The missing middle of housing

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Back in January, we talked about how “density creates vitality” with all the new high-rise, mixed-use buildings going up in Downtown Orlando. Density doesn’t always come from mid-rises and high-rises, however. Urban planners refer to a “missing middle” of housing that newer cities, like Orlando, didn’t develop compared to older, pre-auto cities.

According to, “Missing Middle is a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living.”

In Orlando, city planners are coaxing a “stair-stepped” approach to filling in this type of housing, progressing from short, one-story, single-family houses, up to the mid-rise and high-rise developments.

For example, west of Summerlin Avenue, city zoning encourages two- to four-story townhomes and small apartment buildings. These complement the one- to two-story, craftsman homes of Thornton Park and Lake Eola Heights. West of the townhomes begin the threeto four-story, low-rise buildings. Then come mid-rise buildings, which are usually five to ten stories in height and include elevators. And finally come the high-rises.

As reported last month in the Community Paper, housing — especially affordable housing — is a major concern in Orlando. Fortunately, City of Orlando planners and local developers are helping to address this issue.

Mark Kinchla has been creating townhomes and other “missing middle” projects near Downtown since 1999. Kinchla grew up among the brownstones of walkable Boston, which influenced his development strategy. His projects have included Samsara, the highly acclaimed conversion of a church in Lake Eola Heights, the Fern Creek 20 and Fern Creek 5.

Proposed projects include the T-Park 11 in Thornton Park and Fountain Vu 5 on the edge of the Lake Eola Heights Historic District. Kinchla moved a 1921 house to another lot he owns in the Lake Eola Heights District to be restored and preserved within the Historic District. With an eye on younger buyers, he has renovated other buildings, such as Hyer Amelia Condominium and Broadway Marquee Apartments.

Other new townhome projects in Downtown include the Thornton Park Brownstones near Constitution Green and “The Olive,” a six-unit proposal between Central Boulevard and Pine Street. Townhome projects have been typically popular with older empty-nesters and younger professionals, but Kinchla now sees the market moving more toward families, especially as the downtown public schools have recently blossomed.

Density can be increased even in neighborhoods with single-family homes. For anyone from an old Northeastern city, you will have seen taller houses — with basements — that take up less of a footprint than sprawling one-story mid-century ramblers. Smaller lots and taller houses led to denser, walkable neighborhoods in older cities. The historic districts in Orlando help preserve the few pre-World War II Era neighborhoods that were also built in this way (i.e., sans basements).

The city’s recent changes that promote “accessory dwelling units,” such as garage apartments, also help increase density while maintaining the charm of neighborhoods with single-family homes. Filling in empty lots, known as “urban infill,” can also help increase density and at a much lower cost than building new subdivisions. The reduced cost is because all the infrastructure (roads, water lines, sewers, powerlines, etc.) already exist in Downtown Orlando.

With prices quickly rising in Central Florida, increasing density may be one of the only ways Orlando will be able to keep rents and home prices down while providing housing to the approximately 1,000 people moving here every week according to the Orlando Economic Partnership.

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