Wolf Branch district changes recommended as Mount Dora, county weigh plan

GrowthSpotter contributor

In the first four months since Lake County and the city of Mount Dora knuckled down on their intent to bring high-paying tech jobs and new housing to the region with the 1,300-acre Wolf Branch Innovation District some tweaks have been made to the plan's mixed-use employment center.

“We are still headed in the same direction,” Mount Dora City Manager Robin Hayes said, “but are anticipating building in phases and have modified some of the land use.”

The area identified for the district is in unincorporated Lake County and falls in the county’s land-use category Regional Office, said Richard Levey, head of Levey Consulting LLC, an Orlando-based consultant hired in June to work on the project.

For the project to move forward, land will need to be annexed into Mount Dora to provide infrastructure and project leaders have now “right-sized” the amount of mixed-use land needed for the employment center to 850 acres, based on market demand, Levey said.

The rest of the 6 square miles included will be used to create “higher quality surrounding neighborhoods, which would support the acceleration of jobs in the employment center and create a more livable place,” Levey said. 

Wolf Branch has been identified by the Lake County Office of Elevate Lake as a strategic corridor to capture some of Central Florida’s projected growth. 

Located near the Lake/Orange county line and a nearly completed spur of Wekiva Parkway – the final stretch of the outer beltway around Orlando – the spot is an “ideal place to live and attract industries invested in innovation, technology and wellness,” according to county literature.

Project leaders are making progress working with 134 land owners of 172 mostly-vacant land parcels, Levey said.

“It’s not something that is going to happen overnight,” Levey said. But he described negotiations with large land owners as “going fairly well,” as they begin to work with smaller property owners, too.

The goal at the end of the day is an employment center located in the east and southeastern portions of the project area. The market study showed demand around 475 acres. However, it makes good planning sense to include some wiggle room – hence the 850 acres identified for mixed-use, Levey said. It always works out that some land is just not available for redevelopment. 

Planners are focusing on building the employment center in two phases.

The first phase is establishing a general area north of S.R. 46, which will be attached to the new S.R. 453 connector. The second phase is just south of there, in what has been identified as the Summer Lake-Grace Groves project area.

“Phase one has great access,” Levey said, “and Phase two does not have access.”

Therefore conditions need to be met first to develop the second phase. 

Mostly, the big focus now is designing a plan with a unique quality of place, Levey said.

“Employers can go anywhere,” Levey said, “We need to create a great place of higher quality, I won’t just be working on the employment center but the six miles around it.”

To assist in allowing a more flexible time frame for annexation, the city has extended its waiver on annexation fees from 2019 to 2020, Hayes said. This goes for any potential annexation project in the city.

Levey is also behind Lake Nona, an 11,000-acre planned community in Orlando, and consultant of Sunbridge, a 24,000-acre community in Orange and Osceola counties.

“Each project has a different set of circumstance,” Levey said. Lake Nona had a single land owner, which made it easily transformable, Levey said. Sunbridge has been a work in progress since 2005, he said.

“I’d say we’re ahead of Sunbridge and behind Lake Nona – Wolf Bridge has characteristics that give it tremendous lift,” Levey said. “The quality of life in Mount Dora is probably the greatest asset going for it.”

Meanwhile, residential plans for Wolf Branch are coming together and planners have applied for a series of grants to provide top-notch infrastructure and recreational space in the district, Hayes said.

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