Home Sweet Home

Scott Powers | Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer

Three-story mansions and hundreds of other homes — most valued at millions of dollars apiece — would be built along the banks of Walt Disney World canals and sold to private individuals in a project under review by Orange County. The homes, mostly single-family residences but including a few condominiums and time-share units, would rise from what was Disney’s Eagle Pines Golf Course — just a jog away from the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Downtown Disney. The adjacent Osprey Ridge Golf Course would be incorporated into the private development, now called the “Northeast Resort.”

Disney insists it is still too early in the planning process to discuss many details. With the country mired in a housing slump, one local expert said luxury homes in the gated community would most likely be marketed to and snapped up by wealthy foreign buyers.

Disney World first announced its intentions in March 2007 to build a luxury housing resort on 429 acres in the northeast corner of the giant resort, but few details have been reported. A year ago, more attention was focused on related plans to build an anchor for the resort — a Four Seasons luxury hotel — which would go up on another section of the former Eagle Pines Golf Course.

Rezoning plans now circulating inOrange County government’s planning division remain limited in detail but suggest a neighborhood like no other: a gated community of estate homes, village homes, courtyard homes, cluster-villa homes and condominiums closer than most of Disney’s hotels to the world’s most popular theme parks. Disney is asking Orange County to rezone the property as a planned development, with areas defined for single-family homes, multifamily homes, time-share units and conservation easements. Altogether, the project could encompass as many as 373 single-family homes, 200 multifamily homes and 60 time-share units, though the final tallies are expected to be lower.

Earlier forays

Disney World has spun off land for residential development before — notably the communities of Celebration and Little Lake Bryan — but the Northeast Resort would be far more luxurious, said Marilyn Waters, spokeswoman for Walt Disney Imagineering, the Disney office that handles real-estate development. She compared the Northeast Resort concept to the Four Seasons-anchored Aviara community in San Diego, a high-end vacation community for people rich enough to have multimillion-dollar second or third homes.

“This is in essence the coming together of the Disney brand and the Four Seasons brand. This is the first time that has happened,” Waters said. “These are often the types of places people come in for two or three weeks, then they won’t be back for several months.” William Weaver, a real-estate professor at the University of Central Florida, predicted Disney would market such homes heavily overseas. Disney’s reputation for attention to detail, he said, along with the project’s unique location, should make even mansions easy to sell, regardless of market conditions.

“I can’t see many Americans buying multimillion-dollar second houses on Disney property, not very many. But I certainly can see foreigners,” Weaver said. “As the dollar keeps deteriorating against everything else, it becomes cheaper and cheaper.” The area would be developed much as Disney developed Little Lake Bryan, Celebration and a couple of smaller projects. Disney would have the property de-annexed from both the Reedy Creek Improvement District — the independent government district created in 1967 to provide countylike services to Disney World — and from Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake, the two cities created back then to provide city services to most of Disney World. Orange County would then provide such services, including utilities, fire protection and sheriff’s patrols.

Although the area is still within Reedy Creek’s jurisdiction for now, Disney is seeking advance approval fromOrange County officials with a de-annexation in mind. The project is now headed for public hearings before the county Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners.

Getting to work

Earlier this month, Disney World contractors began preparing the site, installing construction fences and doing some light earthmoving on land north of Vista Boulevard and west of Winter Garden-Vineland Road. That work should take most of the rest of the year, Waters said, but actual home construction could start before the year is out. The vast majority of the homes would be built to order, and the entire community could take up to 10 years to build, though planners don’t expect it to take that long.

The county has recommended a few changes in the plans, yet there appear to be no major concerns,Orange County Planning Administrator John Smogor said. Built out to the maximum, the area could house an estimated 1,702 people. The county has to review the plans under the assumption that, except for the time-share units, the homes would serve as the owners’ primary residences, Smogor said, meaning a year-round impact on roads and services. But “if they sell these homes to rich people in Japan, the Philippines, Chicago or New York, and they want to come down here and just have a big house a few weeks a year at Disney, that’s fine,” he said.

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