Tavistock's Sunbridge CDD request raises questions in Osceola

Osceola County planners and legal staff raised serious questions this week about Tavistock Development Company's petition to establish a community development district (CDD) for the first phase of its massive Sunbridge community.

Mahmoud Najda, who chairs the county's Development Review Committee, said he would allow the petition to move forward to the commission in May but would make sure commissioners are well briefed on the staff concerns.

Among those concerns is that the developer's proposed $26.8 million CDD budget includes no funding for water and sewer infrastructure in an area that currently lacks those services. 

"The way I see it is this is a brand new community," special counsel Marsha Segal-George said. "It’s very out there – and there’s no mention of water and sewer."

Tavistock Vice President Clint Beaty explained that the developer has had "very preliminary" discussions with the Toho Water Authority to provide water and sewer service, but there is no agreement in place. Tavistock so far has elected not to budget for those expenses.

Segal-George also questioned the timing of the request, saying it was highly unusual for a developer to petition for a CDD when there are so many unanswered questions about the development plan. Tavistock officials have said they expect to file a development plan for the Osceola land in about five months. 

"Typically, when a developer petitions for a CDD, they already have an approved development plan," she said. "We’ve never really had a situation like this. We have a PD that has not been approved and a request for a CDD that does not, on its face, address infrastructure."

Jonathan Johnson, attorney for Tavistock, said the developer understands the risk of moving forward in such an unconventional manner. "At the end of the day, there’s only so much infrastructure that can be financed by CDD bonds," he explained. "There’s a market limit for how much debt the land will hold. We picked and said here’s what we think we could fund with a CDD."

And if commissioners approve the CDD, that doesn't guarantee they will sign off on the development plan. In the unlikely event that the Lake Nona developer doesn't have permits in place for Sunbridge within five years, Osceola can dissolve the CDD, Johnson said.

Tavistock has a contract to serve as master developer for more than 24,000 acres of former ranch land owned by Suburban Land Reserve, a holding company of the Morman Church. More than 19,000 acres are in Osceola County's urban growth boundary and are part of a mixed-use district.

Another 4,787 acres is located in Orange County. Tavistock has filed a comprehensive plan amendment and is working with county planners on a regulating plan for the acreage, which will be linked to the Osceola portion of Sunbridge by a future road.

The developer expects to start construction in both counties in 2018, but has released more details for its Orange County property. For example, Tavistock announced the first phase in Orange would include construction of 5,720 homes, 1,650 multifamily units, 490 hotel rooms, 5.5 million square feet of office space, 2.9 million square feet of industrial uses and 880,000 square feet of retail. 

For Osceola, which already has a detailed mixed-use plan for the area, Tavistock has only released information about the number of homes in Phase 1. According to the CDD document, Tavistock plans to construct 1,330 residential units within the district: 341 villas on 35-foot lots; 684 classic homes on 50-foot lots; and 305 estate homes on 65-foot lots. 

The Northeast District has a conceptual master plan that lays out specific street grids and employment areas to be developed in the first phase, as well as three "special districts" that are entitled for more than 3 million square feet of commercial, office and industrial space. A developer can propose an alternate development scenario as long as it adheres to the county's mixed-use policies.

Osceola planners wanted to know how closely the developer plans to follow the Northeast District framework, since the Sunbridge CDD1 boundary -- at just 711 acres -- is significantly smaller than the first staging district. 

"We're still working on our conceptual plan," Beaty said. 

The Northeast District master plan, which was adopted by county ordinance in 2014, prohibits a developer from starting work in the second staging area until the first is complete and future highways are at least under construction. Specific developer goals must also be achieved: construction of 7,000 homes and creation of 4,000 jobs.

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