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Universal draws own subdistrict in I-Drive Code for new park, includes Thomas land

Universal draws own subdistrict in I-Drive Code for new park, includes Thomas land
Outlined in black and shaded in light purple is property Universal Orlando now owns through an affiliate, and has proposed be designated as its own, new 8th subdistrict within the I-Drive Development Code, with Special Zone designation for a theme park. (Orange County Planning)

Universal Orlando has mapped out a new eighth subdistrict in the International Drive District Development Code for its property northeast of Universal Boulevard, but has included portions of land still owned by a Stan Thomas affiliate, raising questions of if an agreement will be needed from the other owner, or if further acquisitions will be made by the theme park company.

Universal's proposal, delivered to Orange County planning manager Alberto Vargas on Monday, outlines the boundary of a new "Special Zone" that would carry a Theme Park designation within the new development code, GrowthSpotter reported on Tuesday.

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Orange County staff provided Universal's proposal map to GrowthSpotter on Thursday, in response to a public records request.

The newly-designated subdistrict would include 457.08 acres of land across eight parcels owned by Universal affiliate SLRC Holdings, which it bought in December from Colony Capital.

Up until now, that land was separated in subdistricts 2, 6 and 7, out of seven total subdistricts in the Development Code, which all carry slightly different focus themes written into the code.

This outline of a new Subdistrict 8 would take most of the land from Subdistrict 7, and includes small portions of two parcels owned by Universal City Property Management III, an affiliate of developer Stan Thomas' Thomas Enterprises out of Newnan, Georgia.

Those UCPM III parcels total another 173.99 acres, and weave throughout the land northeast of Universal Boulevard, touching nearly every parcel and providing inter-connectivity amongst them all.

A transportation link proposed between two isolated Universal-owned parcels (17 and 20 acres, respectively) would run through Thomas-affiliate land along what is currently a water channel (a narrow drainage easement).

If used for water taxis, like Universal Orlando has now between its CityWalk and on-site hotels, deepening and widening that drainage channel is an option for future development, but could result in severe and costly mitigation requirements, said Chuck Walter, regional administrator of the South Florida Water Management District.

Brad Goeb, Thomas Enterprises' director in Orlando, declined to comment on Thursday about if negotiations for the land were underway with Universal, citing confidentiality agreements.

In its proposal, Universal requests that Subdistrict 8 be allowed to include theme park uses, attraction, entertainment, hotels, leisure and resort, along with supporting commercial, office and industrial uses. Basically, everything now permitted for the land under the existing Universal Boulevard PD zoning.

Universal also wants to be able to increase Subdistrict 8's boundary in the future to include any other parcels northeast of Universal Boulevard, if they come under ownership of a Sub-8 owner.

The only owners within that boundary now are Universal and Thomas Enterprises affiliates.

Orlando Equity Partners LLC, affiliate of Southwood Development Company in Atlanta, has land neighboring the proposed Sub-8 boundary, with about 55 acres remaining for sale, 25 of which have been earmarked for apartments and 5 acres for a high-end hotel, though neither sale has closed.

Another undeveloped land owner on the border is ERGS Wi Orlando REO LLC, affiliate of Archon Group, a Goldman Sachs Company, which owns about 26 acres fronting Universal Boulevard that surround the Las Palmeras by Hilton Grand Vacations timeshare hotel.

It's unclear if Orange County would require Universal to own that Thomas Enterprises land currently included in its Sub-8 boundary, or present an agreement with the owner, to approve this type of SZ subdistrict meant to serve solely Universal's theme park needs.

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Vargas is still reviewing the proposal by Universal Orlando, and did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

A Universal spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Vargas updated Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday on what has changed with the I-Drive Development Code since it was last shown to them in November 2015.

Vargas said Tuesday the Universal Orlando proposal for adjusting or adding subdistricts may be reviewed in June by the I-Drive Vision Plan's steering committee, before the Development Code moves ahead to the Planning & Zoning Commission on June 16.

Looking ahead, the Comprehensive Plan update should be adopted by August. The CPD ordinance amendment will go before PZC in June, BCC on July 12 and BCC again on Aug. 2. Final adoption should occur by early September.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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