Carvana seeks variance for signage height on new Orlando dealership fronting I-4

Bob Moser
GrowthSpotter

Online auto dealer Carvana.com needs the city of Orlando to approve a sign variance to help make its glass "car vending machine" dealership tower visible along Interstate 4, with brand awareness being key to the company paying a premium last year for highway frontage. 

To be located at 3507 Rio Vista Ave., the 2.84-acre parcel lies south of LB McLeod Road and west of Interstate 4, directly north of the Harley Davidson and Toyota dealerships that front I-4 with Vineland Road access. 

Carvana bought the site in late November 2016 for $1.6 million, had its Master Plan approved last year by the city, and in April filed a notice of commencement with Texas-based general contractor Parkway Construction & Associates. The company recently began horizontal site work. 

The location is ideal for car dealership exposure, and one that only Carvana could utilize with its small footprint, compared to 5-10 acres needed for a typical dealership.

Plans approved for the facility call for a building of roughly 8,524 square feet, with 5,024 square feet of customer service and office area, and another 3,500 square feet of unoccupied and un-conditioned vehicle storage on a proprietary racking system, within an eight-story glass building. 

In late August, the company filed a zoning variance request with the city to allow wall signs to be higher than the normal 30 feet on the facade of the glass vehicle storage tower. 

The site's irregular shape prompted Carvana to orient the dealership so the tall storage building portion is closest to I-4. The tower has also been pushed up against the northern boundary of the property to allow for continued use of a billboard on the southern end, and preservation of trees. 

Carvana wants its main branding signs on the eight-story building to be at the top, as opposed to in the middle if city code was enforced. 

Company officials declined to comment Wednesday on details of its Orlando dealership.

It seems Carvana will get its wish. City staff will be recommending approval of two large branded wall signs and no more than two small logo signs placed near the roof of the proposed glass tower.

Staff are still drafting their report on the variance request, which is scheduled to go before the Board of Zoning Adjustment in late September. If approved at BZA, minutes of that meeting would then go before City Council for approval in October. 

Carvana argued in its variance petition that denying the request would "severely hinder" the visibility of its dealership. No residential developments neighbor the property, and surrounding industrial properties should not be affected. 

Similar sign variances have been granted by the city to other properties, notably the Red Lobster corporate building at 450 S. Orange Ave. in Downtown Orlando, and the Springhill Suites/Marriott Residence Inn at 5403 Millenia Lakes Blvd., behind the Mall at Millenia. 

Carvana began serving the Orlando market in early March 2016 with next-day delivery service of cars ordered online, its first entry into Florida. The company opened its first automated dealership in Nashville in November 2015.

Customers shop online in advance to choose their car, and order it to be delivered to their home if they live within 100 miles of an affiliated dealership, or go pick it up from the glass "vending machine" tower if Carvana has its own dealership in town.

Clients activate the automated tower by inserting a coin into a custom slot, imitating the process of buying a drink from a vending machine. Customers then have a seven-day test ownership period.

Carvana is one of five auto dealerships pursuing new construction or expansion plans around the Mall at Millenia and its stretch of I-4. 

Orlando Infiniti just north of the mall filed plans in February to add a four-level parking garage to its site, and in late May Boyland Auto Group bought 23 acres south of the mall with plans to relocate its Mercedes-Benz of South Orlando dealership .

Site work is underway for a new Porsche South Orlando and Ferrari-Maserati of Central Florida on Vineland Road directly west of the mall, and construction is more than 75 percent complete on the new Lexus of Orlando dealerhship on Major Boulevard, just southwest of the Millenia corridor. 

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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