Homebuilders in three new Osceola County subdivisions east of Lake Tohopekaliga are the first to be subject to strict new architectural guidelines that are being proposed to elevate the quality of new home construction.
The county already had architectural guidelines for new development, but builders say this version could add up to $15,000 per unit in construction costs and materials if it’s fully implemented.
Several of the proposals are intended to minimize the visual impact of garage doors in new subdivisions by requiring that garages be recessed at least two feet from the front of the house and by replacing double doors with two single doors on lots smaller than 50 feet wide. But the most impactful change would prohibit front-loaded townhomes.
“It’s about quality,” County Manager Don Fisher said. “When you have front-loaded townhouse product, the streetscape is dominated by garage doors and vehicles. The rear-loaded townhouse is a better product, and it creates a more sustainable community.”
Concrete paver driveways are required when the driveway comprises 60% of the front elevation, but under the new guidelines that requirement would kick in at 45%. All concrete driveways would have to use “picture framing” techniques with a different material or texture.
Front porches would have to be a minimum of 6 feet deep and 10 feet wide.
The new guidelines also require more windows on all walls that can be seen from the street or public realm. The proposed 20% transparency requirement is higher than the City of Orlando’s 15% minimum.
Fisher said the new guidelines would be presented to the county’s Growth Management Task Force and come back to the Board of County Commissioners for adoption and inclusion in the Land Development Code. But commissioners already attached the draft language as conditions on three subdivision projects with a combined 2,006 lots at their May 16 meeting.
- Lake Gentry Landings, a 719-unit mixed-use community with a marina that is under contract to Mattamy Homes.
- Hickory Village at Lake Gentry: a 554-unit mixed-use development by Resibuilt, an Atlanta-based developer specializing in purpose-built rental communities
- Canoe Creek Reserve: a 733-home subdivision on Fanny Bass Road by developer Robert Zlatkiss. Two homebuilders, Taylor Morrison and KB Homes are reportedly under contract for those lots.
Fisher said every developer who brings a subdivision project to the board should expect these standards to be added as a condition for approval going forward, at least until the land development code is updated. If the final version changes, the developers would all be held to the same standard, he said.
John Adams, vice president of Rj Whidden & Associates represented two of those clients at the May 16 meeting. He told GrowthSpotter he’s not entirely sure how the new guidelines will be enforced.
For example, the Hickory Village PSP calls for 305 townhomes, but they are all designed as a front-loaded product.
“I really can’t tell you definitely that we have to redesign the whole project,” Adams said. “It all depends on what the final standards are.”
Adams said the townhomes could be switched to a rear-loaded product. Front-loaded lots tend to be deeper, so if the building is shifted closer to the street, there’s enough space to allow for an alley.
But there can be unintended consequences, he warned.
Executing that type of design change would create more impervious surface that has to be accommodated through the stormwater management system, and it reduces the amount of green space in the community.
Jim Reinart, vice president of land for Stanley Martin Homes, said he appreciates what the commissioners are hoping to accomplish, especially with the impact of garage doors. “I understand where they’re coming from,” he said. “They don’t want a 40-foot lot with a 30-foot house that’s 20 feet of garage door.”
But he said the one-size-fits-all approach might not be the best solution, and it adds to the cost of the house. Take the double versus single-door issue. The buyer ends up paying for the materials to build the pillar between the two doors, as well as two sets of tracks and two openers.
But the smaller doors, while aesthetically pleasing, are more difficult to back out of – especially for trucks and SUVs.
“By imposing the visual restriction, you’re perpetuating a parking problem because people just end up parking in the driveway or the street,” he said.
Reinhart said requiring recessed garages on all detached homes means builders won’t be able to offer floorplans that are available in other Central Florida jurisdictions. Stanley Martin Homes recently had to design a new product line with recessed garages when the City of Kissimmee imposed that condition on its Osceola Village Planned Development. He’s hoping the industry and commissioners can find a middle ground.
“If there’s a willingness to compromise, instead of asking every builder in the county to redesign their entire product line,” he said.
Commissioner Ricky Booth told GrowthSpotter he believes the county should capitalize on its status as one of the hottest housing markets in the nation to demand higher quality homes. He’s less concerned with the short-term cost of the construction than with the long-term viability of the neighborhoods in Osceola County, and he wants homes built here to stand the test of time.
“All of the decisions we make will have a lasting impact on future generations,” he said. “If we’re going to grow, we need to grow in the right way. I’m going to continue to work for the highest quality architectural standards. I feel strongly about that. I also understand I’m one of five votes.”
Booth also has been a driver of the county’s new transportation policy that applies to large-scale developments in the South Lake Toho and East of Lake Toho mixed-use districts and along the Canoe Creek and Hickory Tree road corridors. Fisher met with dozens of developers and homebuilders in February to get buy-in for the coordinated effort to upgrade the transportation network in those high-growth areas.
The county wants to replicate the transportation policies it adopted for the massive Sunbridge master-planned community in the Northeast district. In that case, the county staff was dealing with one developer, Tavistock. Commissioners approved a developer’s agreement in 2021 that spells out who will be responsible for close to $600 million in road improvements within the Sunbridge project and the surrounding community.
For the South/East Lake Toho area, the county has hired HNTB to collaborate with the developers who have active projects and use the same type of traffic modeling so they can determine the future demands and necessary improvements. The study is due in July, so rather than hold up approvals for pending projects, Fisher made it clear that each developer must sign an agreement to participate in the study and accept the consultants’ recommendations as a condition of approval.
All three of the applicants on May 16 signed the “agreement to agree.”