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Residential Property Developments

More and more churches are selling off land for residential development

Developer Dwight Saathoff has been under contract to purchase 11.3 acres at the site of Shenandoah Baptist Church just south of the Orlando International Airport in order to build 90 townhome units.

Joining a national trend, some Orlando area churches are selling off land to developers to make room for homes and apartments amid demand for more housing.

Earlier this month, Mark Todd, lead pastor of New Life Church of God, submitted an application to Orange County seeking a land-use change to allow the nearly 60-year-old church at 2820 N Alafaya Trail, just south of UCF’s campus, to be replaced with a 600-bed, 150-unit student housing community.

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Before that, developer Dwight Saathoff has been under contract to purchase 11.3 acres at the site of Shenandoah Baptist Church just south of the Orlando International Airport in order to build 90 townhome units.

And recently, Epoch Residential finished construction on an age-restricted apartment community where Aloma Methodist Church in Winter Park once stood before it closed.

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A picture of the former Aloma United Methodist Church in Winter Park. Most of the church site was built in the 1970s. It's been replaced by an age-restricted apartment community.

“This is going on everywhere, even more so in the higher growth states in the southeast.,” said Matt Messier, an Orlando-based broker with Foundry Commercial who specializes in land deals involving churches, schools, and nonprofits. “And we are going to continue to see it because churches own a lot of real estate and quite frankly, they own a lot of good real estate.”

In many cases, churches are closing and no longer have use for the land. A 2021 study by Lifeway Research found that 4,500 churches of Protestant denominations across the nation shuttered in 2019, a number that continues to grow year after year.

In other cases though, with land for new development growing more and more scarce, church leaders are deciding to part with a portion of its property while leaving the existing sanctuary and other church buildings in place.

“Churches are realizing they have valuable property, and that they aren’t being good stewards by just sitting around cutting the grass,” Messier said. “They are saying: Why don’t we sell it and we can use those funds to go do ministry or pay off some debt?”

Saathoff, the president of Project Finance & Development, said he approached the leaders of Shenandoah Baptist Church, located at the southwest intersection of Goldenrod Road and Pershing Avenue, about his townhome project.

The church will keep two acres for its buildings. For the rest of the land, Saathoff has filed a request to Orange County to rezone it from A-2 to PD to allow for residential development.

The church will keep two acres for its buildings. For the rest of the land, Dwight Saathoff has filed a request to Orange County to rezone it from A-2 to PD to allow for residential development.

That request is slated to go before the county’s development review committee on Aug. 24. While Pulte Homes was previously attached to this townhome project, that homebuilder is no longer involved. Now Project Finance & Development will be the sole builder of the townhomes.

Saathoff told GrowthSpotter that churches have a commodity that’s becoming harder and harder for residential developers to find: Land, particularly infill land.

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“As a community builds out and runs out of land, you look around to find interior, vacant parcels,” he said. “These churches, back when land was cheaper, bought bigger tracts and they aren’t being run for profit so they aren’t trying to maximize every inch of the land. They bought more land than they ended up needing.”

He added, “I think being able to create an opportunity for housing in an area that isn’t otherwise going to get a lot of new housing stock because it’s all built out is a cool thing about this project.”

Site plans drafted by civil engineering firm Exo Limited show 15 two-story townhome buildings of varying sizes set a minimum of 20 feet apart with as few as four attached units and as many as eight attached units. Lot sizes would be a minimum of 2,000 square feet while dwelling units would be a minimum of 1,000 square feet.

The site includes a large stormwater pond in the center of the property owned by Orange County.

Project Finance & Development is also the master developer behind the 1,185-acre, 2,078-home The Grow agri-hood community awaiting final approval for east Orlando and one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in Seminole County, Riverbend.

This stretch of Goldenrod Road has seen a number of residential projects of late.

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Just south of the Shenandoah Baptist Church property, David Weekley Homes has closed out all of the homes within its 72-lot single-family home subdivision nearby at 3522 and 3412 S. Goldenrod Rd. called Flora Gardens.

To the north, more homes are being planned along Goldenrod Road. Orlando-based Galleon Consulting Group LLC, led by developer Neel Shivcharran, is building out a 100-lot townhome community at 2504 S. Goldenrod Road.

The land-use plan for this project was approved by the Orange County board of commissioners in January.

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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