Orange County planners are working with stakeholders from a 500-acre area of the Pine Castle District to write a new form-based code that can drive dense, mixed-use redevelopment along a 3.8-mile stretch of S. Orange Avenue, with the Sand Lake SunRail station a focal point.
Bounded by Hoffner Avenue to the north and Sand Lake Road to the south, this portion of the Pine Castle District is home to one of two SunRail stations within unincorporated Orange County.
Planners jumped at the opportunity last year to put Transit-Oriented Development theory into action, and give that station a chance to thrive with new zoning that can attract investors to infill redevelopment.
The concepts could become policy as soon as December, impacting property owners and developers that may consider submitting new plans through the rest of this year, or waiting until 2018.
The process began last October, with planning division staff and Commissioner Pete Clarke (Dist. 3) hosting a series of review group meetings with stakeholders about how to make Pine Castle a more walkable and vibrant district.
The interest by Clarke was inspired in part by planners' success last year writing a similar new development code and Regulating Plan (RP) for International Drive, albeit one that covers a study area that's seven times the size of Pine Castle's, with a significantly different commercial focus.
"Here (in Pine Castle) the building blocks for walkability are similar, but the density will be different. We have existing single-family homes here that we didn't have on I-Drive. So we'll be very conscious of transitioning and preserving the single-family neighborhoods, and prioritizing density as you move closer to the TOD area," planning manager Alberto Vargas told GrowthSpotter on Tuesday. "This is much more mono-centric, with the transit station a focus. The highest densities will happen within a quarter mile of (SunRail)."
A challenge with planning for the Pine Castle District is that most of the property is developed, with few infill opportunities and land surrounded mostly by Industrial uses, at relatively low property values that don't immediately justify infill investment. It's the opposite of I-Drive in key ways.
The 500-acre focal area is currently zoned in segments of Industrial, Commercial and Low-Density Residential, with uses isolated for decades that are now inflexible to the changing economy.
The new RP and its standards would give flexibility for incremental infill, based on market conditions. Six transect zones would vary in density, requiring the densest mixed-use development up to eight stories within a 0.25-mile radius of the SunRail station. It would be followed by urban design standards along the S. Orange Avenue frontage with a five-story limit, and lighter residential densities radiating outward.
"I'd love to see our little area blossom, we've imagined the best of a Maitland Town Center down here, or the changes you saw occur with Mills Park (in Downtown Orlando)," said Gary Meloon, general manager and land owner of Southeast Marine, a boat sales and service business on S. Orange Avenue.
Meloon has lived and run a business in Pine Castle for decades, and said Tuesday he'd be happy if the new planning concepts improve his neighborhood's property values to the point his boating store is no longer a good fit.
"I think what they'll do here will benefit immensely the Belle Isle and Pine Castle communities, help property values and quality of life," he said.
Key steps still ahead include an update to the Future Land Use Map and Comprehensive Plan. A Comp Plan update transmittal is scheduled for July by the Board of County Commissioners.
That Comp Plan update and a Land Development Code update could then appear before the Planning & Zoning Commission in October for adoption, followed by BCC adoption in November and activation in December.
One such stakeholder with plans in progress is an affiliate of Aventura-based Master Real Estate, which bought 18 acres last November at 7803 S. Orange Ave., known as the "Gondola" property.
Residents of the property would have to walk just five minutes west (0.2 miles) to reach the SunRail station platform, with a signaled crossing on S. Orange Avenue already in place near the development's proposed entry.
They filed a Development Plan in early March that includes 196 condominium units across three buildings, 41 two-story townhomes and a two-story commercial building totaling 36,000 square feet, based on existing PD zoning. But those uses are in separate buildings and aren't stacked, limiting the visual to two stories on the S. Orange frontage.
The group's DP is still under review by planning staff. Isaac Peckel, partner in affiliate Mir Developments, said Tuesday county staff have told his team they'd like the project to be more dense, in line with the proposed code changes.
It would be a voluntary adoption of higher density standards by Peckel's group, and could help the county fast-track its vision of vertical development along the main thoroughfare.
"But we don't know if we want to increase our density, we're far along in our plans," Peckel said. "We'll have to regroup and see where we stand as far as time, and if (changing our plans) would delay the project. We're not strongly considering it, but we still don't have the construction plans, so anything can happen."
Part of the long-term change in the Pine Castle District will require federal funding for that portion of S. Orange Avenue. Design and engineering to make the road more pedestrian-friendly, reduce truck traffic, add medians, sidewalks, on-street parking and more would cost an estimated $1.27 million.
MetroPlan Orlando ranks it as its no. 4 priority project locally, and has requested federal funds for the design phase. The construction work that would follow has been estimated at $10 million or more, and doesn't include Right-of-Way acquisition for stormwater ponds.