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Holden Avenue extension to open 36 acres rich with potential, complications

Highlighted in blue are 36 acres owned by a group of investors from North Florida, who will attempt to have the property developed after Orange County builds an extension of Holden Avenue this year.
Highlighted in blue are 36 acres owned by a group of investors from North Florida, who will attempt to have the property developed after Orange County builds an extension of Holden Avenue this year.(Orange County Property Appraiser)

A group of investors from Northern Florida are eager to develop roughly 36 acres they've owned near Orlando's Mall at Millenia since the mid-1970s, as soon as Orange County provides access to the property by extending Holden Avenue, on which construction could start in December.

But the land won't be easy to develop by any means, with potentially exorbitant wetland mitigation costs ahead, and the desire to negotiate a land swap with Orange County for stormwater retention.

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A half mile of Holden Avenue remains unfinished between S. Texas Avenue and S. John Young Parkway. The completed road would connect Holden to Millenia Boulevard, and offer a new east-west route into the shopping district of Mall at Millenia, less than a half mile east of where BBX Capital and Stiles Corp.'s new Gardens on Millenia development is under construction.

That extension to Holden Avenue will provide frontage access to 36.33 acres owned by the family of Howard N. Rose, a retired ophthalmologist from Ponte Vedra Beach, and four minority shareholders from the Jacksonville and Gainesville areas. The land was first purchased in 1973 and 1974 for just over $219,000.

"We have been waiting patiently for that Holden extension to be completed," Rose told GrowthSpotter on Friday. "Because of its proximity to Mall at Millenia and access through John Young Parkway, there should be a lot of interest for new apartments. But because of a potential traffic surge through Holden, it could offer good commercial exposure as well."

The Holden Avenue extension is currently in a right-of-way acquisition phase that should conclude in June, with construction set to begin in December, Orange County Public Works confirmed on Tuesday.

The Holden Avenue project is 1.2 miles overall from S. John Young Parkway to Orange Blossom Trail, including the half-mile portion that will front Rose's property. Estimated cost for the county is $13 million, with 18-24 months to complete from start of construction. Lochrane Engineering is the design consultant, and a general contractor bid process will begin after right-of-way acquisition concludes.

Rose said his group has had talks with "a number of parties very interested" in recent years in acquiring or developing the property, but preferred to wait until a Holden Avenue extension was scheduled to increase the property's value.

Nearly all of Rose's property is designated as "Waste Land" by county land use codes. Rose concedes that much of it is wetlands, but believes that can be mitigated by elevating a large portion of the property for construction, while maintaining wetland status on the northern border with Lake Catherine.

Harvey Budd, a city commissioner in Gainesville, holds a minority stake in the property through wife Ilene Budd. Wetland mitigation on the 36 acres to create ponds will be pursued, he said.

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"We will likely hire a surveyor and civil engineer this year to prepare the property, but we have to see what the time line is for Holden Road," Budd added.

Budd said the group may pursue talks with Orange County over repositioning a public retention pond, which lies on 13.47 acres of county-owned land directly west of the group's 36 acres.

Just under 2 acres of that property was taken by Orange County in November 2012 through eminent domain from Rose and Budd's land, to contribute to stormwater retention.

"We think there could be a solution in moving that (county) retention pond so it isn't taking up so much of the street front on (S. John Young Parkway)," Budd said.

Geotechnical surveys of the 36 acres could show that bringing them into developable status is cost-prohibitive, based on the potential return for best and highest use.

But developers may see the cost as worthwhile for some of the last remaining land near Mall at Millenia. BBX Capital faced a similar challenge last year when it began mitigation and sitework on the 87 acres for Gardens on Millenia, where it had to move a portion of Lake Amanda.

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NEARBY LAND UNDER CONTRACT
A few hundred yards south of the Holden Avenue property lies a 12.5-acre tract that Rose and other stakeholders also own, which is currently under contract.

Located northeast of the intersection of S. John Young Parkway and Americana Boulevard, the parcel is neighbored by the Publix-anchored Parkway Plaza and the vast Park Central Condominiums. It's the last remaining parcel from a 450-acre golf course that was developed in the 1960s, later failed and was sold off piecemeal for residential development.

This parcel, which faces no issues with elevation or wetlands, is under contract to an international developer for a 200-unit Class A multi-family project, and could close within the next month, Budd said. Brokers with Colliers International are representing the seller in the deal.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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