Osceola County’s W192 Development Authority struggled with making a recommendation on whether hotels and motels should be allowed to convert to workforce housing after their own task force punted on the matter.
Osceola Commissioners imposed a 60-day moratorium on all motel conversions in August to give the W192 Development Authority time to complete its study and develop a set of guidelines to be incorporated into the county’s land development code. But when the authority met this week, no members of the task force attended, and their recommendation was to prohibit all motel conversions within 1,200 feet of the U.S. 192 right-of-way. Every motel and hotel on U.S. 192 falls within that distance buffer, so in essence, the recommendation would be to prohibit all future conversions.
Executive Director Christina Morris told the board members they needed to come up with a recommendation for her to take to the County Commissioners before the moratorium expires on Oct. 18. She said the task force discussed several options for barriers, beginning with 500 feet but ultimately opted for the 1,200-foot barrier, knowing it would likely be reduced.
“They gave us a recommendation, and now we have a hard decision to make the recommendation that goes up our chain,” Chairman John Classe said. After debating the issue for nearly an hour, the board agreed to recommend allowing future conversions for motel properties east of S.R. 535/Vineland Road and west of S.R. 429.
“For me, personally, that’s where I am,” Classe said. “I am comfortable with conversions east of 535. I’m not so challenged with the 500 feet or 800 feet eastern boundary, but if we’re going to allow them, we have codes and, hopefully, the additional code language that will drive the quality development and change that corridor to something that we’re wanting to see.”
Two of the three existing motels west of S.R. 429 have already been converted or in the process now. Nearly two dozen properties east of S.R. 535 could be eligible for conversion. Others, like the Magic Castle Inn & Suites, fall outside of that permitted zone.
Debra Buxton, who owns the Magic Castle spoke at the meeting. She had a contract to sell the motel for a residential conversion, but the buyer backed out of the deal. “We have a desperate need for affordable housing in Kissimmee, in Osceola County,” she said. “We have people there that work, they just can’t find a place that they can afford to move into. And this is what I’m hoping that we are able to work on this to find housing for these individuals. These individuals work in our hotels, they work at the theme parks, they work in your restaurants, they work in your offices, and they just cannot find anything.”
The board also adopted proposed design guidelines from their planning consultant that would regulate future conversions. The proposed “adaptive reuse” provision for hotels would require that owners renovate the facade of the building to make it look less like a hotel. That could require the removal of an existing porte cochère. Additionally, they would have to enhance the landscaping in the parking lot and install separate water meters and electric meters for each residential unit.
The interior of each rental unit also would need a full upgrade to residential living standards, including fully operable kitchens with sink, refrigerator, and stove/oven.
The consultant also recommended the owners create a designated, safe school bus stop in the parking lot so buses don’t have to stop on the road to pick up students.
One concession made to developers would allow them to count existing balconies and indoor gathering spaces in the calculation to meet the county’s recreational space requirements.