Winter Garden and Ocoee residents and drivers might think little is happening along the East Plant Street/Franklin Street corridor, but that is hardly the case. Plenty of work is being done at city commission meetings and both city hall offices.
“We both passed the same overlay guidelines early this year,” Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said. “Ocoee passed theirs approximately the same time. The Plant Street-Franklin Street Overlay Guidelines … takes them into their new downtown. We'll have bookend downtowns with development in the middle.”
Perhaps the biggest evidence of progress was last year's infrastructure work on The Heritage. This M/I Homes community of townhomes and houses is being built on Plant Street on the old Battaglia property west of the Winter Garden Library. Construction on the models will begin early this year.
The city is in discussions with several developers about adding three-story, high-end apartments on the southwest corner of Ninth and Plant.
“We know there's a high interest in apartments; we don't want to see any high-density apartment complexes because we think it long-term has a negative effect on all apartments,” Bollhoefer said. “So we've looked at 100-unit apartments. And we've also looked at them in places where it seems good for redevelopment.”
This includes Ninth and Plant, as well as the large Strates property close to S.R. 429. It is currently being used as a cow pasture.
“The entire development there (at S.R. 429) would be mixed use,” he said. “It would probably have offices, retail, probably some apartments. ... We would rather it not be a large retail center because one it would not be good for our Winter Garden Village (at Fowler Groves).”
The Plant Street Character Area will enable the downtowns to link together and help each city reach its economic development goals.
The Plant Street Character Area is part of the Winter Garden – Ocoee S.R. 429 Land Use & Economic Development Study and Master Plan that was developed in 2014 to create an economic development plan and strategy for the cities of Winter Garden and Ocoee.
The plan is intended for the Plant Street Corridor Area, which is divided into East Plant District and Gateway District. Two other area design plans to support the overall plan are the 429 Business Center and Interchange Village.
The East Plant District vision calls for the corridor to transition from auto-related uses to commercial, service and mixed uses.
STANDARDS IN DESIGN
To ensure a cohesive transition between the two cities, design standards have been adopted for this new, so-called “front door” to Winter Garden and Ocoee.
Guidelines call for architectural standards, such as positioning buildings up front with parking in the rear to create a more pedestrian-friendly development. Height standards will allow buildings up to five stories from Ninth Street to State Road 429 and no more than three stories from Ninth to Dillard Street.
“From Ninth to Dillard you want the buildings to transition and look more like downtown,” Bollhoefer said. “ It gets stricter because it really needs to blend with the downtown.”
There is currently a large percentage of industrial businesses on Plant Street, and the cities are trying to make a shift to commercial use that would bring in high-paying jobs, he said.
“In economic development, you always want to find the higher-paying jobs because the service and retail will always follow,” Bollhoefer said. “That's why you'll probably see one or two restaurants on the Strates property.”
The overlay guidelines even take into consideration the repurposing of some industrial buildings, especially the citrus packing plants.
One section of the ordinance reads: “It is believed that communities that have buildings from different eras with distinct architecture of varying styles add to sense of place and add richness to the community fabric. Because there is demand for flex space, lab space, art studio space and live-work space, these types of buildings are in high demand.”
Rules are now in place for building facades, pedestrian access, materials and colors of buildings, ground-floor residential character, parking lot design, streetscape, landscape and fencing.
Architectural guidelines will allow for a coherent look along the roadway and provide an attractive gateway to each downtown. The new buildings will be compatible with their surroundings and promote sustainability and their reuse over time.
“(We're waiting for) the right building size, the right type of business,” Bollhoefer said. “One we're looking at could possibly take an old building. Next year you're going to see development start,” he said. “We've had people come to us; it's just working with them to find the right projects.”
The idea is to offer citizens the best quality of businesses possible.
“We want the values to hold,” the city manager said.
The residential community in east Winter Garden plays a role in the East Plant Street initiative, too.
The town planning firm of Dover, Kohl & Partners presented a tentative plan for the city's east end in July. Meetings with stakeholders and residents have been held and will continue to gather input on future projects.
One idea that City Commissioner Mark Maciel is eager to implement will showcase the history of the east-side residential community. He wants to see historical markers, or something similar, that recognizes the contributions of earlier black citizens, such as former City Commissioner Mildred Dixon and educator William S. Maxey.
In November, the Winter Garden City Commission took the first steps in annexing unincorporated Orange County enclaves into the city limits. The annexations are expected to take place by spring.
“This will be the year you'll start to see something (along East Plant Street),” Bollhoefer said. “Once you see the first development come in you'll see two others follow. I would wager that by the end of the year, there will be a hotel ready to go.”