Whether you call it Build-to-Rent (BTR) or Single-Family for Rent (SFFR), arguably the hottest new residential product in land development is still new to most municipalities across Florida. It doesn’t fit in established zoning categories and prompts fear of the unknown among neighbors and policymakers.

RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture has led the first successful rezoning applications for BTR projects in Florida’s City of Bonita Springs and Osceola County in recent months. Our years of experience designing and permitting BTR in the western United States have helped, but ultimately these Florida wins can be boiled down to proactive public engagement, high-quality visuals and practicing empathy with the concerns of others.

In Osceola County, RVi Orlando’s Director of Planning Bryan Gaines, AICP, led the amendment of a Planned Development (PD) zoning for 27.5 acres along busy thoroughfare Narcoossee Road to include 198 BTR villas and 50,000 square feet of neighborhood retail on the frontage. County Commissioners approved the zoning change in December after months of public engagement, education and compromise.

“The biggest lesson I’d share with others is the need to engage area stakeholders early and have high-quality 3D renderings to show people how this BTR product is not your typical apartments or single-family homes,” Gaines said. “The perception in that community, correct or not, was that multifamily runs down area home values. Great pictures are worth a thousand words and went a long way in helping area residents digest the facts they were being presented in writing.”

Working on behalf of client Green Slate Land & Development, RVi’s Director of Landscape Architecture Jack Caldwell, PLA, and Project Manager for 3D Graphics Bailey Overstreet produced more than 15 high-quality renderings to show stakeholders vantage points from throughout the proposed community, and street views from Narcoossee Road.

This project introduced BTR as a new product for Osceola’s Planning and Zoning department to categorize, define entitlement and development standards for, and evaluate among its staff and constituents.

During the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, County staff ultimately said that this Master Plan and PD standards could be the model for a new BTR-specific zoning category that staff anticipated writing, Gaines said.

A community meeting was held in the neighborhood with area stakeholders, and allowed residents to speak with RVi and County staff one on one. Public feedback led to plan revisions at each stage of review, and even at the Board of County Commissioners meeting compromise was made by reducing the unit count slightly and increasing parking to be more consistent with adjacent neighborhoods.

Gaines and Caldwell helped ensure the Site Plan maintained existing expectations in the Narcoossee Community Development Standards. They integrated retail and residential uses in a walkable mixed-use development, and overcame concerns from staff and the community regarding this new product’s fit in the market, and how it may impact economics, lifestyle, traffic and aesthetics with surrounding neighborhoods.

BTR cottage homes are clustered around common open space areas, reminiscent of the classic “Village Green” planning model. The intent is to bring residents together in green space through traditional neighborhood design.

Amenities will include a swimming pool and clubhouse, dog park, tot lot, six community court green spaces, a linear park and an extensive network of sidewalks that connect the BTR community with sidewalks outside of its boundary. The project has also committed space for a public library branch in the retail segment, and EV charging stations throughout.