Leon Capital refines pitch for QSR & retail rezoning on Winter Park's Fairbanks Ave

Dallas-based real estate investor and developer Leon Capital Group hopes another month of preparation will help it form the right argument to win over Winter Park officials for a contentious rezoning along busy W. Fairbanks Avenue. 

Located across 1308, 1324 and 1350 W. Fairbanks Ave., the combined 1.52 acres lie a block west of S. Orlando Avenue, and walking distance to the city's Martin Luther King Jr. Park. 

It's the site of a former funeral home and flower shop, which Leon Capital paid $2.95 million for in October 2016 with retail redevelopment in mind.

The developer is now proposing a new 2,700-square-foot Wendy's fast food restaurant with drive-thru, and a 6,882-square-foot retail building for one or more commercial tenants. Both would neighbor an established McDonald's. 

But to do that, Leon Capital must first clean up the property's zoning, which is split between commercial and light office uses. 

It requested a rezoning to Commercial (C-3) and a Comprehensive Plan amendment, which the city's planning staff recommended a denial of for commissioners before their meeting this past Monday. That follows a Planning & Zoning Board unanimous vote to deny the request last month.

Leon Capital pulled it from the commission agenda just before Monday's meeting, asking to be rescheduled to Nov. 13 to have more time to update its traffic study, building design and overall presentation for the contentious request. 

The developer's game plan for the parcel has always been dictated by market demand, vice president of development Adam Smith told GrowthSpotter

"This corridor is an extremely strong one with a ton of traffic. We've explored many options and this (quick service) restaurant use was the best," he said. "Our Plan B or C isn't locked and loaded, it may vacillate if the preferred (Plan A) isn't accepted. I think thi is a retail-based project and that will be our intent to move forward on." 

Making the zoning uniform across the property, where 0.68 acres of the 1.52 acres are isolated as Office (O-1), is a clear choice for redeveloping the site to its best and highest use, Smith said.

"It makes no sense why it would be (zoned) that way," he continued. "Our desire is really to correct a mistake on the city's maps, because right now it's ambiguous as to what can be there."

If denied the rezoning request, Leon Capital will be left with the challenge of re-leasing or re-purposing a mortuary building of 16,000-plus square feet and a florist shop of roughly 2,900 square feet. 

"We're not uncreative, we're individuals who can solve for different challenges that come up on projects," Smith said. "I think this is a unique project on a very well-located site, which is a big part of why we bought it in the first place." 

Under the current split zoning designations on these properties, Leon Capital could build retail or office buildings on the front half and use the rear for parking, since a parking lot is permitted in Office land use. But given the configuration of a fast food restaurant with drive-thru stacking, the Wendy's footprint won't fit onto just the front half. 

The city has invested, or plans to invest, more than $20 million in infrastructure improvements along the W. Fairbanks Avenue corridor, in order to foster new development for one of Winter Park's oldest gateways. 

Certain business types have been deemed unfit for the upgraded aesthetics of the corridor and are prohibited by the Comp Plan, such as used car lots. But in 2016, the city removed "fast food restaurants" from that prohibited use list. 

Conflicting corridor planning areas exist around this property, so it doesn't fall under the same policies as neighboring properties. Staff said they were conflicted in recommending denial for this application, but that a "fast food row" was not the intent of Winter Park's $20 million investment along West Fairbanks. 

Kimley-Horn submitted a traffic impact analysis report on behalf of Leon Capital that concludes there would be minimal increase of new vehicle trips on the surrounding roads by the new Wendy's with drive-thru.

Staff weren't convinced that traffic activity at the site wouldn't be significantly increased by a QSR, which is a concern the developer will try to answer as it updates the traffic impact analysis report, Smith said. 

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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