The site plan for proposed townhomes and apartments at Orange Center Boulevard. – Original Source: City of Orlando (Gillespie, Ryan / Courtesy photo)
The Orlando City Council approved a plan Monday to sell nearly 5 vacant acres just west of downtown to a community land trust as part of an effort to expand affordable housing options despite concerns raised by opponents during a lively meeting.
It was the second time the council took up the issue. In March, the council delayed voting on the plan after Commissioner Sam Ings and residents from nearby neighborhoods voiced skepticism about the sale of the land to Hannibal Square Community Land Trust.
“I feel they are trying to pull the wool over our eyes,” said Stella Lewis, president of the nearby Washington Shores Neighborhood Association, regarding the proposed sale to Hannibal Square.
But Mayor Buddy Dyer and commissioners Tony Ortiz, Robert Stuart, Patty Sheehan and Regina Hill saw the plan as a way to improve and bring affordable housing to a blighted, low-income corridor.
“I’m disappointed that this has turned into a controversy at all,” Dyer said. “As a city we wanted to improve that neighborhood.”
According to Hannibal Square’s proposal, the nonprofit organization would buy the land — made up of six parcels on the south side of Orange Center Boulevard between South Dollins and South Tampa avenues — from the city for nearly $1.04 million.
The trust would then build up to 40 townhomes, each with three bedrooms, a garage and 2 1/2 bathrooms. A dozen of the town homes will be for buyers earning between 50% and 80% of the area’s median household income, or about $25,361, according to census data. Another 12 townhomes will be for buyers who earn between 80% and 120% of the average median household income. The remainder would be open to any income bracket.
Similar to a condominium complex, the residents would purchase and own the individual units but collectively lease the land under the buildings from Hannibal.
Trust officials say that would help keep the units affordable because residents wouldn’t have to purchase the land. The units also wouldn’t be tied to fluctuations in the real-estate market. And homeowners would only pay property taxes on the structure, not the land.
“It places the land wealth in the hands of a few people,” resident Carl Maultsby said. “In short we create a land oligarchy….I am in support of affordable housing. But I’m also in support of land ownership.”
On the parcel near South Tampa Avenue, the trust plans to construct a three-story building with 20 to 28 apartments, each with either one or two bedrooms on the top two floors. The ground-level floor calls for up to 20,000 square feet of commercial space.
City officials said the redevelopment of the vacant parcels would promote an economic revitalization of the area, which has long been a goal of the city. It also would help with the Orlando’s dire shortage of affordable housing.
Orlando bought the property in 2017 for $700,000, which included several vacant and rundown apartment complexes including Colonial Manor, Lakeview, Savoy and Bunche Manor.
In late 2018, the city started razing the buildings at a cost of $331,705 to eliminate “the blight and foster future redevelopment of the property,” according to city staff.
But Gray questioned Camille Reynolds, Hannibal’s executive director, about the Winter Park-based organization’s finances and how it could afford to build such a large project. It also would be the largest in the organization’s 14-year history.
Reynolds said the organization has financing in place for up to $6.75 million and plans to build in phases. As homeowners begin buying units, the organization will use that as leverage for additional financing.