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An aerial showing the proposed Fern Grove site in relation to a number of projects either underway or proposed, including The Packing District's new YMCA center, the Orlando Tennis Centre, auto dealer Don Mealey's proposed District West development and Foundry Commercial's Princeton Oaks industrial park.
An aerial showing the proposed Fern Grove site in relation to a number of projects either underway or proposed, including The Packing District's new YMCA center, the Orlando Tennis Centre, auto dealer Don Mealey's proposed District West development and Foundry Commercial's Princeton Oaks industrial park. (Orange County Property Appraiser/GrowthSpotter)

A proposed senior affordable housing project about a mile from The Packing District proved to be a contentious affair last week at an Orlando Municipal Planning Board meeting.

After enduring some emotional testimony from residents and environmentalists who voiced concerns over the impact the new development may have on the surrounding neighborhood, and what they claim to be Little Wekiva River’s drainage area underneath, the board voted to postpone any action until next month’s meeting, requesting the developer bring back clearer plans and a completed tree survey.

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“I’m starting not to be able to overlook the continuous comments and concerns,” planning board Chairperson Mark Suarez said at the meeting. “It’s in my opinion that the city follow up on these issues."

At the center of the dispute is Banyan Development’s proposed 138-unit senior-oriented apartment project called Fern Grove. The development is planned for a 6.6-acre portion of a roughly 22-acre parcel at 3750 W.D. Judge Dr. that Banyan has under contract.

Early conceptual plans depict a U-shaped building along W.D. Judge Drive with an equal number of one- and two-bedroom age-restricted units geared for residents 55 years of age or older.

Engineer Robert Fudge with GAI Consultants said “great steps have been taken” to ensure the development goes beyond environmental standards.

He said the developer is doubling the size of its water basin to ensure the water keeps it quality and has worked with the city arborist to make sure they would honor and maintain a heavy presence of trees.

A landscaping site plan for Fern Grove project.
A landscaping site plan for Fern Grove project. (City of Orlando)

According to the site plan, more than 4.5 acres south of the first phase of Fern Grove would be left for conservation.

A proposed second phase south of the conservation land is also being explored, Banyan co-founder Alex Kiss expressed at the meeting. Clear details for that portion have not yet been decided, he said, but would be similar to the first phase.

Fern Grove is being proposed at a time when much of the surrounding land is geared for major development.

Just across the site, Foundry Commercial is building out its 115-acre Princeton Oaks Industrial Park, which once complete will feature about a million square feet of light industrial office/warehouse space at 3401 W.D. Judge Dr. west of N. John Young Parkway.

Foundry earned city and state zoning and development plan approvals in early 2017.

That same year Foundry’s Princeton Oaks Industrial Investors LLC, along with the United States Army Corps. of Engineers and Colonel Jason A. Kirk, chief engineer of the Jacksonville District, were sued by two entities led by community activist called Save the Wekiva River and Headwaters, Inc. and Bear Warriors United, Inc. That case was dropped about a year later.

A second lawsuit filed against the city and Princeton Oaks Industrial Investors is still ongoing. The plaintiffs argue the city’s rezoning and are challenging its ability to enact and follow environmental protection ordinances.

Orlando auto dealer Don Mealey also has a purchase contract on the 71.5-acre site along John Young Parkway, stretching from Judge Drive to Princeton. He’s filed plans with City of Orlando to rezone it as an activity center called “District West" that would be home to a new Subaru dealership plus a mix of commercial and industrial uses.

The Packing District, nearby, is also reshaping the neighborhood.

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Late last year, Dr. Phillips Charities gifted more than 100 acres of land at Princeton and John Young to the city to make way for a new $12 million YMCA Family Center and regional park just east of Fern Grove, as part of The Packing District.

The park also will be home to the new Orlando Tennis Centre, which will have 16 full-size, lighted tennis courts, a 5,000-square-foot clubhouse with locker rooms and shade cabanas with water misting systems. Also planned for construction in the coming year is a new 300-unit apartment community and a retail complex anchored by a new food hall and microbrewery on Orange Blossom Trail.

“After meeting with the protesters we heard verbatim: ‘We’re not not protesting your project, we like your project, we just had enough,’" Kiss said. "What they were seeming to refer to was the Princeton Oaks development to the north and The Packing District... Combined that’s hundreds of acres under construction.

“It feels like we’re getting the rough end of the stick.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at arabines@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-5427, or tweet me at @amanda_rabines. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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