On Tuesday, November 15, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted to deny a proposed change in law that would have allowed development of 1,999 homes on 1,400 acres of property in rural east Orange County, beyond the Econlockhatchee River.
If approved, the rule changes would have been a departure from planning practices Orange County has adopted into law. Thomas Hawkins, policy and planning director for 1000 Friends of Florida, explained, “The Orange County comprehensive plan uses an urban services area concept to allow more dense development around metro Orlando–where the infrastructure is in place to support development–and to keep rural parts of the county rural. By rejecting the project, the county is showing its commitment to planning principals that will preserve natural areas and limit the escalating costs of providing public services.”
Multiple state agencies and adjacent Seminole County had provided comments to Orange County on the possible rule change. The Florida Department of Transportation raised concerns about traffic impacts of the proposed development. Although the applicant for the rule change had planned to construct roads around the development, the FDOT cautioned that approval would add 18,116 automobile trips every day and would lead to unacceptable conditions on State Road 50.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission pointed out that the site of the proposed development is located near, within, or adjacent to potential habitat or occurrence of several federally threatened or endangered species, including two identified bald eagle nests. The FWCC also gave specific comments on how to limit potential bear on human conflicts and habitat fragmentation the proposed development could cause.
The strongest governmental opposition came from Seminole County which sent multiple letters throughout 2015 and 2016 expressing concerns about how the proposed development would impact rural parts of Seminole County and the sensitive Econlockhatchee River. Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine, who serves on the Board of 1000 Friends, has been a strong advocate for a joint planning agreement between Seminole, Orange and Brevard Counties in lieu of this development. Constantine said, “We should take this opportunity to work together and create a strong regional plan for this important educational, economic and environmental area of Central Florida.”
1000 Friends has been involved in the rule change process since 2015. Through technical planning and legal analysis of the proposed development, 1000 Friends supported grass roots citizen activism. Save Orange County Board Chair John Lina thanked 1000 Friends saying, “1000 Friends of Florida has been a huge asset to our community and helping fight urban sprawl in the River basin.”
Ryan Smart, President of 1000 Friends of Florida, said of the denial, “This is one of the biggest citizen wins on a major development proposal in recent memory. I am so proud of the work our coalition has done.”
Marjorie Holt, Vice-Chair and Conservation Chair of the Sierra Club Central Florida Group, expressed her appreciation for the denial saying, “We applaud Orange County Commissioners who voted to deny a massive development and a new bridge across the Big Econlockhatchee River in rural east Orange County. After several years of persistent resistance from area residents, their voices to protect rural life style and wildlife habitat have been heard.”