Community pushes back against Disney affordable-housing project

Horizon West residents still have a multitude of concerns involving Walt Disney World’s proposed affordable-housing project.

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World
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This week, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners will vote on Walt Disney World’s proposed affordable housing project in Horizon West.

To address the need for affordable housing, Disney first announced in April 2022 its dedication of nearly 80 acres for a new community in Horizon West.

Disney representatives helped host a community meeting with Orange County officials on the project in September. That yielded a plethora of concerns from residents, including traffic and transportation, school capacity, location, affordability and attainability.

Those concerns still remain and resurfaced at the county’s community meeting Monday, March 18.

However, Disney representatives are confident in how the county will address the topics of residents’ concerns.

“We thank the residents who were able to attend tonight’s community meeting, and we also appreciate the many individuals who have told us how excited they are about this initiative,” Tajiana Ancora-Brown, director of external affairs at Walt Disney World Resort, said in a prepared statement. “We know that affordable housing is a top priority for leaders in Orange County, and we take great pride in contributing this land to make a lasting impact.”


The proposed project sits on 114.23 acres on Hartzog Road, generally bounded by Hartzog Road to the north and east and State Road 545 to the west. 

Disney is working with The Michaels Organization to build about 1,400 units of mixed-income housing in the area, more than 1,000 of which will be reserved as affordable. 

With more than 425 communities in more than 35 states — including in Florida — The Michaels Organization is the largest privately held owner of affordable housing in the country. It will build, own and operate the housing community.

The development is not government funded, and Disney officials said the company will not benefit financially from the development. 

The Michael Organization’s vision for the new development is to lift the lives of those who support the local community, seamlessly integrate within the Horizon West community, and promote health and wellness through an inspirational environment.

In terms of goals for the project, the organization hopes to provide elevated resident engagement through a personalized approach to management and operations; inspire residents to share their story through unique placemaking and ongoing community events; and ensure health and wellness is prevalent throughout the community experience.

Officials said the land was selected because it is part of a thriving community. The area is close to employers, shopping, services, schools, and areas of rest and recreation.

The community is planned to include a mix of building types, with a focus on storytelling and the arts, featuring murals and unique elevations that create a distinct look and feel for each neighborhood within the development. 

The distinctive designs will help provide a sense of belonging for future residents who also will have access to amenities that provide ample space to focus on wellness.

There are two amenity buildings proposed, and amenities for the development would include a pool, pickleball court, dog parks, playgrounds and a large amount of greenspace area.

Because the development is privately funded, the developer will not be requesting fee waivers typically available to affordable-housing developments. The developer will pay impact fees to help address the transportation, infrastructure and school capacity needs.

The development, planned to be privately financed, will be limited to applicants within a certain income range.

Based on 2023 data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, households eligible for affordable units will include those with a combined annual income between $30,750 and $115,000.

Disney officials said groundbreaking for the project, if approved, is targeted for late 2024 with the first units anticipated to be completed in 2026.

The project was to be discussed at the BCC meeting Tuesday, March 26, after press time.


At the recent community meeting, residents were invited to participate in information stations with representatives involved or impacted by the project. Stations included schools, transportation, environment, public safety, community design and management.

Sarah Hibbs, resident and former Disney employee, expressed her concerns in an email to the County Commission following the community meeting.

“After attending last night’s farce of a community meeting, where no feedback was allowed from the area residents at the request of Disney, I continue to be thoroughly frustrated and disgusted at this project and the continued lobbying efforts of the Disney Corporation,” she wrote. “Very frustrating that citizens are silenced by corporations and not allowed to have discourse at public meetings as has historically happened — this is a terrible precedent.”

Adam Gilbertson, another resident, believes the project is a bad idea.

“The schools are way over capacity, and there is no near term plan to alleviate it,” he said. “The roads and infrastructure are not built for capacity as it is today, let alone for the 12,000 apartment units coming online in the next 12 months, not including this proposed project. ... The developer knows there will be severe parking concerns which is clear in their request to get a waiver to allow parking 750 feet from use, way beyond the standard 150 feet. Disney and (The Michaels Organization) are not acting in good faith with the community. They have actively worked to silence the community complaints, are lobbying the board members and have not actually considered any of the community’s concerns, instead brushing them off at outside of their control or ignoring them entirely. 

“Community crime is a real concern, and Disney ignored the question entirely and focused only on security at the complex rather than crime in the community, and Orange County police have not even been able to manage the crime as of today,” he said. 

However, not all oppose the project. 

“This is an exciting public-private partnership that will bring 1,400 safe and affordable housing options for people who need them the most — our teachers, public service and hospitality employees,” Shelley Lauten, longtime community advocate and local resident, said. “This project can serve as a model for how other businesses can work side by side with government and nonprofits to address this critical community need.”

Stephen Lewis, president of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

“Currently, many of the businesses we represent are struggling to recruit and retain workers due to the limited supply of affordable and attainable housing in Orange County,” he said. “Ensuring affordable housing is available for West Orange residents is critical to the success of our county and will help grow small businesses and bring long-awaited amenities to the residents of Horizon West.” 

For more information on the project, click here.

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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