The proposed design guidelines for Osceola County's E192 corridor would create five distinct redevelopment zones -- each with varying levels of regulation, and all designed to boost property values and support the county's investment in the Florida Tech Farm research park.
The design guideline ordinance would regulate everything from interior street layout, building placement, parking requirements, landscaping and architecture within the 1,852-acre E192 Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) district.
Commissioners held a workshop this week with John Adams, planner with Rj Whidden & Associates, the firm hired to draft the ordinance for the building moratorium that expires in late October.
"We're going to feed the FARM with the CRA development," Adams said. "It's all about proposals that will support the FARM business model."
The Tech Farm -- a 500-acre research park anchored by the $100 million Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center -- will be the first zone. The former Judge Farms property will have its own master plan and guidelines, which should be completed by early 2017.
Properties with direct frontage on U.S. 192 adjacent to the research park would comprise a Tech Transition District. Here the entire planning paradigm shifts from the existing suburban highway design to an urban, walkable community that encourages vertical mixed-use development.
Building setbacks would be set at 47 feet from the highway. The ordinance would strictly regulate landscaping, signs and parking. Class "A" office space and hotels (three to six stories) are priorities.
Frontage roads would be eliminated, replaced with interior roads that would be placed behind the buildings. Even gas stations would be required to install pumps behind the convenience store.
"We recognize that there's existing development out there," Adams said. "We've come up with design criteria where that existing development can stay as long as they want to. But with the lift that we're creating, we believe the market will increase property values and make it profitable for those existing developments to either redevelop or relocate and build new structures."
Adams said there are only two existing buildings on the corridor -- the Rodeo Diner and a used car sales lot -- that couldn't comply with the guidelines. Those would be grandfathered in but would not be permitted to expand.
Adams said the ordinance would regulate architectural form, but not design. And he strongly recommended against setting up an architectural review board.
"We're talking about building placement, building relief, windows and doorways," he said. "We're looking to encourage awnings and canopies over the pedestrian space. We're not talking about colors, we're not talking about materials. We don't think you need to go there."
Parking requirements for the entire CRA district would be cut by 40 percent, with the exception of residential. So instead of requiring one parking space for every 300 square feet, it would drop to one space for every 500 square feet.
Adams said that matches the requirements in other high-tech cities, such as Austin and Raleigh-Durham. As the area develops, structured parking could be added and property owners would be required to share parking.
"The reality is that parking garages don't get built until the land is more valuable than surface parking," Adams said.
Commissioners embraced the concept. "The only way you're going to force people to walk, ride a bike or take SunRail is to limit parking," Commissioner Brandon Arrington said. "I would love to see us do that throughout the entire county."
Two other zones are General Institutional, which includes Osceola Heritage Park, and General Commercial. There are two primary differences between these zones and the Tech Transitional zone: one-story buildings would be allowed, and developers would have a choice of placing a hard facade or using landscaping to screen parking.
The last zone is for infill residential that employs "urban, walkable design principles." Residential units will be required to face the framework road. The ordinance will create incentives for connectivity to the Tech Farm.
One controversial recommendation would be extending Kings Highway north, through an existing neighborhood, to create a southern entrance to the research park. The extension could be a two-lane road, Adams said.
"If there's multiple connectivity, then you don't ever have to build another four-lane road again," he said.
He compared the CRA district to Celebration, the Disney master-planned community just off W192, which is like an island with one way in and out.
"Think about Celebration," he said. "It's a wonderful place, people are happy, the housing is nice product and it's connected to itself. But if you don't live in Celebration, how do you get there? Right now it's stagnant – it can't grow because it's not connected to the community."
The Kings Highway connection is critical because it would link the research park to a series of planned communities along the eastern shore of Lake Tohopekaliga -- projects like D.R. Horton's Kindrid, Tohoqua and Edgewater. Those communities are entitled for nearly 75,000 homes and will provide executive housing for future employees.
"This is the future of Osceola County," he said. "And the connection is the right thing to do for the future."
Though it isn't part of the ordinance, Adams suggested a 25 percent mobility fee discount for the entire E192 CRA to encourage new development.
And County Manager Don Fisher pointed out that the county could offer another valuable incentive -- stormwater retention -- that would free up 20 percent of a property owner's land for new development. That's because the county is building a massive lake in the Tech Farm that will function as a stormwater retention pond for the whole area.
Fisher said the stormwater capacity should only be made available for targeted uses, like Class "A" offices and hotels.
Adams said he would schedule three community stakeholder meetings later this month at OHP to review the ordinance. They are tentatively set for Sept. 22 and 29, and for Oct. 6.
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Oct. 6, and the ordinance would go to the county commission for adoption on Oct. 17. The moratorium expires Oct. 29.