. “We’re going to hear a lot more from people like Mark who understandably are concerned about this project, so there is a lot yet to come.”

This the view of Mariposa Grove looking west (from the Star Tower). The alley between the two buildings will serve as the access point for the parking garage.
This the view of Mariposa Grove looking west (from the Star Tower). The alley between the two buildings will serve as the access point for the parking garage. (Fugelberg Koch)

Alexander Kiss, managing partner of Banyan Group, told GrowthSpotter the team from Fugleberg Koch took special care to design a building that would complement the neighborhood. They are protecting three mature oak trees on Jackson Street and they expanded the landscape areas around the trees to ensure they survive.

“The construction of the building will be equal to the surrounding buildings,” he said. The residential units will be above the parking structure, and it will have decorative screening of “similar high quality standard.”

In addition, Kiss said the building’s orientation provides more distance between the residential units. “Our green courtyard amenity space on the rooftop of the parking level is oriented towards Star Tower to the east,” he said. “This U-shape will allow for more light and longer views to the residents of Star Tower than would a box design.”

As of Thursday afternoon, 147 people had signed an online petition opposing Mariposa Groves.

The ARB board member comments were mostly positive.

“I think they did a great job with the massing and how it fits in with the surrounding buildings,” Jeffrey Arms said. “I think it’s a really great project.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The story has been updated with comments from the developer.

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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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