City staff push for design changes on 13-story concept along E. Livingston

Illinois-based multifamily developer Banner Real Estate Group has the initial support of city staff for its proposed 13-story mixed-use apartment building planned in Downtown Orlando, but has also been put on notice that key design elements must change in the coming months. 

Conceptual plans and new renderings for the 13-story building will go before Orlando's Appearance Review Board on Thursday for a courtesy review. 

That's being done by the developer, civil engineer Kimley-Horn and architect Baker Barrios to get valuable early feedback from the ARB and staff on their design, before an eventual Master Plan filing. Banner will have to submit again for a formal ARB review and approval, prior to submitting for building permits. 

This would be Banner's entry to the Central Florida market, with a proposed six-parcel assemblage totaling about 1.77 acres at 108 E. Livingston St., on the southeast corner with N. Rosalind Avenue, first reported here in late April.

The project's latest conceptual site plan calls for 389 units, 14,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, a five-story parking garage and host of amenities. 

Some architectural choices by Banner and Baker Barrios have been praised in the new report from ARB staff. 

Along Rosalind Avenue the building's base frontage would feature retail and creative landscaping in a curvilinear public plaza, while along Livingston Street the building's base would have brownstone apartments. Large vertical display artwork could be included on the west and south ends of the property.

The public plaza as currently designed would have a water feature, built-in seating throughout and a trellis that invites visitors to congregate. Bicycle parking would be ample, and an interactive art sculpture on the north side would serve as a landmark and "photo destination" for visitors, the company said. 

But while ARB staff wrote in the courtesy review that they're supportive of this project, that comes with the caveat that it be particularly well-designed and sensitive to location.

Banner is seeking approval for a partial street abandonment, rezoning of the six parcels, and amendment to the Growth Management Plan's Future Land Use Map from the city's Municipal Planning Board on Sept. 19. If approved, those requests would go to City Council in October.

ARB staff expect that with the abandonment and deeding of a portion of public street to the developer, along with a density bonus and rezoning the city must get "superior design" in return for a key downtown intersection.

ARB staff said the project still doesn't meet key criteria for the density bonus (increase from 200 units per acre to 400). Those primarily are that the 13-story design present a smooth transition between itself and the single-story homes to the east, and that it meet requirements of the Downtown Design Guidelines. 

There are a number of design enhancements that Banner has yet to meet that are required for the density bonus, including: a roof line that is sculpted to create an interesting form or enhance the downtown skyline, or alternatively a "green" roof; the primary building entrance must be a prominent feature; use of durable, high-quality materials appropriate for the climate; and placement of the parking garage on the site's interior, or lining it with habitable space along the street. 

The project also doesn't meet criteria of the Downtown Design Guidelines as of now, including: that a new building must be sited in a way that complements existing adjacent buildings; the height-and-mass transition from existing buildings to a new one should be gradual; and that high-density buildings next to residential neighborhoods must step down in height.

It's rare for ARB staff to provide this level of detail in a courtesy review. They reiterated their support of Banner's concept design, but emphasized the significance of getting it right.

The Livingston-Rosalind intersection is one of the busiest in Downtown Orlando, and because of the curve of Rosalind Avenue, the extensive street frontage of that side of the building will be highly visible from multiple vantage points.

The south facade of the building is especially important because it would terminate the view northward along Rosalind Avenue from the S.R. 408 overpass, similar to how the CNL II tower terminates the vista for those traveling south on Orange Avenue through downtown. 

Currently, the transition on the building's east and northeast sides from 13 stories down to two- and three-story neighbors is too abrupt, and unacceptable to staff. 

Staff wrote that Baker Barrios' design at this point isn't distinctive or unique enough to warrant such a prime location. They called it "nothing more than a bigger, denser, more massive version of recent mid-rise sisters" like the 420 East apartments and Central Station on Orange.

Those projects are considered "background" development, lack distinctive skyline architecture, and use common wide stucco bands, ARB staff wrote.

Officials with Baker Barrios and Banner Real Estate did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. 

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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