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Residential Property Developments

Orange County explores ways to get developers to build more missing middle housing products

Orange County is pushing for more townhome projects like this one MI Homes is planning within its Ovation at Star Lake community within the Gem Groves PD in Horizon West's Village I.

Orange County planning leaders are so eager to see more missing middle housing products emerge on infill sites throughout the Orlando area that they used a recent commission meeting to point out private land where these projects could go.

They showcased two locations along Colonial Drive and another near Orange Blossom Trail where an operating, yet old, shopping center sits.

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But the Jan. 10 discussion was less about where these housing types should go and more about how to get more developers to build them.

“We continue to fall short on that challenging missing middle, attainable housing piece,” Jon Weiss, deputy county manager, told commissioners at the meeting that focused on housing supply.

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Orange County leaders believe this vacant 4.3-acre parcel located near the southwest intersection of Colonial Drive and N. Econlockhatchee Trail holds potential for a missing middle project.

At a time when the average home in Orange County sells for $530,000 — and when only 15% of all home sales come in under $200,000 — the county is exploring ways to encourage developers to build more of this housing alternative that falls on the pricing scale between detached single-family homes and apartments.

Several strategies were introduced at the Jan. 10 commission meeting and will be subject to further discussion at future workshops.

Here are some ideas on the table, though they aren’t quite fully fleshed out:

  • The county could donate some of its surplus land to nonprofit organizations in order to incentivize the development of missing middle products.
  • The county could collaborate with willing developers to get these projects up and running more quickly on small infill sites within established neighborhoods.
  • The county could construct its own missing middle projects as part of a pilot program and then turn them over to an owner or property management company.

“We are working to solve a problem that we don’t know the solution to and are trying to come at it from different angles,” Weiss said in an email to GrowthSpotter. “There are plenty of missing middle examples around Orlando, but they are not as prevalent in sub-urban Orange County. That’s what I’m excited about exploring: How missing middle product types can be integrated within (or adjacent along the permitter of) our existing sub-urban neighborhoods.”

Asked how the county planned to incentive developers to build more missing middle products, he said the county is still working on that answer.

“Developers and contractors in the housing market are in the business to make money. ...So unless the demand is there and a high likelihood for a return on investment, they won’t start the project. They will put their capital into other efforts with lower risk and/or a greater return.”

He added, “As we continue the discussions, we will be working to understand the risks and cost factors of developers, the impacts of local zoning and building regulations, and the County’s approval processes so we can look for opportunities to remove barriers of that private investment. If a developer can make just as much money on a smaller home as a larger home, they might just build more of them on their own.”

As for where these missing middle homes will go — “that’s also a work in progress,” Weiss said.

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One example of a missing middle product on an infill site is this plan for a 1.64-acre commercial plot just outside Baldwin Park overlooking the popular Cady Way Trail. A trio of realty groups are looking to build 25 fee-simple townhomes using floorplans currently found in Laureate Park.

The county has found some possibilities though.

Alyssa Henriquez, the county’s assistant project manager with the planning division, gave examples of “under-utilized and under-performing commercial sites” that “are ripe for infill redevelopment.”

The first site is a vacant 4.3-acre parcel located near the southwest intersection of Colonial Drive and N. Econlockhatchee Trail that has been owned since 1988 by Tarek Atassi using an entity named Atassi Inc. Atassi received a conservation area impact permit from Orange County in 2007 to construct a commercial project, but the building never took shape.

The second site is located at the northwest intersection of W Lancaster Road and Winegard Road, south of downtown Orlando just east of Orange Blossom Trail. The 13.8-acre property, owned by Lancaster Square Orlando LLC, is occupied by an aging shopping center that was built in 1983. Tenants include a Family Dollar, a salon, a meat and deli market, and more.

The owners recently, on Jan. 5, submitted a permit request to repair 3,000 square feet of roof.

One parcel identified by Orange County staff as a potential site for missing middle development is located at the northwest intersection of W Lancaster Road and Winegard Road, south of downtown Orlando just east of Orange Blossom Trail. The 13.8-acre property is occupied by an aging shopping center that was built in 1983.  Tenants include a Family Dollar, a salon, a meat and deli market, and more.

“It’s still functional, but it has some areas that we could add some affordable and attainable housing to,” Henriquez said.

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The third site is located in North Orange County at the southeast intersection of Rouse Road and Colonial Drive. The 12.5-acre property includes an old shopping center built in 1993 that formerly housed the Amazon Village Flea Market and now holds the home decor and furniture store At Home.

“This is a larger site that could be ripe for a complete razing and then redevelopment into a mixed-use project with a component of affordable and attainable housing,” Henriquez said.

The push for more attainable housing is part of the county’s “Housing for All” initiative adopted in 2019. The program came with a goal for Orange County to generate 86,100 new housing units by 2030 to account for population growth.

Of that total, the county aimed to have 12.8% of those units (11,000) be affordable with 22.4% of those units (19,300) characterized as attainable or workforce housing.

“Looking at the first three years of the housing for all action plan, the county has largely been able to deliver on its commitments on the affordable side and the market-rate side,” Weiss told commissioners earlier this month. “But we’ve been falling short on the attainable side.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at (407)-800-1161 or dwyatt@GrowthSpotter.com, or tweet me at @DustinWyattGS. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn


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