Magistrate ruling would allow 10-story hotel across from Universal theme parks

A special magistrate recommendation would allow a Miami hotelier to build a 10-story hotel near the intersection of Kirkman and Vineland roads, across from Universal's Orlando theme parks.

Orlando's Municipal Planning Board and City Council has twice rejected the plans, which seek to increase the height from the permitted 75 feet to 106 feet. The order now heads back to council for a third time on Jan. 28.

Swapnil Shaw of JNS Development initially sought a PD amendment in late 2015 for a 130-foot hotel. The developer agreed to reduce the height and rotate the building 90 degrees as part of a mediated settlement with the city, but City Council ultimately sided with Universal and rejected the proposal, according to S. Brent Spain, attorney for JNS. 

If City Council rejects the plan outlined in the order from Special Magistrate Carlos Alvarez, JNS would proceed with its only recourse, litigation in Orange County Circuit Court, Spain said.

Shaw said he hopes it doesn't come to that. "We've compromised a tremendous amount on the project to get from what it was to what it is today," Shaw said.

Key in the magistrate's ruling was that the existing PD allowed a hotel of up to 75 feet. 

"This is not a case where a comparison is being made from a 'no hotel' to a 106 foot hotel in terms of impacts of compatibility to the neighborhood to the north," he wrote. "Instead, it is important to emphasize that this is a case where a 75 foot hotel is being compared to a 106 foot hotel that has been specifically designed to minimize line-of-sight and privacy issues with the same traffic impacts as a 75 foot hotel given the same number of rooms."

Shah said the hotel would be a full-service, national branded property with 175 family suites. The property won't charge for parking, resort fees or wifi, he said.

"What differentiates us from a lot of the new projects on the I-Drive corridor is that we're offering our amenities on the rooftop," he said. That includes a restaurant, meeting space, fitness center with Peloton equipment and a "classy, elegant infinity-edge pool." 

Universal's portfolio of hotel rooms currently total 6,200, which include 600 rooms at Aventura;  1,000 rooms at Sapphire Falls; the 2,200 rooms at Cabana Bay Beach Resort the 1,000-room Royal Pacific Resort; the 750-room Portofino Bay Hotel and the 650-room Hard Rock Hotel. That doesn't count the 4,000 rooms in development on the former Wet-n-Wild site on I-Drive. 

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