Downtown Orlando apt building owner challenges approval of tri-tower plans

The owner of a downtown Orlando apartment building is pushing back against plans to develop a three-tower mixed-use project next door, filing a formal appeal with the city that claims the plans violate an array of rights it holds from a past master plan approval.

The project in question is Manhattan-based developer Property Markets Group's (PMG) proposal for three apartment towers and a retail/office base that would cover almost a whole city block (3.57 acres) at 434 N. Orange Ave., set between the Lynx terminal for SunRail and buses and the Orange County Courthouse. 

Now a fund affiliate of UBS Realty Investors, which owns the Central Station on Orange apartments directly north, filed a petition Monday to oppose PMG's plans and their amendment of a 2012 master plan for the property, arguing the project is too big and would devalue their asset.  

Cecelia Bonifay, land use attorney with Akerman LLP representing the UBS affiliate, declined to comment for this story.

PMG first filed its Framework Master Plan in late March for the project, calling for three phased towers of 16 to 24 stories with 867 apartments, 1,374 structured parking spaces and 41,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial. The developer is seeking an intensity bonus from the city. 

Since then, PMG's "X Orlando" project went through an initial courtesy review in mid-April with Orlando's Appearance Review Board, introduced green living walls as part of its still-evolving design, and increased significantly the commercial square footage before going to the Municipal Planning Board in mid-May.

The developer earned an approval reccomendation on May 15 from the MPB, which included a slightly higher unit count (889) and now up to 120,000 square feet of commercial, nearly triple its original request in March. 

New to that commercial lineup is 35,000 square feet of co-working space in Phase 1 (classified as office), along with 45,000 square feet of retail and dining. An additional 40,000 square feet of commercial would be defined in Phases 2-3. 

The rest of PMG's plans stayed mostly the same from March, and Orlando's planning board agreed with the conceptual design, transportation plan, and phased construction of the three towers and their garage space. 

"We were happy and in agreement with the MPB decision to approve the plan as submitted, and think it's something that will benefit Orlando citizens in a large way," PMG principal Noah Gottlieb told GrowthSpotter.

"For the increase in commercial square footage, one of the comments we got back from city staff and Lynx was a desire to activate Gertrude's Walk (on the property's west). It's a challenge that we're excited about, on how to activate that area which is currently blighted into something that everyone can be proud of." 

The wildcard is now Bonifay's appeal, on behalf of the Central Station on Orange owner.

In the petition, Bonifay argues that amending the 2012 master plan that currently applies to both properties would have various negative impacts on the six-story apartment building, which would be dwarfed by PMG's 24-story third tower.

That original master plan included six-story and eight-story phases for hotel and office that were never developed. It also required the building of a "Paseo" (pedestrian walkway or boulevard), which exists today and is maintained by multiple land owners.

When the UBS affiliate bought the apartment building in December 2015, it was counting on the neighboring lot being developed in accordance with that original master plan. 

Bonifay argues the new PMG plans also don't live up to requirements in a 2013 agreement with Lynx that the property become a Transit-Oriented Development, specifically one that's pedestrian friendly on the western side by the bus and train station.

But PMG's latest plan, with the added commercial space, should live up to that Lynx agreement and activate the building's western side. 

The petitioner claims PMG's proposal is simply too big, that its 24-story tower will cast a shadow over the apartment building's swimming pool and limit the views of some of its units.  

The Paseo won't function as a positive pedestrian feature with PMG's building in place, Bonifay wrote, forecasting its demise as an alley susceptible to crime. 

She argued that PMG's proposal of green walls aren't sustainable in Florida's climate. The city's ARB staff highlighted maintenance of living walls as a big challenge, which PMG's design team continues to work on.

A transportation study hasn't been conducted yet to show the impact of a building entrance for X Orlando on Orange Avenue. Bonifay said her client's building will be negatively impacted by additional traffic. 

She contends that PMG and its general contractor, ARCO/Murray, have no viable staging plan for construction materials that won't impact the UBS-owned apartment building.

But that point fails to consider Miami-based investor Midtown Opportunities, which owns the 434 N. Orange site with PMG under contract, also owns a mostly vacant parking lot less than one block to the northeast. A deal to stage construction trailers and equipment there is anticipated. 

Bonifay argued that no details were given by PMG's development team on the project's demand for water and sewer services, to determine how that may impact the UBS property.

She also anticipated that her client won't be given a chance to see PMG's building signage plan, even though it hasn't been finished and submitted yet. 

As of Wednesday, the city had not decided if the Central Station on Orange owner's appeal request will go to a hearing officer for review, or straight to City Council. 

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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