New details unveiled as Disney’s affordable housing complex overcomes rocky start

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Developers for the Disney-backed affordable housing complex in Horizon West passed their first hurdle at the Orange County Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday, but not before getting a preview of the uncertainty the project will face as it advances.


More details were given about the proposed 1,410 unit community, which would include 1,000 units of “affordable” housing for people making between 50% and 100% of the area median income and would not be limited to Disney cast members.

Approximately 80% of the project will consist of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments ranging from 576 to more than 1,000 square feet. The remainder of the property will be taken up by 3- and 4-bedroom apartments and town homes.

The community will be spread across more than 70 acres and be divided into six “neighborhoods,” each with a distinct feel. Two activity centers will service the units, along with a transportation hub for buses and rideshares.

Read: Walt Disney World shares new renderings of planned affordable housing complex

20 acres of open space will surround the buildings, providing opportunities to bike, walk and enjoy fresh air.

If approved by the county and the state, the developer, The Michaels Organization, expects to break ground in the fall and have the first units online in 2026. The project will take four to five years to complete, a spokesman said.

However, it will have to overcome pressure from community members in order to get shovels into the ground. Neighbors of the project are vehemently opposed to it, citing traffic and overcrowding concerns as infrastructure struggles to keep up with the rapidly growing Horizon West region.

Read: Disney to break ground on affordable housing complex

“It doesn’t have to all be apartments, there’s literally five apartment complexes right in the exact vicinity that they’re trying to build,” Kim Herndon said, adding that the other complexes are significantly smaller than the Disney-backed proposal.

Others complained about overcrowded roads and schools – though the developer is not seeking a waiver of impact fees that would fund upgrades to both.

Several of the planning commission members worried about the number of units and the density of them, which they calculated was approximately 19 per acre when wetlands were excluded.

Read: To fix homelessness, advocates say Orange County needs to overhaul time consuming building process

They also said the project was too car dependent. Despite the proximity of Disney’s properties and a nearby “village center,” they asked Disney to run shuttles for its workers and asked the developer to include commercial space for shops and cafés. Neither request was binding, and Disney will have no direct involvement in the complex other than donating the land, which it leased to the developer for 75 years.

The commission members also aimed comments at the community opposition, pointing to the area’s dire housing shortage, which is expected to reach 54,000 units by 2030. They said the project was appropriately located in a denser area and said the community had to compromise at some point.

“High density and neighborhood commerce go together,” one of the commissioners said. “If you want neighborhood commerce, you’re going to have to accept higher density.”

Others dismissed community requests for single-family houses instead of apartments, since single-family homes are no longer considered affordable in Central Florida.

One noted that almost none of the community members who oppose the project are native to Horizon West.

“You were somebody else’s uncomfortable addition at some point as well,” she said.

The project’s next stop is to Orange County’s Board of Commissioners for a procedural vote. If approved, it heads to the state, then back through the planning and zoning process for final approval.

Developers said they would host a town hall meeting with the community before the next vote.

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