Residents in Horizon West had plenty to say about Walt Disney World’s proposed affordable-housing project at a community meeting Wednesday, Sept. 6.
The proposed parcel sits on 114.23 acres on Hartzog Road, generally bounded by Hartzog to the north and east, and State Road 545 to the west.
Applicant Kathy Hattaway, Walt Disney Imagineering, is requesting to develop up to 1,410 apartments in the area.
The applicant’s request is to amend the Future Land Use Map to apply the Village FLUM designation through the expansion of the Village H boundary.
The concurrent request includes also to rezone to Planned Development District and to assign Horizon West Special Land Use Map designation of Apartment District. The property currently is zoned Reedy Creek Improvement District.
“Disney is pleased to be able to contribute to the need for affordable and attainable housing in Central Florida,” Hattaway said. “This contribution and initiative have been in the planning for a long time, and the applications that we’re going to talk about tonight are the next step in bringing that community to life.”
Disney first unveiled its plans for the project in April 2022.
Disney officials said the development would offer residents a variety of home choices that are affordable and attainable, located in close proximity to schools and the Flamingo Crossings Town Center retail and dining complex.
The development would be available for qualifying applicants from the general public, including Disney cast members.
The development — planned to be privately financed — will be limited to applicants within a certain income range. This initiative will support and build upon Orange County’s Housing for All action plan to address housing affordability for local residents.District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson was in attendance at the meeting, as well as Jason Sorensen, with the Orange County Planning & Zoning department.
Sorensen said the southern portion of the property would be preserved for conservation.
The applicant is requesting four waivers from the Orange County code: To allow vehicle parking within 750 feet of a building in lieu of 150 feet; to allow Central Florida Tourism Oversight District stormwater design requirements in lieu of the requirement to include rate of discharge limitations in the project’s stormwater management system; to allow parking at an alternative ratio in lieu of one-and-one-half spaces for efficiencies and one bedroom units and two spaces for two bedroom and larger units; and to allow CFTOD stormwater design requirements in lieu of the runoff retention requirement for sites containing hydrologic soil group Type A.
Hattaway said Disney has contributed the land for the project and is managing the entitlements process. After the applications are complete, the proposal would be handed to The Michaels Organization, which would construct and manage the community.
Disney announced it had selected The Michaels Organization to build, own and operate the housing in November 2022.
With more than 425 communities in more than 35 states, The Michaels Organization has provided solutions to affordable housing for many years and is the largest privately held owner of affordable housing in the country.
However, Hattaway said Disney had no details from The Michaels Organization to share as of the meeting. She said the plans would be shared as soon as they are available.
Horizon West residents cited as concerns traffic and transportation, school capacity, location, affordability and attainability, and more at the meeting.
“How is this going to be different (from) the more than a dozen apartment complexes that are all in the same price range and to a much higher standard than the affordable framework that you’re laying out?” one resident asked. “This piece of property was set up originally to return reclaimed water back to the aquifer, and you’re now saying that you’re going to put houses there — 1,400 multi-use houses. We’ve got apartments in the area. Multiple, plus still quite a few that are in build that are half-empty. … How is this going to affect the infrastructure, because we’re light on police, fire, water — all of the infrastructure pieces.”
Another resident agreed, saying there is a dramatic burden that comes with the development.
“The affordability and what these cast members are in a position to have to contend with is really something that the company needs to deal with, too,” he said. “I feel like this is a Band-Aid that they’re putting forth that’s ultimately, for whatever it’s worth, saving (the) public face that they’re doing something. ... It’s not right. This isn’t where it should be built.”
Hattaway believes the most significant way Disney’s community would be different is the attainable aspect.
“The residents who live there will be income-qualified,” she said. “They will be in the 50% to 100% average median income for this area. So, I don’t believe there are any other projects in communities in Horizon West that are specifically attainable housing communities. … There is a lot of care being put into making this a great community for the residents who will live there.”
Because the PD rezoning application is under the Horizon West code, the project will have to meet the Horizon West standards for design, architecture and development.
Hattaway said the project has received an evaluation and determination from Orange County Public Schools that states capacity will be available for the students generated by the development. The applicant stated the units will not come online until 2026.
Not all in attendance were against the project.
One resident, who moved to the Orlando area about five years ago as an hourly Disney cast member, said at the time she joined a Facebook group for apartment hunting that she is still a part of today.
“The posts are really scary to me,” she said. “I’m really aware of the housing crisis as someone who very rarely can afford an apartment to live in. ... I think all of your concerns are so valid. ... But one thing I would ask you to remember is that you mentioned ‘just not in our backyard.’ These people are already in your backyard. They drive from other parts of Orange County, from Osceola County, from Lake County. They drive to work in your backyard every day. They are the engine of Central Florida.”
There will be four public hearings regarding the project.
The first hearing for the FLU request will be a Local Planning Agency transmittal hearing before going to the Board of County Commissioners for transmittal; both dates are to be determined.
If transmitted, the project will be reviewed by the state before proceeding to adoption hearings. If the BCC chooses to not transmit the project, the proposal will not move forward and the applicant will have to reapply for the request to be considered again.
In terms of the PD request, the project will go through the same process, except for the transmittal. If transmitted, the PD zoning would marry up with the FLU request for the adoption hearings.
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