Property rezoning for Wallack Holdings' Skyplex entertainment complex received its first phase of approval Wednesday from Orange County government, though Universal Studios Orlando upped its lobbying effort to stop the project from having a roller coaster of world record-level height.
Set for the north side of Sand Lake Road between International Drive and Canada Avenue, Skyplex will combine five parcels and more than 11.46 acres. The project includes 39,823 square feet of restaurant uses, 333,423 square feet of entertainment uses (ex: the Skyscraper roller-coaster, Skyfall drop attraction), 95,371 square feet of general retail and a 350-room boutique hotel, among other features.
The county's Development Review Committee gave its recommendation of approval on Wednesday for the re-zoning of parcels from General Commercial to Planned Development. The favorable decision came after Skyplex's civil engineers needed an extra month to turn in a noise study on the property.
That study, which considered ambient noise levels of roller coasters similar in design to Skyscraper, concluded that daytime road noise from the busy intersection below would drown out any additional noise that comes from the attraction.
The county's planning staff found the noise study acceptable, and DRC concluded there was no permanent residential near the Skyplex property that would be adversely affected by noise.
Re-zoning for the project will be heard next by the county's Planning and Zoning Board, likely in August, and if approved there will face final approval at the Board of County Commissioners a month later.
The next steps for developer Joshua Wallack and his team include starting the platting process and environmental study for the site, completing a Development Plan that will go straight to BCC, and a Planned Development application to be reviewed by P&Z.
Wallack's site sits on a hill, so the Skyscraper tower will approach 700 feet above sea level (580 feet from street level), a height that requires approval from the FAA. Wallack's team has that approval in hand as of early June.
Universal Orlando had previously sent local attorney Peter G. Latham, of Latham, Shuker, Eden & Beaudine, to speak on its behalf at DRC on May 28, who encouraged Orange County government to not allow Wallack's project to avoid the 200-foot height restriction for his property. It's a height limit that Universal faces for its own park attractions.
Wallack wants his Skyplex parcels to be subject to the Convention Center Plaza Overlay District standards, which have no height restriction. He needs permission for that standard to apply because his property lies outside the overlay district boundary.
Orange County allowed those overlay district standards to be applied in 2014 to the I-Drive 360 development, Wyndham hotel property on Sand Lake Road and I-Drive, and Wallack's own Hollywood Plaza Parking Garage next to Mango's Cafe, freeing those to be built above the 200-foot limit.
Latham returned to Wednesday's meeting, this time with John McReynolds, senior vice president of external relations for Universal Orlando. McReynolds argued that the DRC was allowing spot-zoning to occur, and that such decisions undercut the efforts of a year-long visioning initiative for I-Drive's future growth currently being conducted by city and county leaders.
"I've worked for 20 years with I-Drive, and 20 years we've planned [Universal's growth] carefully. The idea of jumping the [Convention Center Plaza Overlay District] across Sand Lake Road is atrocious," McReynolds said. "Universal is limited to 200 feet, there's a reason these height and noise restrictions exist."
The fact that Universal Studios borders residential neighborhoods, while I-Drive developments like Skyplex are considered sufficiently far from homeowners, makes all the difference, said Angel de la Portilla of Central Florida Strategies, Inc., a government consultant for Wallack Holdings.
"Universal is concerned about their bottom line with this, it's competition to them," he said. "We're just asking for those overlay district standards to be applied, something already approved by the county for other properties outside the district boundary."