The City of Orlando’s plans to OK construction on a new one-million-square-foot warehouse known as the “Princeton Oaks project” have drawn ire from residents who live nearby for both ecological and social reasons.

The area where the warehouse is proposed to go is north of W.D. Judge Drive and west of John Yeung Parkway. Only a small two-lane road separates the area proposed for the warehouse from residential neighborhoods, apartment complexes and a senior citizen center, Antioch Manor. The project is proposed by developers CNL and VHB, according to city documents.

At city council meetings, residents have brought forward concerns about noise and what the proximity of the warehouse would be to their homes.

The city’s Municipal Planning Board approved in August a recommendation for the council to pass 1.03 million square feet for industrial use to build the warehouse. The project will be discussed at the meeting on Feb. 29, and the board will decide whether or not to approve that recommendation.

Chuck O’Neal, currently a candidate for the District 11 state Senate seat, said the issue was “a civil rights issue” for him and many residents living around the area, as the vicinity is made up of predominantly black neighborhoods.

“They always seem to end up in minority neighborhoods,” O’Neal said. “There’s a country club down the road. At the last meeting, I said ‘let’s put 500,000 square feet next to the minority neighborhood, and 500,000 next to the Country Club of Orlando.’ They didn’t like that.”

O’Neal also works with nonprofit ecological group Speak Up Wekiva. He said the project had the potential to cause harm to homes in the area and disrupt the lives of residents with water runoffs from the pavement the project is planning to put down.

“When you pave that many square feet of woodlands, the water has nowhere else to go,” he said. “With Florida’s storms and flooding, it can’t go into the ground.”

Cassandra Lafser, press secretary with Mayor Buddy Dyer‘s office, said despite residents’ concerns, there was initially a project looking at the same area to build a development with 1,275 homes, 12,000 square feet of commercial development and an elementary school — so it could have been worse, Lafser said.

She said the project could “potentially improve” the condition of the surrounding wetlands, contrary to some residents’ concerns that it would damage them. However, she said she did not have specifics as to how this would happen; only that the project would “work with the State” to manage the wetlands remaining after building the warehouse.

She also defended the project by saying that the area it’s proposed to be built in was zoned as Industrial before its annexation by the City of Orlando — it was only changed to a residential area after that, she wrote in an email. Another part of the MPB’s recommendation is to change the land-use zoning of the area back to Industrial, which was approved unanimously by the council at a Feb. 8 meeting.

Lafser said the Princeton Oaks project was “in line with the city’s vision for development.”

“It fits in with the area,” she said.

O’Neal also cited damage to the river and water in surrounding areas as another possible casualty of the warehouse, if built.

“The parcel they want to build on is part of 300 acres of natural woodlands and wetlands at the head of the Little Wekiva River,” he said. “If they pave over that and put one million square feet of warehouse there, it’s going to impact the water supplies in Central Florida. It will impede the water flow of the canal to Lake Lawne and the woodlands.”

O’Neal also said the residents of surrounding neighborhoods near Mercy Drive and W.D. Judge Drive, as well as other communities, are deeply against the warehouse coming to their area.

“Neighboring subdivisions are in extreme opposition to this,” O’Neal said. “The neighbors are very vocal about keeping that area woodlands.”

O’Neal said he had met with officials from the city to see about putting the project on hold, intending to see if he could get it declared a public park through the state Trust for Public Land. That would stop the development from happening, he said.

O’Neal claimed the city had responded with “nothing but hostility and outright rejection” to his attempts.

“It comes down to who has more clout in the City of Orlando,” he said. “The citizens or the developers? Who does the city represent — the money interests or the citizens? That’s what it all boils down to.”

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