Our Take is where Bungalower lays out the facts on a specific issue and then shares with our readers what our take is on the topic. Today we tackle The Princeton at College Park.
We’ve been telling you about the new apartment complex being planned in College Park along Princeton St and Smith St. The project has garnered a number of opponents who are asking the City to “slow down” the process and have placed no density signs in their yards.
You can imagine that if the Princeton at College Park project does not get approved by City Council it would be a good idea for our community to work with the planners at the City of Orlando and put together a vision for Edgewater Drive. That way developers and property owners can better understand what types of development the community would support.
The problem is we have already done this. Our community has built a vision plan for Edgewater Drive. A vision plan that this project, for the most part (more on that later), fits within.
A plan is created…30 years ago
But before we even get into the vision plan it’s good to have some background. In 1985 the state of Florida passed a law requiring each municipality to establish growth management plans. As part of the City’s plan, they established “activity centers” including where there should be density within the city and specifically where mixed use development should be focused. This means smarter growth for the city. As part of that original plan, which passed the Orlando City Council and has been applauded by the state for our smart growth planning, the core of College Park, (the blocks along Edgewater Driver near the intersection at Princeton and Smith Street) were designated as a community activity center. Prior to this designation you could put buildings in that area that were up to 75 feet high.
To be clear, a community activity center is not the same as what we have throughout the central business district in downtown. In this area there are limits on building height and density/intensity. The maximum density allowed is only 20% of what would be allowed downtown.
In 2005 a condo complex was proposed similar to The Wellesley on Edgewater between Yale St and Harvard St. Residents organized and spoke out on the project and started a petition called “College Park Neighbors for Sensible Development”. The residents said they wanted things to slow down so that a true plan for Edgewater Drive could be put together. In 2006 a second Wellesley building was proposed and approved on the front third of the island where the Princeton is being proposed today.
Both projects stalled and gave the city time to put together a citizen task force to address the vision plan for Edgewater Drive.
That plan, which was based on the work of the ten-member resident task force, regular meetings with the community and even going door to door to neighbors in the immediate area, was passed by City Council.
The plan calls for the largest mixed use buildings to be built in the core blocks of College Park and to blend the development into the neighborhood both from a north/south perspective along Edgewater Drive and east/west into the neighborhood.
The plan itself specifically addresses the island where the Princeton is being built. The plan divides the island into three parts. The first part is the largest along Edgewater and is called Urban Core and allows for buildings of up to seven stories. The middle part of the island is Urban Center and is limited to five stories and the remaining part is General Urban and is limited to three-stories.
There’s a lot of talk about how the property is zoned for 26 units and they are trying to build 226. The truth is the island is currently zoned for 84 units and if the developer meets certain requirements they could build 147 units on the island. So without any changes and with the approval of the planning board for the developer checking off the required boxes to get a bonus, as it is a mixed-use project, (the term bonus is a little misleading…it’s really just another step to ensuring smart development) they could build 147 units.
But what matters more than current zoning is what the most recent Vision plan says. It anticipates that properties would be re-zoned to the allowable height transitions above. Based on this plan the island would allow up to 274 units with the bonuses.
So where does the 26 unit number that is printed on the posters, petition and flyers come from? Well, my only guess is that it’s because there are 26 units on the property right now.
How The Princeton Fits Into the Plan
The Princeton at College Park as proposed is a 226 unit building. The building starts as a five-story building and then goes to a four and then three-story building. And while the five stories is obviously less than the seven the plan calls for the five-story portion goes into the middle area that the plan only allows for three stories and this also causes the four-story area to also be in the part that only allows for three stories.
This is really the only exception the developer is asking for and the city’s planning staff have put forward that as a recommendation. The reason is that the project could come in strict compliance with the plan by removing the top one or two floors where it’s over and move those units to the part of the building that is closest to Edgewater Drive and make the building seven stories in that portion.
Here’s a rendering the City of Orlando put together to illustrate the two options. It’s also possible that the extra height or the lack of units would make the project not financially feasible for the developer.
We believe very strongly that connecting residents and our readers to what is happening in their city is the most important component to building a stronger city. We think it’s important for residents to be informed and have an opportunity to share their views and have an impact in their community. Furthermore, we believe that property owners have a right to know what development rights they have on their property and that our City should not be in the business of flip-flopping on what a developer can or can’t do. That’s why we stand very strongly behind the Edgewater Drive Vision Plan.
We, as a community, should have a conversation about if we want the developer to shift some of the building height from the middle of the project to the front of the project which would result in a potential seven story building. While that would mean the plan fits 100% within the plan, it may not be what the community would want.
As someone who moved to College Park to raise my family I can understand the concerns around increased traffic and the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists.
There’s an ongoing debate on if the project will create traffic problems. After reading the traffic studies done for the vision plan and this project, we don’t think traffic will be an issue.
And if the project does create more traffic and congestion, that may not be a horrible thing for College Park. We time and again have said we don’t want people speeding down our streets. More traffic coming in and out of these areas and making the core of College Park a destination will help to slow traffic down. The developers are also using traffic calming measures in their street scaping to help this. The more this happens, the more College Park moves away from a thoroughfare and into a true main street with slower speeds making safer for pedestrians.
We think that every resident has a right to share their thoughts on this project and the broader vision plan, however we think those opinions should be based on facts. We strongly encourage those behind ReThink the Princeton to re-write their material to correct that there are 26 units on the property but that the development rights on the site allow for 274. It may not be as convincing an argument but it would be better to focus on the specific concerns of the vision plan or the project and not just be anti-density in an area set aside specifically for density. If the site was intended for only 26 units and they wanted to put 226 we would be leading the charge to stop the development.
Editors Note: This is our first opinion column for Bungalower. We made a decision to do this because we think it’s important to our mission of Building Stronger Cities. It was also highly requested by you, our readers, in our most recent readership survey. We always welcome your feedback both in comments and by contacting us.