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City Centre Tower, along with two other proposed downtown towers is receiving extra density through Orlando's old bonus system. The city recently revised the program.
City Centre Tower, along with two other proposed downtown towers is receiving extra density through Orlando's old bonus system. The city recently revised the program. (Teresa Burney)

Downtown Orlando developers seeking greater density in their projects than the properties' zoning designations allow will be required to include some new and different extras in their urban developments.

The Orlando City Council recently approved a new set of rules on density and intensity for downtown developments that include different sweeteners to gain density "bonuses."

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Back in 2001 when skyscrapers were scarcer in Downtown Orlando city planners came up with a plan to encourage development downtown and to incentivize developers to make their urban structures and their surroundings nicer. So the city wrote rules that allowed developers to build more dense developments in exchange for things such as building a mixed-use development, with offices and shops within the building as well as homes. Providing public art was another carrot and so was creating more elaborate landscaping.

But in the years between the turn of the century and now, the city kept amending its code to require a lot of those "extras" in the projects anyway, so the developers weren't doing anything extra anymore and they received density bonuses routinely.

"Since 2001 we have amended the code so most of the [extra] items on that 2001 list are required by everybody," said Elisabeth Holler Dang, an Orlando city planner. "A project with a bonus [now] doesn't stand out like it did in 2001."

Three examples of how the code has worked lately are the three new towers on their way for approval by the City Council next month.

--Orlando Central at 110 W. Jefferson St. has zoning that allows 278 residential units on the 1.39 acre site, but with the bonuses, that jumps to 450 units, a bonus of 172 units for the tower

--Modera Central at 150 E. Central Blvd. on its 1.24 acre parcel is zoned for 248 multi-family units but is planning to build 394, thanks to a bonus of 146.

--Orlando Centre, a controversial tower planned for 205 and 215 E. Central Blvd at N. Rosalind overlooking Lake Eola, is proposing a 28-story tower on .55 acres with 215 residential units thanks to a bonus of 105.

They all are mixed-use developments that automatically earned them density bonus points.

So this month the Orlando City Council did a thorough revision to its code to promote new items it wants to see in downtown projects.

"We really concentrate on things that can be seen and felt by the public" with the new ordinance, Dang said. Exceeding landscaping code requirements will help developers earn density points, so will putting utilities underground, building an extra-nice bus shelter, and creating exceptional outdoor space for pedestrians.

The new code also tweaked the idea that building a mixed-use development would gain a developer extra density. Dang said that some developers were putting in commercial/retail uses on the ground floors of their towers to get extra density only to see it vacant because there wasn't demand.

"What we found that successful retail in a residential building can be difficult and we were getting empty storefronts that were put in just to meet requirements (of mixed use) buildings," said Dang.

So, instead, the city is now offering bonuses for including affordable market-rate housing in their projects as part of the mixed-use requirement.

Crime deterrent design is another bonus booster. So is making the structure "green" through a choice of several green building protocols.

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"Now it's very clear what extra features are required" to get a bonus, Dang said.

tburney@growthspotter.com or 407-420 6261

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