The Orlando Utilities Commission and the city’s Appearance Review Board are collaborating on how best to screen and camouflage a massive new electric power substation – and the 18-foot high security wall that stretches the length of two football fields along the city’s urban trail in the Lake Ivanhoe/Highland district.
“The challenge with this is how do you amenitize the wall?” assistant planning director Jason Burton said.
The 2-million-kilowatt substation, slated to open in 2022, is needed to serve the higher demands of growing downtown area. It’s slated for a 6.4-acre tract along the future Alden Road extension, between Magnolia and Highland avenues. The substation itself would take up 3.5 acres of the site. OUC’s Weber Street substation is immediately to the south, and its water treatment facility is next door.
The OUC replaced fencing around the Weber Street substation with a solid wall, but city staff and ARB members wanted more enhancements to the new facility because of the proximity to the trail. They came up with a design that includes a brick pattern along the base with concrete panels on the upper half. The initial concept called for embossed ferns on the panels, but ARB Coordinator Doug Metzger said embossed pineapples would be more appropriate.
“Because as we were talking about earlier, in the early 1900s, this was the primary pineapple growing location in the United States, so it’s famous for its pineapples,” Metzger said.
The design also calls for three of the 10-foot by 60-foot panels to have murals. OUC also would work with the city’s parks department to design and maintain pocket parks at the north and south corners of the property.
Despite the staff recommendations, several ARB members said the design missed the mark. Margaret Brock said it looked like a wall that could be along Interstate 4.
“Are we really taking as much advantage of the opportunity here from a graphic standpoint?” she asked. “So the pineapples, yes OK, the story’s there, but could it embrace the ages a little more than that? I think there’s something still left on the table."
OUC’s Charles Easterling said the utility would be open to making design changes and further enhancements. “We’re open to all that,” he said. “You know, we talked about, even thought about sculptures and things like that."
Another issue that has hindered the design up to this point is the pending reconstruction of Alden Road along the length of the wall. The road hasn’t been designed yet, and the city has reserved right-of-way up to the wall, which makes impractical to install landscaping or hardscape. He said anything that’s planted along the wall would have to be ripped out when the road gets built.
“My response is, you tell me what you want and we’ll make it happen,” Easterling said.