By Steven Ryzewski 

Florida’s Turnpike may be widened to as many as 18 lanes in Ocoee — a move that jeopardizes a pair of apartment communities in the pipeline in that area.

Right now, two projects set to include a combined 710 Class A apartment homes are in the works in Orlando’s fast-growing suburb of Ocoee. The two multifamily developments are slated to rise on land on the north side of the Florida’s Turnpike, on opposite sides of Maguire Road.

Three-hundred units will become The Regency at Ocoee — a mixed-use project planned on the west side of Maguire Road. The other 410 units are part of The Alibi at Lake Lilly, a project that already broke ground on the east side of Maguire Road.

The influx of apartments in is in line with a development vision the city of Ocoee has been working on for more than a decade — but, because of plans to potentially widen the Turnpike in that area, there’s a chance no one will ever live in any of the apartments.

In 2019, the Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise began a project development and environment study to widen the highway from south of its interchange with State Road 408 west through its interchange with State Road 50, near Orange County’s border with Lake County.

One of the key tenets of this massive undertaking would be alleviating congestion and safety concerns in the roughly one-mile stretch of the Turnpike between its interchange with S.R. 408 and with State Road 429 and S.R. 50 in Ocoee.

Due to the condensed space between the two interchanges, drivers merging onto the northbound Turnpike coming from westbound S.R. 408 often are at odds with drivers already on the Turnpike trying to exit at S.R. 429. This is further compounded by the off-ramp to S.R. 429 getting backed up during times of the day when traffic volume is high, due in part to the large volume of development along the highway, which is also known as the Western Beltway, in recent years.

A proposed solution coming out of the study is a system that essentially would separate drivers traveling through the Turnpike/S.R. 429 interchange from those who would use it, creating four separated roadways — two traveling northbound and two traveling south.

Ivette Ruiz-Paz, a communications manager for the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, confirmed to Orlando Business Journal that the right-of-way needs for the needed widening — from 12 lanes to possibly 18 lanes at its widest point, based on plans from the study — would affect the properties for The Regency and The Alibi.

“The department has been coordinating with the city of Ocoee since the beginning of the study and understands developments are planned for these parcels. We continue to coordinate with the city and discussions are underway with parcel owners to explore right-of-way options so future relocations in this area can be avoided.”

Just how much right-of-way would be needed is part of the discussions being had, as are implications from the project’s stormwater management needs that could require more land for retention ponds.

Turnpike officials note that the properties were vacant when they began the study, but Michael Rumer, the development services director for the city of Ocoee, told OBJ that plans for the area — which is part of a community redevelopment agency, a type of special taxing district — date back at least as far as 2009 and the city was clear through the process that the land was planned for development.

A slideshow obtained by OBJ from a July 18 meeting between the city and the Turnpike Enterprise reflects a few options with varying effects to the properties. There are options for The Alibi, for instance, that could require a portion of the land and another that would need the entirety of it.

Still, even though there are options that require less land, Ginger Corless, the CRA administrator for the city of Ocoee, said the updated right-of-way and required setbacks could affect the viability of the developments. “Even though it’s a small amount, it can really upset the way development is to occur.”

The Regency at Ocoee is a development by Orlando-based Selnik Development LLC, which paid $8.56 million for the parcels in May.

The Alibi at Lake Lilly is a joint venture between Fore Property Co. and PCCP LLC. It was bought from Heller Bros. Groves in December 2021 for $13.25 million.

Representatives for the two apartment developments were not available for comment.

It is likely that any arrangement between the landowners and the Turnpike Enterprise would reimburse those costs, in addition to costs incurred for the ongoing construction of The Alibi — and could, perhaps, even include compensation for lost future profits from the properties had they been built. The extent or terms of any discussions at this early stage are unknown.

But while the private developers may end up compensated, the bigger impact could be to the city of Ocoee and the taxable value it would lose if the projects were to be significantly reduce or abandoned, said Angel de la Portilla. The president and owner of government consulting firm Central Florida Strategies Inc., de la Portilla is a former Ocoee city commissioner and advises the city as a consultant.

“This action by the Turnpike Enterprise could be catastrophic,” de la Portilla told OBJ. “For the city’s future tax base, we’re talking about just The Alibi project alone having a taxable value of over $100 million.”

That matters a lot for the city and is part of why Ocoee tried to take a longview with its CRA. The genesis for it was spurred by the redevelopment of the former Colony Plaza Hotel at the southwest corner of Maguire Road and S.R. 50. That site is under development by Boyd Development, north of the land for The Regency.

“It has been years of planning,” Rumer said. “We’ve had a concerted effort to make this our most valuable, highest and best use land, with it being on 50 and Maguire. We had a very intentional process.”

Not only could there be lost taxable value for the city, but a significant reduction of the 700 units — or a wholesale loss — could hamper the nearby commercial projects that were taking into account thousands of residents who would live within walking distance.

“With two new multifamily projects, there’s potentially more of a need for restaurants and other amenities — that could go away, as well. So, there’s a domino effect of bad things that can happen,” de la Portilla said.

Corless said that at the July 18 meeting, Turnpike Enterprise representatives indicated they were moving forward with advanced right-of-way acquisition discussions, meaning they would do their due diligence and talk to property owners. Though the proposed project is not yet funded, this would represent a significant step in the direction of some version of the widening happening.

Despite the concerns of city staff, though, Corless said she remains optimistic the city will retain a seat at the table as talks progress. “I think they are including us and they do want this to be a tri-party resolution.”

Source: Orlando Business Journal

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