After a second public hearing and more detailed presentation of the regulations over the Wekiva Study Area, Orlando’s Municipal Planning Board gave it unanimous approval for a rezoning that clears the way for a 4-story apartment building for low-income seniors.
The zoning allows for multifamily residential development on the upper third of the property at 3750 W.D. Judge Dr. while creating a protected conservation and wetland area that bisects the 22-acre parcel.
Banyan Development’s proposed 138-unit senior-oriented apartment project called Fern Grove. The development is planned for a 6.6-acre portion fronting on Judge Drive. The undeveloped property, which neighbors another senior housing complex on the west and single family homes on the east, had a previously approved Planned Development that would have allowed 122 townhomes.
A handful of neighborhood residents and community activists have opposed the project, claiming it would damage the recharge area for the Wekiva watershed. They also opposed the height of the project and the impact on the single family neighborhood that abuts it to the east.
Elisabeth Dang, director of planning for the city, said the property falls within the Wekiva Study Area, but not the more restrictive Wekiva River Protection Area. The planning staff said Banyan and its engineer, GAI Consultants, had met all of the state and local regulations for the project to move forward. They even redesigned the site plan to reduce the amount of onsite parking by 44 spaces in order to protect more of the existing tree canopy on site.
“We are not touching the wetlands,” Engineer Robert Fudge told the board. “That can not be emphasized enough. Not a single tree or square foot is being filled.”
The MPB also approved the requested Conditional Use Permit to allow for a waiver of the height restriction. The permit allows the building to be as tall as 55 feet, but Banyan CEO Alex Kiss said the building would be closer to 45 feet. He told the board that Banyan is not filing plans at this point for the southern portion of the property, but the long-term vision would be to develop single family homes or duplexes and access the site from the adjacent neighborhood. That neighborhood already has roads that dead-end at the property line.
MPB member Morgan Lea said she appreciated the passion from neighbors who feel their community is being encroached on by intensive development. The neighborhood is also home to a Frito Lay plant and the Princeton Oaks Business Park. But she also recognized the city’s desperate need for affordable housing, especially for senior citizens.
“There were decisions made before we were on the board that affected the area,” Lea said. “The issues you brought up are valid, but that’s not something we can consider in our decision.”