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Proposed Orlando project heads to Council

Ephraim Goodman once lived in the Orlando neighborhood.

Now, he wants to help revitalize it.

Goodman is proposing to build 23 single-family homes and put in a gas station and convenience store on property along Factory Street. He said he could recall a time when there were five or six stores in Orlando.

Now, he noted, there are none.

“The compassion of my heart reached out bigger than the project,” Goodman said. “And it said that we must be concerned. Something must happen. This neighborhood needs a breath of fresh air. Something must be done immediately. The amount of funding that we would put in this area would be great, but I am willing to take the risk on a neighborhood I grew up in.”

He and Whitney Saunders, the attorney representing him and his company, Goodman Developers, on the project, came before the Planning Commission Tuesday during a public hearing to ask that the property be rezoned to accommodate the development.

If approved, two of the three parcels — about 4.66 of the 7.88 acres — would be rezoned from heavy industrial zoning to residential urban, and the other parcel, closest to Factory Street, would be rezoned from heavy industrial zoning to general commercial zoning. The property is about two-thirds of a mile south of downtown and four blocks south of the Birdsong Peanut Factory.

The conceptual layout for the overall development would include the homes, as well as retail space and a convenience store with gas sales.

While city planners had recommended denial of the project because it does not adhere to the 2035 Comprehensive Plan, the commission unanimously recommended it, and it will next to go to a public hearing at City Council set for Feb. 19.

The specific reason for denial is that the proposed residential density of the project is 4.9 units per acre, below the recommended 13 to 24 units per acre in the Central Growth Area’s Core Support Use District, which calls for a mix of housing types, and the Orlando neighborhood mostly has single-family homes already.

The report also states that the locational criteria for the proposed commercial development of the property “is not met and there is concern regarding the compatibility of (general commercial) zoning district at this location.”

Saunders called the project “a step in the direction of trying to fulfill what we have in the Comprehensive Plan.”

“It is what we would like to do, but this is what we need to do in order to have some positive effect on a community that has been left without any positive activity occurring within it for decades,” he added.

According to the staff report for the project, Goodman has proffered that each home would be at least 1,600 square feet, and that no more than 17,000 square feet of commercial space could be built.

Though not proffered, the price of the homes would range from $175,000 to $195,000.

Residents in the neighborhood expressed support for the project during the public hearing.

Deacon Lilton Pitts of Greater First Baptist Church Orlando, also on Factory Street, said the neighborhood needs affordable housing.

“We want to bring a new breath of fresh air and a new generation into Orlando,” Pitts said.

Betty Montgomery, who grew up in the Orlando neighborhood and is the assistant pastor at Greater First Baptist Church Orlando, said she hopes that the housing and commercial businesses slated for the project would give it “a shot in the arm.”

She said a number of people who live in Orlando need stores within walking distance.

“We’ve been left out, but still, we’re over there,” Montgomery said. “We’re contributing our taxes and all of those entities into the city. We are proud Suffolkians.”

Saunders noted that it is 2.7 miles to get to the nearest store, a Family Dollar on East Washington Street, and that it has been decades since the neighborhood had a corner store. He also said someone has to take a chance on the neighborhood, noting homes in the neighborhood that are boarded up — including two directly across the street from the proposed project, at 611 and 711 Factory St.

The idea, he said, is to provide services to the neighborhood that it has not had in decades.

“This neighborhood,” Saunders said, “is crying for the opportunity to begin to thrive.”