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Potential land deal near Disney has zoning hurdle

Orange Lake Resorts has a prospective buyer for nearly 300 acres of its country club property south of Disney's Flamingo Crossings, with an aim to develop short-term rental and an active adult residential community.  But the need for an amendment to the owner's comprehensive plan could derail the deal.

"We're looking to sell the land to a developer that wants to do an active adult project there, but we can't sell it unless the land allows that use," said John Alvarez, vice president for acquisitions at Orange Lake Resorts. "Right now we're trying to understand why our current land use doesn't permit active adult, because we believe it does."

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Meant for residents age 55 and up, active adult communities typically require at least 80 percent of homeowners to be of that age group. They usually don't offer assistance for daily living activities like cooking, medication and personal care, but do organize communal activities.

The property, which includes 205 acres of develop-able land split into three bubbles and 191 acres of preserved wetlands, is bordered to the south and the east by Orange Lake Resorts and U.S. 429, to the north by Disney's Flamingo Crossings and to the west by multiple land owners.

Orange Lake's prospective buyer wants to develop a project that combines short-term rental, which limits residency to 179 days, and an active adult community for permanent residents. The debate is whether the current land-use, Growth Center Commercial, allows those two to mix.

"We were initially thinking that property could be purchased by someone over 55, and they could choose to live there year-round or put it into a short-term rental program," Alvarez said. "But the county seems to not like having the mixture of short-term rental and full-time resident. So we're now proposing a project where you can have the two uses separated by a geographic barrier of some kind."

John Smogor, planning administrator for Orange County Government and head of the Development Review Committee (DRC), says Orange Lake Resorts must amend its comprehensive plan because it is adding permanent residential with the active adult aspect, which isn't commercial use like short-term rental is.

"You can't mix and match the two, because you run into that problem we've experienced where one side is living on vacation time and the other is on permanent resident time," Smogor said.

Orange Lake is waiting for clarification on whether it must file for a future land-use change on the property. If it does, the company may not follow through on the sale.

"We have a very favorable land-use designation now, which is Growth Center Commercial, so changing it the way the county wants us to would be a down-zoning of sorts," Alvarez said.

"If we change it and the buyer doesn't follow through we've just devalued the property. We believe we have a future land-use designation that is Growth, and if you read the Orange County Comprehensive Plan, it doesn't preclude active adult, it just encourages density."

If the sale proceeds, the developer or Orange Lake Resorts will rebuild part of Hartzog Road, which would be welcomed by Disney and Horizons West communities, Alvarez said.

Mid-2016 is the best case scenario for groundwork to start on new development if land use can be clarified for the property in the coming months, and a sale can be formalized.

While Alvarez declined to name the prospective buyer for the site, he said it's a respected national developer active in Central Florida which doesn't have any active adult residential projects up to this point.

A restrictive covenant would be filed with Orange County for the property to ensure that the active adult development doesn't impact local schools.

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