A years-in-the-making vision that would help increase the density and walkability of Winter Park’s Orange Avenue corridor is finally coming to fruition.
Planning officials in Winter Park have completed a draft supporting policy changes that incentivize redeveloping a prominent stretch of Orange Avenue that extends around high-traffic intersections crossing Orlando Avenue and West Fairbanks Avenue.
If approved, the Orange Avenue Overlay District would mark a milestone for the city.
For one, it’s the first official overlay district to require architectural standards from developers in the city, and with about 75 acres of property within its boundaries, the OAO District is the largest to provide flexible zoning codes for mixed-use development in a concentrated region.
“This is a real opportunity to transform Winter Park by creating an identifiable gateway to the city," Mary Demetree, CEO of Demetree Global, told GrowthSpotter.
The real estate firm is a major stakeholder in the proposed district.
City discussions surrounding the redevelopment of Orange Avenue began in the early 2000′s.
Bronce Stephenson, Winter Park’s planning and community development director, said much of the properties that fall within the district are ripe for development, though it hasn’t happened a fair amount.
As new investment has been made on smaller properties, many of the older and larger properties have further depreciated with little to no investment, he said.
Studies commissioned by the city show, at least 20 acres within the nearly 75-acre district are vacant, undeveloped or not utilized.
“The overlay itself came about because this area has been in economic stagnation and decline for many, many years,” Stephenson said. “It’s one of the few areas in Winter Park where you’ve got vacant tracts of land.”
A circumstance of which he adds is “indicative of a problem.”
At the meetings, issues of drainage, limited parking and traffic were major concerns.
In late November, a governing force called the Orange Avenue Overlay Steering Committee voted 8-2 to recommend approval of the final draft language.
One of the major proposed changes allows for parking structures to be exempt from counting toward the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) for any property within the overlay district — a restriction of which is prescribed throughout most of Winter Park.
“The area has a severe parking shortage,” Stephenson said.
Currently, there are 1,681 off-street parking spaces within the study area. With 541,618 square feet of gross area, and a parking rate of one space per 250 square feet of gross area, that puts the district at a 485 parking-spot deficit, according to a recent study.
That means about 3.9 acres of land designated for parking is needed in order to have businesses in the district meet code, but Stephenson said land for surface parking at that amount is not available.
To incentivize the development of parking garages, policy in the overlay district would not count a parking structure’s FAR under the condition it provides 10 percent more spaces than what is required and allows for 50 percent of the parking spaces to be shared.
The parking structures must also be made available to the general public for free on weekend mornings. Additionally, its exteriors must partly display murals or green walls.
Other incentives offered in the overlay district could greatly increase the area’s current density.
The maximum total square footage currently achievable by existing zoning codes allows for about 1.85 million square feet of building space. Under the proposed OAO District codes, the maximum total square footage would allow for about 2.62 million square feet.
The draft subdivides the district into separate subareas categorized by letters with some key assemblages more prime for redevelopment than others, especially subareas D and J, which are located on the northern and southern ends of the district.
The draft proposes allowing density that currently exists to be transferred into these segments, owned by Demetree Global and members of the Holler family.
More specifically, it will allow the property owners to sign over the rights of commonly-owned properties within the district into subareas D or J, thus permitting the construction of up to 400 residential units under the allowable FAR.
At a public meeting, Michelle Heatherly, director of strategic development for Demetree Global, said that the team would wait for the outcome of the overlay framework before putting a project together.
A boutique hotel, residential projects and retail concepts were all under consideration, according to public meeting notes.
In an email sent to GrowthSpotter, Demetree said she is “focused on preserving the character of Winter Park” and that the overlay district would "help make that happen.“
Another key component essential to redeveloping the Orange Avenue corridor is the city-owned Progress Point site, spanning 3.7 acres at 1150 N. Orange Ave. The vacant building and property were acquired in 2011 and haven’t been redeveloped by the city since.
Just across, to the east, is another parcel planned to be redeveloped.
The 1.88-acre parcel at 1100 N. Orange Ave. was home to a former bank branch and is currently owned by Bank OZK.
The bank acquired the property last year for $4.3 million.
Recommendations and incentives for connectivity and roadway enhancements, such as wider sidewalks and a bike and pedestrian pathway along the railroad, are also included in plans.
“What’s interesting is that the district only has about 200 feet in difference in length than Park Avenue,” Stephenson said. “It goes to show, when you have a cool walkable space, it doesn’t feel like you’re covering a great distance... Our goal is to create the next great place.”
The proposal goes before the Winter Park’s Planning and Zoning Board in early December and before the City Commission on Jan. 13.