Analysis supports denser redevelopment of Winter Park's Orange Ave corridor

The city of Winter Park has new analysis to support policy changes that would incentivize dense redevelopment of its Orange Avenue corridor, and the recommendation of a local planning veteran to sell the vacant Progress Point property soon for mixed-use redevelopment. 

Staff enlisted Logan Simpson Design, Inc., beginning in June to help lead a public discussion on future planning for the city's 0.7-mile stretch of Orange Avenue, which lies between the intersections with S. Orlando and W. Fairbanks avenues.

An updated "conditions analysis" on the Orange Avenue corridor will be provided to city commissioners on Oct. 23, along with a study from Logan Simpson documenting feedback from some focus groups, and a memo outlining development potential of the 3.7-acre, city-owned Progress Point. 

Winter Park's Orange Avenue corridor includes 103 properties across 54.58 acres, with total building space of 612,550 square feet and a taxable value of more than $76.2 million. Nine properties have been sold within this corridor in the past five years, drawing an average price of $2.02 million per acre.

That corridor is ripe with opportunity for increasing commercial intensity, or floor area ratio (FAR). In zoning, FAR can be used to limit the amount of construction in a certain area.

Thirty-four percent of properties in this corridor have a very low FAR now, per their zoning classification, according to a staff report from the city's Economic Development Division. Forty-seven percent of the parcels have a low utilization rate of their space. Most of those are clustered together, offering assemblage and redevelopment opportunity.

Some steps the city could take is to increase the maximum FAR allowed for properties in the Orange Avenue corridor, which would increase developable square footage. If the city created a special overlay district there that allowed for 2.0 FAR, compared to an occasional maximum 0.6 FAR allowed today for mixed-use projects, this would add more than 4.14 million square feet of developable area.

Increasing square footage would boost property values. Owners with multiple properties in the corridor account for 44 percent of total building square footage. 

If the city encouraged those owners to maximize FAR on their sites alone, the Orange Avenue corridor's total building square footage would increase anywhere from 241 percent to 1,069 percent, depending on how much that FAR is allowed to grow.

And following the same format with building value, maximizing FAR would increase the study area's valuation by more than $30 million at the 0.6 mark, and more than $134 million at the 2.0 mark, per the staff report. Assuming land value and exemptions remain constant, this equates to an extra $17 million in taxable value.

City planning and economic development staff are encouraging commissioners to consider increasing the FAR along Orange Avenue, identify parcels owned by one group or are underutilized as starting points for redevelopment, and offer more redevelopment or improvement incentives for property owners on the corridor.

Residents and business owners polled in recent months by Logan Simpson led a few guiding principals to emerge, which the consultant recommends be considered for future development and design guidelines. 

Those include: a building scale of one to four stories to maintain a neighborhood feel, with major intersections to potentially go higher; high-quality design standards and guidelines to maintain existing character; landscaping and trees are key to an improved pedestrian experience; new parking solutions should be introduced with future redevelopment; and an eclectic mix of land uses should be prioritized, specifically at the Progress Point site. 

A linchpin of the Orange Avenue corridor is the city-owned Progress Point, 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. 

One offer was made in 2015 for $4.5 million by an affiliate of Bridge Investment Group Partners, which proposed an assisted living facility and restaurant redevelopment. The offer was turned away by city commissioners.

City staff sought the opinion earlier this month of Owen Beitsch, senior director of GAI Consultants' Community Solutions Group regarding Progress Point.

He encouraged sale of the property for a three- to six-story mixed-use development, which could encourage assemblage of other properties along the corridor to replicate the concept, and will add value to neighboring properties in the long-term. 

"The property needs to be positioned quickly to take advantage of the current cycle," he said. "Acting now to extract the highest value and encourage the most desired form is, I believe, in the community's interest." 

The city has invested roughly $600,000 in its acquisition of the Progress Point property, so even if some portion of it is eventually used for a public purpose or sold for less than appraised value, the government should still turn a profit.

The Orange Avenue corridor plan must be developed over the next year in conjunction with other key code updates Winter Park officials plan to tackle. 

Commissioners approved a Comprehensive Plan update in April, done every seven years, which has since been under review for compliance by the state's Department of Economic Opportunity. The Comp Plan sets overarching guidelines for new development applications.

City staff are now working on a land development code update so zoning districts are in compliance with the Comp Plan. Notable changes will likely be removal of high-density R-4 zoning, and limiting requests for parking variance, potentially to just 5 percent of a project's overall parking needs. 

Staff are also considering a new mixed-use district or overlay, a first for Winter Park. GAI Consultants has been analyzing of mixed-use districts in Florida to drum up the best examples of how to define such an overlay.

The first area that a mixed-use overlay could be placed is on the Progress Point parcel. City staff have been studying land value variations for the property based on types of use, floor area ratios and heights, which will be key in determining how Winter Park proceeds with terms of sale for that land. 

A mixed-use overlay could cover more of the Orange Avenue corridor than just one parcel. City staff have a 12-month window from the Comp Plan update last April to research mixed-use strategy, and decide on a course of action.

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