Sugarmill project prompts school capacity, compatibility discussion

The Oviedo City Council is expected to consider a request to change the zoning district of nearly 14 acres along Sugar Mill Road from office commercial to residential for the development of a 557-unit multi-family complex, currently named Sugarmill Apartments.

Update: The zoning change for the proposed Sugarmill Apartments was approved 4-0 at the Aug. 21 City Council meeting. Council member Natalie Teuchert was absent. The Council is expected to consider final approval for the project on Sept. 7.

With housing at a premium in Oviedo, a proposed development called Sugarmill Apartments is expected to bring hundreds of new units to the city, but not without concerns.

The Oviedo City Council is expected to consider a request to change the zoning district of nearly 14 acres along Sugar Mill Road from office commercial to residential for the development of a 557-unit multi-family complex, Sugarmill Apartments, on Monday, Aug. 21 after the change was approved at the Aug. 1 Local Planning Agency board meeting.

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While it is unknown whether the apartments will be market rate or luxury, they are not expected to be attainable or affordable housing, as developers would often work with the city on such incentives early in the process, Oviedo’s development services director, Teresa Correa, said. 

High-density, non-luxury units fall into what is often referred to as the “missing middle” in terms of housing, which are part of a group of dwellings in between detached single-family homes and mid-to-high-rise apartment buildings, which have proven to be unaffordable to those in the workforce earning 120-140% of an area’s median income (AMI). The median income in Seminole County is about $70,000, which would include those earning between $84,000-$98,000 annually. While those earning 80% or less than the AMI are eligible for subsidized housing or vouchers, those earning just slightly often experience difficulty finding an affordable place to live.

A map shows the existing developments that surround the subject property.
A 554-unit apartment project is being proposed between Broadway Street and the Oviedo Mall. Image courtesy of the City of Oviedo.

Of the 14 acres the Sugarmill Apartments would sit on, 12 are planned to be developed, while 2 are wetlands. City staff determined that a residential zoning district is consistent and permissible with the property’s future land use. There is a mix of retail and residential properties nearby, including the Oviedo Pet Resort, a Mobil gas station, a Sonic Drive-In, Dwell Oviedo luxury apartments, Auto Mech & Muffler and the Oviedo Mall.

While the LPA approved the request, which now moves to two public hearings before City Council on Aug. 21 and Sept. 7, it was not without some major concerns from both residents and LPA members.

School capacity concerns aired

A Seminole County Public Schools school impact analysis found that students would be able to be accommodated, with adjacent capacity per an interlocal agreement. However, that comes with a big caveat. 

There would not be enough room in the current zoned elementary school, Lawton Elementary School, which is just 1.5 miles from the site, for the expected 122 elementary-aged students the development would bring. Instead, they would go to either Geneva Elementary in Geneva or Walker Elementary in Chuluota, which are 10 and 7 miles away, respectively. 

“I have a problem with that,” LPA member David Pollack said, “But that’s not our issue here. It’s an issue for the community to bring through the school board. …It’s not under our jurisdiction.

“So, as annoying as that is, especially for the parents who move in here and go, ‘Cool, my kids get to go to Oviedo schools,’ and [then] go, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got to go to Geneva. I’ve got to drive 40 minutes to take my kid to school in the morning,’” he said. “Again, that’s not for us, so if people don’t like it, there are people they can go to to complain about it.”

You can contact Seminole County School Board members by phone or email or call the district at 407-320-0000.

Students in the area would most likely be eligible for school bus service, which have statutes that limit bus-ride lengths to 50 minutes for elementary students, and 60 minutes for middle and high schoolers. 

An image shows a line of buses.
Photo by Dan Dennis.

If the zoned schools are over capacity, Florida law says development can still occur so long as there’s capacity within a certain proximity to that school, called the attendance zone. When it’s time to pull building permits, residential developers must first get approval from the local School Board in the form of a School Capacity Availability Letter of Determination, or SCALD letter, based on capacity.

Additionally, the county’s education structure allows for flexibility.

“Seminole County is a choice school district, so parents have a choice to send their kids to wherever they want [so long as there is capacity],” Seminole County Public Schools facilities planner Jordan Smith said. 

Compatibility discussed

Surrounding property owners to the proposed Sugarmill Apartments have concerns about the development, as well.

“Basically, I think we’re overbuilding here going from commercial property, which has been part of the comprehensive plan for many, many years. Now somebody wants to come in and change it to high-density residential,” said Danny Anderson, who owns the nearby property where Auto Mech & Muffler sits. “We are concerned also about how we are going to be protected, because our building has automotive repair … we have equipment there.

“We want to be protected against the residential property if they’re going to go that direction,” he said.

Among his other concerns include how the sewer system will handle the new units, additional fire and police protection, whether a wall will be built separating the residential from commercial areas, and what will happen to Sugar Mill Road and its planned connection from Winter Springs Boulevard to Oviedo Mall Boulevard when it is extended.

The city’s comprehensive plan checks capacity for infrastructure to ensure there is sufficient capacity to be absorbed by growth, Correa said.

In terms of the road connection, the future extension of Sugar Mill Road is part of the city’s comprehensive plan and the in-process mobility plan. While it is not officially being considered at this stage in the process because the LPA was just looking at the zoning map amendment, it will be during the future site development stage. 

“It was downgraded to an access [road in the mobility plan],” Correa said. “It could be a driveway, it could be a shared driveway that functions as a road, but it would be a connection.”

In an attempt to alleviate some of Anderson’s other concerns, the applicant, David Axel of Axel Real Estate, Inc., said a retention pond would be added to the wetlands on the property, next to the Auto Mech & Muffler site. 

“There’ll be nothing over there to the north. Almost. The entire area to the north is a wetland,” Axel said. 

Additionally, Axel said the development is part of the larger comprehensive plan for growth.

“The reason there’s downtown core, downtown transition Gateway West, Mitchell Hammock corridor … Marketplace, was to protect existing residential by putting density for the city’s growth in these very specific areas,” he said. “And we’re trying to do just that.”

The Oviedo City Council meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21 at Oviedo City Hall. Find the agenda here.

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