On May 11, developers of the Innovation Way East project (IWE) went before the Orange County Board of County Commissioners seeking approval to change zoning laws for a 4,625-acre property they own in southeast Orange County. If approved, the result would merge IWE with nearby International Corporate Park (ICP) to create the project dubbed “Innovation.” After meeting until well past 11 p.m., the vote was delayed until June 22 to allow for more dialogue on the land uses.
According to the developers – Suburban Land Reserve (SLR) and Farmland Reserve, corporations held by the Mormon Church – the end result will create more than 6,300 homes and provide a state-of-the-art live-work community that houses hundreds of industrial and high-tech jobs. Within 10 years, SLR says that Innovation is expected to bring 1.5 million square feet of research facilities, 1.7 million square feet of industrial space and 1 million square feet of office space. More than 50 percent of the total land area will be preserved as permanent open space and parks.
“Approval of Innovation immediately provides $50 million of shovel ready development projects and over 25,000 high-quality, high-tech clean jobs for the future at full build-out,” says Adam McKinnon, business development manager for SLR.
The IWE project has been rigorously opposed by some county growth staff and community environmental groups for various reasons, the most cited stating there is no need for new housing in the area and extending the urban services there (water and sewer) would promote greater population sprawl.
Still, SLR contends that final land use plan approvals are still months away and the land is as much as four years away from building any homes in IWE. “As for ICP, once both projects are approved, business, road and research park development will become imminent,” says McKinnon.
Several County Commissioners remain opposed to the development. In January, Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty agreed with the critics, arguing that there was no need for additional housing in the area. But a lot has changed since then. SLR has reduced the amount of housing called for to the 6,300 number, down from their original 8,000. Commissioner Mildred Fernandez, who opposed the project was arrested on corruption charges leaving a possible 3-3 tie with the remaining Commissioners.
Further complicating matters is the fact that SLR is slated to split the costs of building a new BeachLine Expressway (SR528) interchange almost evenly with the county and the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, contributing roughly $12 million. However, they have said recently that they could not help build the connection unless their project was approved.
Supporters of the project say that a potentially region-shifting economic-development effort, named “Project Transform”, may be lost if IWE cannot get approved.
Although initially opposed to the idea, District 5 Commissioner Bill Segal has said that if more details are revealed about the project, he may alter his vote because of the potential impact of the deal. “I am committed to crafting a proposal that can get the support of the community, my fellow commissioners and the land owner,” says Segal. He stresses that any proposal must provide three things for it to gain his support: protection for environmentally sensitive lands, funding to build the interchange for Avalon Park and supply a significant amount of real high-paying jobs. “I cannot, nor will I put forward any proposal that falls short of these three goals.”
Supposedly, Project Transform involves Sematech, a Texas-based semiconductor producer. The deal is rumored to include county-level, state, federal and private incentives in the range of tens of millions of dollars. If approved, the deal would provide around 100 jobs and help solidify the IWE region as the high-tech region it hopes to become.
Regarding the project, SLR was not able to provide any further details. “SLR is working closely with the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission to bring a major job catalyst to Central Florida,” says McKinnon. “Unfortunately we are unable to comment at this time due to a confidentiality agreement we are committed to maintaining with the parties involved.”
As the June 22 deadline approaches and plans are reworked, SLR contends that the right time to make the development happen is right now. “With the land use approvals of Innovation, it will launch an immediate job creation component,” says McKinnon.
Article By Corey Gehrold