Orange County’s Maginot Line against development east of the Econlockhatchee River has fallen.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 Tuesday night to support two new developments, dubbed by county planners as Lake Pickett South and Lake Pickett North, that will allow thousands of new homes to be built east of the Econlockhatchee.
The approvals required changes in the county’s land use comprehensive plan that had for more than a decade held that the eastern portion of the county, still largely but not entirely rural, and still largely an ecologically-sensative region, would see no more urban sprawl from the burgeoning Orlando metropolis.
But the developers of The Grow, a 1,189-acre tract just east of the Econlockhatchee and north of State Road 50, argued that their proposal for 2,078 houses was both different from typical sprawl due to significant and sensitive planning, and not all that different from much of the region, which saw large developments go in very nearby in the 20th century.
And that public hearing was followed by developers of Sustany, who sought a more preliminary approval for that Lake Pickett North 1,416-acre proposal that would likely stick, given the master plan changes that the county had to make to accommodate The Grow in the Lake Pickett South area.
A marathon commissioners’ meeting lasted past midnight and featured more than 100 speakers. The public hearings held before a packed audience, mostly east Orange County residents who came to oppose what they call the East of Econ developments, and who filled the commission chambers, an overflow room and the Orange County administration building’s first floor lobby and common areas.
In the end, the commissioner representing east Orange County, District 5 Commissioner Ted Edwards, was joined by Commissioners Bryan Nelson, Scott Boyd and Victoria Siplin to approve both developments’ requests. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Commissioners Pete Clarke and Jennifer Thompson voted no on both.
With The Grow, the commission approved text changes to the county’s comprehensive plan to allow for it. The board also approved the map amendment. The actual rezoning was pushed to a September meeting to allow for some additional conditions to be placed on the development, as requested by the board. With Sustany, the commissioners voted to transmit it to state officials for review to see if it is compatible to the county’s land use plans. Actual rezoning would have to come somewhere down the line.
The two development votes represent a major shift in policy for Orange County. They also represent a recognition that much of eastern Orange County, particularly the neighborhoods immediately around and to the south of the University of Central Florida, are so plagued by traffic that many residents west of the Econlockhatchee welcome the traffic pattern changes and road expansions that the Lake Pickett developments promise.
Edwards soon will be testing the political strength of the proponents and opponents of the developments, as he is running for re-election in the Aug. 30 election. He faces three opponents who all opposed the developments, including Emily Bonilla, one of the longtime leaders of the East of Econ opposition movement, and Timothy McKinney, also an activist in the movement. Both spoke Tuesday night, and both used their times at the microphone to remind the crowd that they were running against Edwards.
Support for the projects was not limited to the developers. The Grow, in particular, has been in the works in one form or another for four years, and they claimed support from several home owners associations east of the Econlockhatchee representing 4,000 home owners, and quite a few came to speak in favor. They also brought in UCF Economics Professor Sean Snaith and others who talked about the desperate need for more housing in the UCF area to support the growing university and growing business community surrounding it.
Opposition was not limited to the East of Econ residents. Environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters of Central Florida, Seminole County and the city of Oviedo (which abut the Lake Picket North area) spoke of the impacts on the ecology, traffic and character of east Orange County and southeast Seminole.