Unicorp's Whittall quits ETC over group's criticism of new attraction heights

Chuck Whittall, CEO of Unicorp National Developments, resigned Monday from the board of Efficient Transportation for the Community of Central Florida (ETC), a private group that lobbies for about 20 International Drive stakeholders on a range of issues, citing frustration with the group's outspoken efforts to curb the height of new attractions proposed for I-Drive.

Whittall contended at ETC's board meeting that the group has lost focus of its founding purpose, which was to increase mobility in the I-Drive tourism corridor when it was founded more than 25 years ago.


He argued that ETC has become too involved recently in political maneuvers with local government, promoting the self interest of a handful of board members by lobbying against the height of Joshua Wallack's Skyplex polercoaster development, and the Starflyer attraction that would be built within the Unicorp-owned King's Plaza property.

Susan Godorov, general manager of Pointe Orlando and an executive board member of ETC, clarified Monday that ETC's bylaws allow the group to focus its lobbying efforts on a range of topics that impact growth and development along the I-Drive corridor.


"ETC was originally formed years ago around solving transportation issues, but as I-Drive has evolved so has our focus," she said. "ETC is pro- responsible growth."

Whittall countered that judgments of responsible growth shouldn't be made by a board of 20-odd I-Drive stakeholders who have their own competitive agendas, and should instead be left in the hands of Orange County planning staff.

"I'm seeing coalitions being made here of big hotels and theme park representatives against smaller parties introducing new ideas to I-Drive," Whittall said. "You're not in a position to say what is responsible growth, and it isn't the place of this small committee to strong-arm developers and try to influence the (Board of County) Commissioners."

Crissy Martin-Foglesong, executive director of ETC, told Whittall the group isn't against Wallack's Skyplex project, but is concerned with his polercoaster tower's proposed height of 700 feet above sea level (580 feet from street level).

Universal Orlando, which has multiple representatives in ETC, has lobbied in recent months at county review hearings on Wallack's project that its height should be restricted to the county standard for commercial-zoned property (50 feet), or at most 200 feet, the same limit the city of Orlando has imposed on Universal for its park attractions.

Universal representatives have said previously that an attraction above 200 feet would cause "visual pollution," interfering with the immersive experience its guests have while in its parks.

Wallack wants his Skyplex parcels to be subject to the Convention Center Plaza Overlay District standards, which have no height restriction. He needs permission for that standard to apply because his property lies outside the overlay district boundary.

Orange County allowed those overlay district standards to be applied in 2014 to the I-Drive 360 development (Unicorp), Wyndham hotel property on Sand Lake Road and I-Drive (Unicorp), and Wallack's own Hollywood Plaza Parking Garage next to Mango's Cafe, freeing those to be built without a height restriction. The Skyplex development borders that Wyndham property across Sand Lake Road.


Orange County's Development Review Committee gave its recommendation for approval to re-zone Wallack's Skyplex parcels back in late June, which includes the special request on height. His project will be reviewed next by the county's Planning and Zoning Commission on Oct. 17.

In late July, Whittall also asked for the Convention Center Plaza Overlay District standards to be applied to his King's Plaza land (Gooding's Plaza PD), where another developer wants to build the 420-foot Starflyer spinning swing.

Universal Orlando's lawyer also lobbied for height restrictions on Starflyer, with Martin-Foglesong of ETC alongside him. They contended that county planning staff should wait until the end of the year to review developments with extreme heights, after the county's I-Drive Vision Plan can be finished, reviewed and potentially adopted by the BCC.

Whittall countered Monday that the height restriction on Universal's property, which falls within Orlando city limits, was set at 200 feet when originally zoned because the property was bordered on two sides by residential. That height was limited for the homeowners.

That isn't the case for new commercial developments on Universal Boulevard and I-Drive, most of which lie within Orange County jurisdiction and don't have any residential within miles. The county's DRC staff concluded Wallack's world-record polercoaster height was acceptable there.

Martin-Foglesong said Whittall doesn't have to be replaced on the ETC board, since he didn't hold one of the six executive member positions. 

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correct the fact that Orange County's standard height limit for commercial-zoned property on International Drive is 50 feet, and a 200-foot-limit was imposed on Universal property by the city of Orlando. 


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