ABOVE: This representation of the development was part of AMCO Development's PUD application presentation on Jan. 17. Note that the tall building shown represents the original 350-foot building proposed and not the 310 feet it was later reduced to.
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of chatter on local social media regarding a towering development proposed for Mount Dora. Though it might feel like deja vu, it isn’t as familiar as it may seem.
Unlike past Mount Dora projects, this proposed development is the first in the long-planned Mount Dora Innovation District on the rural eastern edge of the city. The City of Mount Dora and Lake County collaborated on the Wolf Branch Innovation District (WBID) for almost two decades to prepare for the area's future growth. The vision for the district was to create jobs and educational facilities.
Here are some things to know about the WBID, as well as the new high-rise development proposal:
1. What is Mount Dora’s Wolf Branch Innovation District (WBID)? The district is a joint partnership between Mount Dora and Lake County and comprises 850 acres along State Roads 46 and 453. Some of the privately owned land lies within Mount Dora's city limits, while other property is in unincorporated Lake County. Initial discussions began about the creation of the WBID in 2004 and picked up planning momentum about a decade ago. The intent was to plan for growth and bring economic development to the area along with high-paying jobs. After public input, the two government entities adopted the WBID plan. Design standards were put in place, including a 100-foot height limit adopted by Mount Dora City Council in 2018. The current proposed high-rise development is the first proposed project located within the WBID to come before Mount Dora City Council for a vote.
2. Where is the current proposed development located? The proposed 36-acre, mixed-use Planned Unit Development (PUD) would be located on the south side of State Road 46 inside the 850-acre Wolf Branch Innovation District. View a map of the property here
3. What is AMCO Development and what similar projects has it completed? AMCO Development is the developer that submitted the proposal for the current project. Aaron Hakim is its president and has been a licensed general contractor in Florida since 2016, according to State of Florida documents.
There are no similar projects in size or scope shown on AMCO Development’s website or that appear in internet searches. Mount Dora Buzz reached out to Hakim on three occasions for details on such projects, but none were provided. Below is Amco's PUD application to the City of Mount Dora.
4. What is a PUD? A developer has the right to develop their property in accordance with straight zoning requirements already in place by a city or county, or they can apply for a Planned Unit Development. A PUD is a zoning designation for land that could include a diversified group of residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. Developers often opt to apply for a PUD when they believe there is give-and-take between themselves and the local government that has the opportunity to be advantageous for both parties to create a better project. For instance, a developer may allow for more green space and wider setbacks than required by straight zoning, but may seek higher residential density as a trade-off. Conversely, the developer may seek lower density than the straight zoning cap, but seek a building height taller than straight zoning allows. In the current instance, straight zoning allows up to 100-foot buildings in the WBID. A PUD application is needed to significantly increase that height limit. In order for a PUD to be approved, it requires two public hearings and two votes of the City Council. The first hearing for AMCO’s development was January 17 and it passed 6-1 which permitted negotiations to continue. The final hearing has not yet been scheduled. Mount Dora Buzz’s Facebook page will post the date when it becomes available.
5. What does AMCO’s proposed PUD development include? As per the January 17 City Council meeting, the project includes seven high-rise buildings ranging from 12 to 21 stories, including one with a height of 310 feet. The project includes:
540 condo units
275 senior living units
900,000 square feet of office space
750,000 square feet of commercial space
100,000 square-foot convention center
150,000 square feet of warehouse space
325 hotel rooms
80,000 square feet of future commercial space fronting SR 46 in Tract 1.
100,000 square feet of future commercial space fronting SR 46 with a specialty 55,000 square-foot grocery store in Tract 2.
AMCO’s proposal did not include educational facilities, healthcare, biomedical, or other industries that would create high-wage jobs and align with the Wolf Branch Innovation District’s primary plan. Amco Development's Mixed Use Masterplan with renderings can be viewed here.
6. Did AMCO or the city attempt to gain residents’ buy-in prior to the final PUD application? It doesn’t appear to be the case. To proactively gain residents' buy-in of important development projects, Michael Bollhoefer, the successful former City Manager of Winter Garden, said he and developers knew the significance of doing the "critical groundwork on important projects." This involved extensive meetings with residents early in the process and making appropriate compromises before the projects came before city boards and the city council. Bollhoefer even knocked on residents' doors personally to get their input early. This proactive practice was essential in building and maintaining trust with residents and other stakeholders with regards to development projects, according to Bollhoefer, who served as Winter Garden's City Manager for over a decade and was instrumental in revitalizing that community. The City of Mount Dora and developers who propose important projects in the city, such as the 2021 parking garage proposal, typically haven’t invested in such early and proactive public outreach. In this case, the proposed project was expedited due to AMCO Development opting to submit a final PUD rather than a preliminary PUD first. Learn more about Winter Garden’s successful process in securing good developments in the archived article here.
7. What are some buildings of comparable height in the area? There are no buildings of comparable height in the area. For example, the Citrus Tower in Clermont is only 226 feet high. However the ninth tallest building in Orlando is 315 feet. Here some others in the Orlando Metro area that are close in height to the 310-foot building in the AMCO’s proposed Innovation District Development:
Truist Plaza at Church Street is 315 feet, 28 stories (9th tallest building in Orlando)
8. Who are the expert consultants providing impact analysis on this project? AMCO Development contracted Jon Stover, whose firm Stover and Associates is based in Washington, D.C., to provide their analysis. Jon Stover has a Masters in Urban Planning from the University of Pennsylvania, a Certificate in Real Estate Development from Wharton School of Business, and a Bachelor of Science in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University. As of the January 17 public hearing, Mount Dora had not contracted its own expert to prepare in-depth analysis about how this large-scale project compares economically to the original type of projects intended in the WBID and how that shift impacts the city's residents.
9. How will this affect public schools? The property is in the Lake County Schools District (LCS). As part of the routine proposal and development process, LCS Growth Planning Department monitors their progress and assesses the potential impact in order to update its five-year capital plan as needed. The nearby property for the new Orange County School will not serve this development as it is not in the same school district. For more information on LCS Growth Planning Department visit its website.
10. What was the outcome of the first public hearing and City Council vote on January 17? The PUD proposal passed with a 6-1 vote of the City Council. That outcome allows negotiations on the project to continue before it comes back for the final public hearing and City Council vote scheduled for February 21. The breakdown of votes is as follows: “No” vote: Council member Dennis Dawson “Yes” votes: Mayor Crissy Stile, Vice Mayor Marc Crail, Council Members Cal Rolfson, Doug Bryant, Nate Walker, and John Cataldo. Watch the hearing. developer's presentation, and the City Council members' comments here by advancing to approximately 1 hour and fifteen minutes into the meeting's video.
11. How long will this project take to be completed? At the January 17th public hearing, Hakim indicated the project would be built in phases spanning 15 years.