Miami-based Westside Capital Group founder Jakub Hejl is hoping that eliminating one of the apartment buildings and increasing the open space next to single-family homes will convince Orlando’s City Council to approve plans for the $1 billion RoseArts District urban village.
Hejl had a pre-application meeting with Planning Division Manager Elisabeth Dang last week and on Monday submitted new applications for annexation, future land use and zoning for the 128-acre project.
The project was proposed for 6,000 residential units and 350,000 square feet of retail and commercial uses on the site of the former Lake Orlando golf course in the city’s Rosemont neighborhood. It received a recommendation for approval from the Municipal Planning Board in late 2020, but neighborhood residents appealed the case to the City Council in April. Hejl’s attorney withdrew the applications during the meeting after four commissioners said they would grant the appeal.
Several commissioners said the project density was incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood. Commissioner Robert Stuart had suggested capping the density at 1,600 units for the entire 128 acres.
The revised plan eliminates one of the proposed multifamily buildings, reducing the total unit count by 350, while increasing open space. A letter from Hejl outlining the revisions notes that removing “building J” from the plan also protects the existing canal and improves the efficiency of the flood plains.
“This reduction keeps enough new residents to support the Town Center and demonstrates our focus on continuously working with the community,” Hejl wrote.
Building J was in the westernmost portion of the project, slated to be developed as part of the third phase. Westside Capital is still seeking approval for 1,600 dwelling units and 150,000 square feet of commercial in phase 1.
Stuart said he wants a project that would be “transformational” for the area, but he is disappointed in the limited scope of the revisions. “I shared my concerns with the owner and asked him to bring back a plan that would be more acceptable to the entire neighborhood,” Stuart said. “That’s not what he did.”
While the maximum building height would remain at eight stories, the developer made several revisions in response to concerns from the neighborhood and commissioners. Hejl said the new plan more than doubles the building setback — from 70 to 150 feet — between single-family homes and five-story buildings. The mid-rise buildings would gradually increase in height using a stepped terrace design.
The distance between single-family homes to the eight-story portion of any future mixed-use buildings was changed to 200 feet, an increase of 80 feet from the previous plan.
During the April 12 meeting, Commissioner Regina Hill criticized the developer for using opportunity zone tax benefits with only minimal plans for affordable housing. The developer had initially agreed to keep 2% of residential units in phase 1 affordable, but in the new plan, he commits to offer “at least 10%” of all units at attainable rents. That pledge would bring roughly 565 affordable units to the community over the course of the project.
In the revised plan, the developer also agreed to build a new lakefront trail and to protect more trees.
“We have worked with the design team and have depicted areas adjacent to the perimeter of the site and within proximity to single-family homes where existing trees will remain,” Hejl wrote. “We also remain committed to maintaining as many mature trees throughout the site as possible.”
Additional concessions include the agreement to commission a more detailed traffic study and to hold another community meeting in early June. Attendance was limited during the first round of public meetings in 2020 because of COVID restrictions.
The application package is tentatively scheduled to go to MPB in July.
Vicki Vargo, a Rosemont resident and former city commissioner, said Hejl reneged on a promise to meet with the neighborhood before resubmitting the plan. She told GrowthSpotter the proposed changes will not garner any more community support for the project. She said Rosemont already has 3,500 apartments, and adding nearly 6,000 more would further harm the community.
“This developer has listened to no one,” she said. “He hasn’t listened to the community. He hasn’t listened to the commissioners. He thinks he’s just going to bulldoze everybody. I have never seen anything like this in the city of Orlando.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated with comments from Commissioner Robert Stuart.