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Kissimmee is running out of land. Experts says denser development is the answer.

In World
March 03, 2024

With only 850 acres of undeveloped land left, Kissimmee is shifting to redeveloping dilapidated buildings to sustain its steady growth and increasing the density of new developments, a controversial method experts say is the way of the future.

Most of the city’s empty acreage is already set to be a 3,000-plus-home subdivision, Hilliard Isle.

Kissimmee residents are feeling the pinch of the lack of land. Just behind the proposed Hilliard Isle subdivision sit the homes of families who are already dissatisfied with the cramped nature of the area and sad to see nearby fields of pasture and cows disappear.

With the effort to redevelop comes the hefty price tag of demolishing existing buildings, a cost the city is trying to absorb to entice developers.

“The city will pay for the demolition or at least a portion of the demo if the proposed development was something that would be really helpful to the city,” said Craig Holland, development services director.

The Kmart on West Vine Street serves as a prime example, Holland said. The city plans on converting the site of that abandoned store into something more useful but is still figuring out how to garner developers’ interest.

Its lack of open land puts Kissimmee at a disadvantage compared to St. Cloud and Osceola County, which both have an ample supply drawing steady demand from developers.

In order to compete, Kissimmee also should focus on saving developers time rather than just money by implementing policy changes to its planning and building codes, said Shlomo Angel, professor of city planning at The Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University.

“I don’t think the money is important here,” Angel said. “What is important is the time it takes to get the permits, the time it takes to demolish because the thing that is discouraging developers from redeveloping is the uncertainty of how long it will take.”

Kissimmee is already changing its code to allow for quicker development at higher densities, Holland said.

“We try to make ourselves as attractive as possible to development with quick turnaround of developer permitting,” Holland said. “Our form-based code that we adopted a couple years ago really put a lot of flexibility into development standards.”

Now the city will have to start getting creative with how it accommodates development along with its growing population, Holland said.

In 2022 Kissimmee had over 80,000 residents, a figure that has steadily increased throughout the last decade, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau.

One method the city is using is to turn small parcels of vacant land sprinkled among neighborhoods of single-family homes into higher density living.

“We’ve actually had some of those narrow lots turned into duplexes which are stacked so the upstairs unit is one unit and the downstairs is another,” Holland said. “So people are getting creative and you see that in areas where because of the shortage, land is becoming more in demand and land prices are going up.”

Angel recommended the city aggressively pursue measures to get homes built on vacant land and residents living in empty homes. One way to do that is a vacancy tax, which forces landowners to pay when property is underused.

Around the world, cities are increasingly pressured to increase density as they grow but it’s important officials find a way to balance it all, Angel said.

“To increase the density, of course, it requires an agreement among the citizens and there’s usually a lot of pressure against it,” Angel said. “A lot of resistance to it is the NIMBY thing where they say great you can increase density but not here.”

Angel said the best way to gain acceptance for increased density among residents who prefer traditional single-family living is to redevelop commercial areas and reimagine suburban living.

“Along places that are more public and allowing multi-story housing along the avenues that are in more commercial areas is a way to increase density that might have the least resistance,” Angel said.

Another way to reduce backlash is to focus on redeveloping suburban areas by adding more shops that are walking distance from multifamily homes. That avoids further traffic congestion, something everyone can support, Angel said.

“They’re definitely going to go out of town to commute to work but you can create a lot of nice places where people gather, where people walk to…cafes, playgrounds and schools” Angel said. “There are many good examples of this like Celebration Florida where they tried to create higher density.”

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