With a proposal to build 1.7 million square feet of commercial and office space and 1,375 residential units across eight buildings on S.R. 46, a local developer is planning to bring Lake County its tallest mixed-use project ever.
But Mount Dora elected officials are questioning whether high-rise towers stretching 12 to 21 stories — taller than the Statue of Liberty, and many of the structures found in downtown Orlando — belong in this city.
Leaders with Apopka-based Amco Development say they have no choice but to build up on a topographically challenging 33-acre site they purchased in November that has a 70-foot elevation change from north to south.
Going vertical is the only way, they say, to work all of these components into a “live, work, play” concept that promises to create thousands of new jobs while kickstarting development activity in the city’s long-awaited Wolf Branch Innovation District, located a short drive east of downtown Mount Dora.
Amco anticipates investing $980 million into the effort, including a payout of $32 million in impact fees to the city and county for necessary infrastructure improvements.
The plan calls for a 100,000-square-foot convention center, 325 hotel rooms, a 60,000-square-foot medical office, a 125,000-square-foot self-storage facility, a preschool, an underground parking garage, and a 5.2-acre man-made lake with walking trails and outdoor fitness equipment accessible to the public and residents.
The commercial components include a 24,500-square-foot food market space, a number of restaurants, and a specialty grocery store totaling approximately 55,000 square feet.
Residential units would be divided among apartments, condominiums, and a senior living facility.
“This is a huge deal for Mount Dora,” Aaron Hakim, the land developer with Amco told the council at the Jan. 17 meeting. “This is a legacy project. This is a destination. I think this will complement the city of Mount Dora. We just got to figure out how to make this work. I’m trying to do everything I can to do that.”
After hours of discussion, the city commission voted 6-1 in favor of the project at its first reading, but they want to see some changes, particularly in regard to building height, when it comes back for a final vote in the coming weeks.
The city has for more than 20 years envisioned an 830-acre stretch of land at its eastern gateway being transformed into a bustling employment center with high-density residential and commercial uses supporting a variety of office and industry assets
This is the first urban-scale development proposal to emerge for the Wolf Branch Innovation District. In December, the City Council approved the Vista Hills PUD on the north side of S.R. 46. Located just outside of the district, it will have 442 dwelling units located in three-story, garden-style apartment buildings with a maximum height of 45 feet.
The land development code adopted in 2021 for the Wolf Branch Innovation District allows for a maximum building height of 100 feet.
Amco originally proposed buildings as tall as 350 feet for its mixed-use project on a piece of the WBID, but it was scaled back to 310 feet following a recommendation by the city’s planning and zoning commission.
The planning and zoning commission, and city staff, recommended the council approve the project with new reduced heights.
But 310 feet is still out of reach for members of the council.
“I think it’s an amazing plan, but not necessarily for Mount Dora,” councilman Dennis Dawson said. “It’s great for maybe Orlando or Maitland, but even at 300 feet. it is 300 percent over what the innovation district calls for. "
He noted that these buildings, as proposed, would be taller than the Statue of Liberty, which overlooks the New York Harbor at 305 feet.
Councilman Doug Bryant pointed out that only eight buildings in downtown Orlando rise higher than 310 feet.
“I think there’s a lot to like about the concept here,” said Vice Mayor Marc Crail. “And I’m prepared to move this along from the first reading. But I could not support this at a final reading (because of) the building heights. It is an employment center, I think it’s unique and it’s a great first step, but that 300-foot height thing is a dealbreaker for me if it’s still that way when the second and final reading comes up.”
Hakim said he’d explore shaving a little off the height but noted that meeting the 100 feet threshold outlined in city code isn’t feasible.
“At the end of the day I get it, the concern is the height,” he said. “But if you want me to get down to that 150-foot height it can’t happen on that property, it won’t work.”
He noted that eliminating 30 feet from the original proposal resulted in a loss of 120,000 square feet of space. Moving to a concept below 300 feet would mean another 40,000 square feet is taken away.
“There’s only so much I can take out of the building,” he said.
Council members also questioned the price point of the residential units proposed for the project and whether people working on the site could afford to live there.
Site plans describe the 12-story condo, to be called Sophia Mount Dora, as a “luxury” community.
“What we have here is luxurious condos,” Bryant said. “I don’t know that a lot of the folks who will be staffing the facilities here will be able to afford the condos or the apartments. They are fine-looking housing, and if I liked high rises, I might like living there myself. But what’s affordable?”
The company bought the three parcels in November for $2.08 million, according to property records.
Hakim said that Amco currently has properties to the east and west of this site totaling another 40 acres under contract to purchase. Workforce and affordable housing products would come later, he said.
“Right now we are bringing the first phase of the development to you,” he said, adding that this piece represents the “heart of the overall project.”
“If this goes forward we will move forward on the next phase,” Hakim said.
Mayor Crissy Stile said this project is what Mount Dora needs to jumpstart its Wolf Branch Innovation District.
“This is exactly what we want off this highway to bring people to this city,” she said. “This is clearly a project that is buying into what the city of Mt. Dora is in my opinion and what we wanted for this development that has been 18 years in the making.”