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Multi-Family Residential Developments

Orange County wants to incentivize developers to build mixed-income communities

Last summer, the longtime owner of 40 acres of land in Apopka began hashing out development ideas for the vacant property.

LandDesign submitted an application to Orange County to discuss a proposed 181-lot subdivision — a mix of detached single-family homes and townhomes — under the name Cascades at Marden.

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A year later, a new plan for the same property was submitted to the county for review. And while it wears the same name, the newest iteration is much larger and includes a focus on affordable housing.

Jim Hall with Hall Development Services filed an application to the county last week seeking to rezone the 40 acres of former agricultural land from R-2 to a PD in order to construct 216 single-family attached residential dwelling units and 400 multi-family units, with 20% of the apartments being affordable.

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This mix of market-rate and affordable housing within the same community is a product that Orange County planners are pushing for more of.

In a recent interview with GrowthSpotter, Alberto Vargas, the county’s planning director, said the county anticipates having submittals for 80,300 new multifamily units by 2030. Of that number, the county’s goal is for 30% of those units to be designated as affordable.

“We are trying to have that conversation with the development community,” he said. “They may just be thinking of submitting for market rate; what we are saying is that we have mechanisms in place right now to incentivize mixed-income, where you have affordable, attainable and market rate combined. That’s the approach we are going after.”

Developers of projects that introduce a mixed-income program could see incentives such as an expedited review process, a reduction in impact fees, and other financial incentives, Vargas explained.

The initiative is tied to Orange County’s Housing for All initiative, a ten-year plan to address housing affordability and supply by removing regulatory barriers, creating new financial resources, targeting areas of access and opportunity, and engaging the community and industry, according to the county’s website.

Vargas said mixed-income communities should be designed in a way where the affordable units are indistinguishable from market-rate units by either appearance or amenities.

“The residential units shall be dispersed at all affordability levels throughout the development, neighborhood, or community with a continuum of income levels rather than a demarked division between market rate and low-income residents. New mixed-income neighborhoods should fit seamlessly into the surrounding community.”

Vargas said the county is working to move away from stand-alone affordable housing communities.

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An example of a large-scale mixed-income project in the area is Wendover Housing Partners’ plan to build a 1,000-unit housing community for Universal called Catchlight Crossings. It’ll include an on-site tuition-free preschool and medical care, 16,000 square feet of retail space, fitness trails and a transportation hub for buses, ridesharing and employer shuttles.

The idea is also referred to as inclusionary zoning, and many government jurisdictions have gone a step beyond incentivizing it. Large cities such as Seattle, Minneapolis, Boston, Atlanta, and Denver have policies requiring it.

In Denver, for example, developers can either build more affordably priced units as part of any construction project or pay a mandatory fee to offset the construction of affordable units elsewhere.

That policy, which was approved in June and amended a month later to include the mandatory in-lieu-of fee, also provides incentives.

“Denver’s position is that inclusionary housing can’t solve the housing crisis alone, but it is a proven strategy for cities and states to create, maintain, and preserve housing units that are affordable for generations,” Laura Swartz, the city’s Community Planning and Development spokesperson told the Denver Gazette. “An important element of successful policies is to combine requirements with incentives, such as lower fees, parking reductions, and height increases, to help offset the cost of building affordable units and increase the overall supply of housing.”

As of now, short of a requirement, Orange County’s top planner is hoping the prospect of incentives is enough to entice developers to move in this direction.

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The extent of the participation could come down to how far the county is willing to go with the incentives, said Lee Steinhauer, the general counsel of the Apartment Association of Greater Orlando.

“It’s expensive to build anything when you consider land prices, materials, labor, financing, and impact fees,” he told GrowthSpotter. “I think if the county is serious about incentivizing this they are going to have to figure out a way to make it pencil out for a developer. By either waiving impact fees for units targeted to be affordable, expediting the entire project, or waiving permitting fees, etc. They are going to have to make it work from an economic standpoint.”

If the county offers all of the above, it could convince some to pursue mixed-income, but not all, he added.

“We certainly need more affordable housing, I don’t think anyone is going to argue with that,” Steinhauer said. “And getting creative in terms of how to create affordable housing is always a good thing and a positive. I think in this scenario, it sounds good on its face and it can work under the right conditions, I just don’t think it’s going to be for everyone. It’s going to be something the county will have to heavily incentivize.”

Central Florida is faced with a critical shortage of affordable housing as rent rates climb. The average rent for an Orlando apartment is currently $1,813 per month, according to Co-Star.

As of 2020, the Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse showed that among all income levels, more than 86,000 Orange County households spent more than half their monthly income on housing, along with nearly 27,000 in Seminole County and more than 17,400 in Osceola County.

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According to research from the Florida Apartment Association, Orange County currently has a shortage of 5,188 apartment homes and will have a shortage of 54,477 apartment homes by 2030.

In an effort to add to the affordable housing inventory, the Orange County Commission, in 2020, started the taxpayer-funded Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

The county has invested $25 million into the program thus far. Over the next 10 years, the county is expected to funnel $160 million into it.

The first wave of allocations from this program came in September of 2021 when the county awarded $13 million to developers for four separate multifamily communities.

Among recipients, Wendover Housing Partners received $2 million for its Southwick Commons project, with a promise to bring 195 workforce housing units to Apopka’s city center.

But the city denied the project, citing a contract with the city center developer that banned affordable options. Wendover Housing then sued the city, citing discrimination.

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The county is also exploring a controversial rent control measure. Commissioners voted 4-3 Tuesday to put a rent stabilization ordinance on the Nov. 8 election ballot.

The site of the proposed Cascades at Marden is owned by an entity titled Marden Properties Inc, led by Ann Carr. Records show the company has controlled the land since the 1980′s.

Materials submitted to Orange County do not indicate which developer has been tabbed to lead the project. The county deemed it an insufficient application, so it will not be reviewed until more information is provided.

On adjacent land to the west, construction is underway for the Class A, 264-unit Summer House apartment community, which is being developed by NM Residential and Nvision Development.

To the south of Summer House is another luxury living NM Residential asset: The 272-unit Marden Ridge.

The Cascades at Marden property is surrounded to the north and east by a subdivision.

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Apopka has seen a flurry of residential development in recent months. Mercury Advisors is seeking approval from the county to build as many as 160 single-family homes along the north side of Orange Blossom Trail/S.R. 441 near Zellwood.

That’s located less than two miles from the company’s Avion Pointe project which is being built out by multifamily developer Taurus Investment Holdings and homebuilder D.R. Horton.

Plans for Avian Pointe call for more than 750 residential units across of mix of single-family homes, townhomes and apartments. The master-planned community will feature a large amount of community/recreational space that will include multiple sports fields, courts and public parks.

KB Home recently submitted plans to the city for 150 townhomes and 27 detached homes on 45 acres at the southwest intersection of Kelly Park Road and Chandler Road in the city’s Kelly Park interchange district.

Illinois-based Wingspan Development Group is teaming up with Tampa-based developer ABC Capital Corp to bring a mix-use village with restaurants, retail space and multi-family apartments to the Kelly Park Interchange.

Clearwater developer Mike Galvin is working on plans to bring 675 single-family residential units and 300 apartments to 180 acres between Effie Drive and Round Lake Road, just north of Kelly Park Road.

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Pulte Homes is pursuing what could become its second residential community in the Kelly Park Interchange district, seeking to bring another 140 homes to 40 acres at 3100 Ondich Rd. and 5704, 5706 and 5708 Plymouth Sorrento Road.

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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