SunRail's planned extension to DeLand is still very much up in the air, but that hasn't stalled developer interest around the northernmost station in DeBary.
Integra Land Co. expects to break ground this summer on a 289-unit luxury apartment community at the DeBary Town Center, a five-minute walk from the station. And that's just the first of several new Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) projects in the works at DeBary and along the commuter rail line.
Roger Van Auker, the city's SunRail marketing director, told GrowthSpotter the area around the station will be unrecognizable in a few years.
"This Integra project is the first to break ground, but we're working with several other developers," Van Auker said. "There will be another 45 acres right behind them, and they're coming in with an (Overall Development Plan, or ODP) for a multi-phase project. It will be a mix of uses, a lot of commercial, retail, restaurants, office, single-family and high-density residential."
The city also has a purchase contract on a former mobile home park near the station and plans to build a $12 million community center there, if voters approve a bond referendum in November.
"The community we're trying to build is like a small town, in and of itself," Van Aucker said.
DeBary is just one area capitalizing on SunRail to encourage TOD development. Integra follows on the heels of Picerne Real Estate Group and Epoch Residential, which both have completed TOD projects in Altamonte Springs,Lake Mary and Maitland.
Epoch President Justin Sand said neither project is truly SunRail dependent, but it's seen as an added amenity for residents. Most residents are still car-dependent and use the commuter train occasionally.
"Maitland has historically been a tough place to develop, but with SunRail and all the growth in the area, the demographics worked," Sand said. "We're making a bet on whether SunRail would take off. We can't say it has moved the needle in Lake Mary or Maitland, but it's there if they need it."
SunRail's southern extension into Osceola County has helped drive new development, particularly around the Tupperware Station, where all of the land is controlled by the corporation. In addition to a new 350-unit apartment complex, Tupperware landed a major employer with Orlando Health.
Now Vice President Tom Roehlk tells GrowthSpotter he has an LOI from a multifamily developer for 20 acres south of the station, at the corner of Osceola Parkway and Orange Avenue. The site, which sat vacant for years, is approved for up to 400 units.
Manhattan-based developer Property Markets Group (PMG) is moving quickly on the 867-unit X Orlando mixed-use tower, next to the Lynx station in downtown Orlando. It would be the largest mixed-use multifamily project ever proposed on one parcel in Orlando, with three residential towers and 41,000 square feet of retail-commercial.
The Sanford station, in contrast, has struggled to attract developer interest in spite of the city's thriving downtown district and free shuttle service.
Ron Semans, who owns an entitled 12.5-acre site across from the Sanford station, said he hasn't been able to find a developer or buyer since he and his partner took it through entitlements three years ago.
"Every other SunRail station has development on the way," Semans said. "We're the last one to be developed."
Semans' Transit Properties LLC is approved for mixed-use with up to 50 residential units per acre. The neighboring All Souls Catholic Church also received PUD approval in 2016 for a transit village on its property with apartments, age-restricted housing, retail and offices.
City Planner Jordan Smith said Sanford has yet to receive a permit application for either project. The city is currently updating its Comprehensive Plan to include policies to encourage and incentivize TOD development, but the revisions are still in draft form.
Elizabeth Whitton, transportation planner for MetroPlan Orlando, said the agency is working with FDOT and Florida State University on a pair of studies to gauge how SunRail has affected property values around stations and how to translate that value to increased ridership.
"Because it was a freight rail line before, most of the uses around it were industrial, and it takes time for industrial to convert to residential and other uses," Whitton said.
In Sanford, that's especially true, Sand said. TOD development is expensive to begin with, especially if it requires structured parking. But it usually commands higher rents. With Seminole County's new school impact fees, developers have to weigh the added cost.
"In Sanford, it's debatable whether the rents are there to support it. It's not walkable to Main Street," he said. "Sunrail isn't enough of a driver for having demand. To build a development next to one of the stations, it needs to make sense holistically. You need to have the proximity to jobs and services that renters are looking for."