3/18/2016 – Protection of our Rural Areas

Vulnerabilty Assessment for Floridian Aquifer

Vulnerabilty Assessment for Floridian Aquifer

I try not to deviate from traffic issues but today I have to make an exception and ask for your help and attendance at a very important meeting on March 31st regarding protection of our rural area.

Your attendance and support is needed at the Charter Review Commission (CRC) meeting downtown at the Orange County Chambers on 3/31/2016 at 4 pm.  The address is 201 S Rosalind Ave, Orlando, FL 32801.  The chambers are on the first floor.

Even though this site is about fixing our roadways, as I learn more about our infrastructure, I find myself being pulled into advocating for the protection of our very fragile eco-system.  Increases in traffic lead back to increases in development which in turn lead back to harmful effects to our eco-system.  It is only natural that I would end up here.

I don’t consider myself an environmentalist but I am becoming a survivalist and caring for our natural resources with the most precious being water has become very important to me.  Without this most valuable natural resource life cannot be sustained.

In brief, here is our request of the Charter Review Commission (CRC).  We are asking that a referendum be placed on the ballot this year that will allow Orange County citizens to vote on this issue.  “We want a unanimous vote of the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) for any re-zoning between the Econ River and the St. Johns River”.

red rose in a bed of yellow tulips

red rose in a bed of yellow tulips

The reason is to ensure that any development in this area is met with the strictest scrutiny and is truly compatible with the area and the utmost care taken to preserve our eco-system.  I heard a gentleman say recently, “A red rose in a bed of yellow tulips is a weed”.  The rose is a beautiful suburban development but should not be placed in the tulip bed which is the rural area.  Do “Smart Development” all you want but grow tulips, not roses.

Despite huge support from the citizens, the Protection of the Rural Boundary Work Group has decided this is NOT worthy enough to be place on the ballot and has issued a report to the CRC that will be approved or disapproved on March 31st.  We do not want this decision approved.  We want the CRC to instruct the work group to take another look at the issue and find a way to get it on the ballot.

There are three reason the work group came to this decision as I perceive them.  Please understand that no explanation is given in this report:  2016-03-16 – PRB Work Group Final Report and Exhibits.  Also know that the work group consisted of only 3 members of which one was in favor of this referendum while the other 2 were not.  There is a very good chance with enough citizen support to have the CRC overturn this decision and ask the work group to review it again.  The reasons:

  • The work group had an issue with the unanimous vote citing a rogue commissioner from the 80s always voted one way.
    I have to trust the commissioners to work on behalf of the citizens but if this is even an issue then if not unanimous, then what about 6-1 or 5-2.  This option was not even considered
  • This is project specific (speaking of Lake Pickett South).
    Not true:  We want protection of the entire area.  There are very serious reasons cited below.
  • Only one county has adopted something like this.
    We are not other counties, we are Orange County.  Other counties should not impact this decision.

In my estimation, these reasons are weak at best.

Here is my public comment on this subject:

Our aquifer is being depleted.

Here is a quote directly from the Orlando Sentinel:
“Using the most advanced databases and computing methodology yet developed for such a task, a consortium of state water managers and local utilities have calculated that the current amount of water pumped from the underground aquifer each day can be increased by only about 6 percent — which means the region is already exploiting the huge, life-sustaining aquifer for nearly every drop it can safely offer.  For the past several years, Central Florida’s demand for aquifer water by all users — homes, businesses and agriculture — has averaged 800 million gallons a day. But that demand is expected to rise during three decades to 1.1 billion gallons a day. The problem is, pumping more than 850 million gallons a day from the aquifer will inflict a significant amount of damage to wetlands, springs and rivers.”  Read the article here

When we talk about Smart Development, we aren’t kidding.  Development as usual must change or we won’t sustain our way of life or even our lives.  Rain water seeps into the ground at a certain rate.  If developments are built and this ground is concreted, less water seeps into the ground and more water goes into the storm water system reducing the level of the aquifer even farther.  The increase in runoff comes at the expense of groundwater recharge.

street run off

street run off

The rivers are being polluted by pesticide and fertilizer runoff.

When a large development is built, homes have yards with lush green grass.  The grass has to be fertilized and the excess nutrients from all the fertilizer we use runs off into our waterways which causes algae blooms sometimes big enough to make waterways impassable. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose in a process that removes oxygen from the water. Fish and other aquatic species can’t survive in these so-called “dead zones” and so they die or move on to greener underwater pastures.  I recently experienced this first hand when I went fishing.  The owner of the bait shop was telling me how fishing has become harder and the captains of charter boats are having a harder time finding fish.

By shear coincidence a Facebook friend posted this video showing fish being poisoned by something.   We don’t want this to happen to the Econ here as the Econ flows up through Seminole County into the St. Johns which flows all the way to Jacksonville.  Polluting the water here will affect more than just the people in Orange County, it will affect everyone downstream.

Our pets contribute waste that washes off lawns along with the fertilizers and pesticides we apply. Lesser sources include driveway coating, metal roof gutters and downspouts, and car washing.  All of these pollutants wash-off into nearby waterways with each storm that produces runoff.  As a result, runoff from our homes, streets and lawns contain a tremendous amount of pollution.

Governor Scott loosened the reins on development in 2011 when he disbanded the Department of Community Affairs (read here).  DRIs are dead.  Developments of a certain scale (otherwise known as DRIs or Developments of Regional Impact) have impacts that reach far beyond the communities they serve: environmental impacts, transportation related impacts and level of service impacts. Development comes at a cost, a cost that the taxpayer invariably shoulders in terms of supporting added infrastructure, added water management and public works.  And the cost of losing the most precious asset of all–what the land had to offer in its natural state: Its ecological character whether for wildlife habitat, water recharge or just for the value of its native beauty–wild vistas lost forever to hideous strip malls or thousand’s of acres of barrel-tile roofed homes replicated on the landscape like industrial output.

Because this protection has been stripped from us, we must take matters into our own hands to protect our most precious of all resources.

Some quotes to consider:

“There is likely no other source of aquatic resource degradation that robs more U.S. citizens of recreational opportunities than development related impacts.”

“Converting forest and farms to houses, streets, shopping centers and parking lots can greatly increase the volume of stormwater runoff as well as the quantity of pollutants entrained in runoff. Most of the impact comes from sealing the earth with impervious surfaces: asphalt, concrete, rooftops, etc. “

“During the construction phase soil erosion and mud pollution can increase by ten- to a hundred-fold. “

“Converting a forest-covered watershed to homes on ¼-acre lots can cause floodwater volumes to recur annually which were seen but once a century before development. This change threatens streamside homes, bridges and other structures. The increase in floodwater flows also causes extensive stream channel erosion.”

“An asphalt parking lot can heat to 120F° on a sunny afternoon.  Runoff from the lot absorbs a large amount of this heat to reach a temperature in excess of 90°F.   The heated runoff can then abruptly increase stream temperature by 12°F. “

“Some of our most important game fish, like trout and other salmonids, perish at a temperature in excess of 72°F.  It is not unusual for trout stream to have a temperature is the mid- to upper-60°F range.  A 12°F increase would be lethal at that time.”

 

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12/10/2015 – Charter Review Commission Public Comment on Rural Boundary

I had the pleasure of driving over to Wekiva High School on the 10th for public comment at the Charter Review Commission meeting regarding the Rural Boundary.

Folks, we have a rare opportunity to ensure the rural area is protected and developed responsibly by requiring that zoning east of the Econ is only approved by a unanimous vote of the BCC. If we can get this placed on the ballot for the people to decide next November, any zoning changes will meet the most stringent scrutiny because all of the commissioners will have to vote yes to rezone. Land owners can still apply for rezoning but will have to convince all 7 members of the BCC to rezone.

Please make time to be at the next CRC meeting for support. There is no CRC meeting posted on the website but the work group meets on Jan 12th at 12 pm. I will post dates as we get closer. The CRC usually meets on the 2nd Thursday so that would be the 14th, 2 days after the work group.

Please share this and post it anywhere you can to spread the word.

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Charter Review Commission

8/19/2015 – Should the Rural Service Boundary move east past the Econ?

Kevin Shaughnessy

Kevin Shaughnessy

At a recent Charter Review Commission Meeting, members of Save Orange County (SOC) made public comment to ask the Commission for charter protection of the Rural Service Boundary east of the Econ.  I was surprised to see the chairman of the committee, Kevin Shaughnessy, ask legal council to take up the issue and report back at the next meeting.  He made the comment that he was not sure that the Charter Review Commission can take away the approval process from the Board of County Commissioners so the question the lawyer needs to answer is if the charter can control a land use issue such as the Urban Service Area.    If you are interested, click here to view the video.  I am not quite sure what the committee would do other than ratify the Rural Service Boundary at the Econ.  I can’t imagine the committee trying to control the zoning of the Lake Pickett properties as there is already a defined process in place to deal with zoning changes through the Board of County Commissioners.  That would create havoc for future zoning requests.  Maybe I am missing something and will be eagerly awaiting the next meeting to hear what he has to say.

High Impact Urban

High Impact Urban

There is some fear that if the Lake Pickett properties are developed the Rural Service Boundary between the Urban Service Area (USA) and the Rural Service Area (RSA) which currently runs along the Econ river will shift east.  You can see the line on the map in purple running along the Econ south to north.  The USA is easy to recognize by the “High Impact Urban” red area west of the Econ while the RSA is the greener area to the east of the purple line.

I don’t know one person who thinks that this line should move east.  In fact I think this is one point that everyone no matter what your opinion is of how the Lake Pickett properties should be developed agrees.  The dividing line needs to remain at the Econ.

The Comprehensive Plan shows the Econ as the Rural Service Boundary between the USA and the RSA.  The map on the left came out of the Comprehensive Plan itself and shows the purple line that we all agree should be the Rural Service Boundary between the USA and the RSA.  But some feel that the text amendment for the Lake Pickett properties violates the rural service boundary and creates an urban area within the rural area.  I suppose one could argue that point.  However, if that is the point then it has already been violated many times over with Corner Lakes, Cypress Lakes and other suburban communities east of the Econ that also show up red in this map.  Even portions of Wedgefield show up in red.  They are classified as “High Impact Urban”.

The idea behind the Lake Pickett Text Amendment is not to promote more urban east of the Econ but instead to stop it.  The purpose is to create a transition area between the USA and RSA.  The density in the Lake Pickett South property has been reduced to 2,256 units.  It is not the lower density of the RSA but on the flip side it is also not the higher density of the USA.  It is in between which is the intention.  By creating this transition zone, no urban can be built east of this land.  That is the whole purpose behind the Transect idea and that is why Lake Pickett has it’s very own LP designation in the Comprehensive Plan.  Nowhere else in Orange County will there be an LP designation because it stands for “Lake Pickett”.

When it comes to preserving the rural area, I think we all have that very same goal in mind.  The differences lie in the paths each of us take to get to the destination.

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7/1/2015 – An update on the Lake Pickett Properties

A few months ago I spoke at River Run church regarding traffic in the area. At that time there was no plan to fix these roads and there was not enough focus on the area. Many things have changed since that time. Through great time and effort, East Orange County now has a very intense spotlight shining on it because it is the only large area in Orange County with this many traffic issues and there is no doubt people are very upset over traffic. This area has been neglected for a very long time and no money has been put into the infrastructure out here.  But now we have the attention of the county commissioners as well as the mayor and the Orange County staff.

We also have the land owners of the Lake Pickett properties who are working with the county to help develop these areas in a responsible way. They are being required to contribute 40-50 million dollars that will go to fix these roads.

Mayor Teresa Jacobs

In addition to this, the mayor made this announcement in the 2015 State of the County address recently.

“The capstone announcement outlined a proposal for one of the largest capital investment projects by Orange County, a $300 million initiative called “INVEST in Our Home for Life.” The funds will be spent on roads, parks, pedestrian safety projects, public and fire safety facilities and affordable family housing in Orange County.”

These funds coupled with the developer funds will get our roads fixed meaning the roads will accommodate the existing traffic as well as the traffic forecasted from these developments.

The alternative is no funding for roads and by 2030 all of the roads are over-capacity. This just can’t be allowed to happen. We have an opportunity now to have a say in how these properties are developed in one cohesive and organized way or the flip-side is to oppose it and end up with what I believe will be a much worse situation.

I watch each and every Board of County Commissioner meeting and keep in touch with the people downtown. I speak at many meetings during public comment and just recently spoke at the Charter Review Commission workshops in favor of a one cent sales tax for four years. This county has an infrastructure deficit of 1.6 billion dollars and a one cent sales tax for four years will eliminate that problem.  Here is my post of my public comment.

Many people are resisting this change but that is precisely why we are in this situation with our roads. It is because we are our own worst enemy and keep telling Orange County to go away. But we are at a point now when Orange County can’t go away because they must maintain the roads to a certain Level of Service. If you watch the videos closely you will pick this up rather quickly.

Rip Van Winkle

I liken our situation to Rip Van Winkle.  If you remember the story, he was a young man who left his sleepy little village to go hunting with his dog and woke up 20 years later with no dog and his village turned into a town with many more houses and shops.  He was bewildered and disoriented.  We are Rip Van Winkle and have been asleep for 20 years.

I am not sure how this all happened around us but I feel like Rip Van Winkle.  We can’t turn the clock back and undo it so we have to find a way to deal with it.  My approach is to embrace it and make it what we want it to be.  Opposing it can work for some period of time but the clock can’t be reversed and what is here is here to stay.  We are the town now that Rip Van Winkle walked into after 20 years.  He couldn’t go back and neither can we.

There has been a video a day posted and this will continue for the next week or two before the Board of County Commissioner meeting on July 28th. The videos are less than 3 minutes each so as not to bore you too much. We are at critical mass now and we should all be watching this closely.

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Charter Review Commission

6/21/2015 – Charter Review Public Comment about roadways

Fred Brummer - Charter Review Commission

Fred Brummer – Charter Review Commission

In the May 14th charter review meeting, Mr. Brummer talked about a sales tax for the purpose of infrastructure.  When I watched the video on Orange TV, I couldn’t help but think about our situation out in East Orange County.  I am sure everyone has heard of our plight and the two developments that are working through the application process right now on the Lake Pickett properties.  East Orange County has been neglected for many years when it comes to infrastructure improvements.  Mr. Brummer, I went to see you in your Commission office the last go around and I was strongly opposed to the developments because there was no plan for traffic.   Now I am strongly in favor of these applications because they will generate between 40-50 million in road improvements plus responsibly develop these properties.  Highway 50 and the roads around it are getting downright dangerous to drive on.

Then you spoke about other districts and the obstacles they face.   District 3 that is fully built out but with a road structure more than 50 years old and district 4 that is being built out and facing its own problems.  You mentioned the deficit of 1.4 billion dollars that is needed in road improvements backed by Mr. Nastasi’ presentation to the BCC a few months ago.  We know that the mayor has secured 200 million in bond funding for infrastructure but that still leaves us a 1.2 billion dollar deficit.

Right now Orange County generates 30 million in gas tax per year that will soon be cut due to the recent MetroPlan vote to allocate 30% of road funding to mass transit away from infrastructure which leaves Orange County 20 million per year.  All of the current 30 million Orange County now gets goes to road repairs, not new roads which means Orange County will have to manage with 20 million for road repairs.  Then a paltry 10 million comes in per year from impact fees which is enough for Orange County to build about 2-3 miles of roadway.  Hardly enough to satisfy the needs of the county.

You said that a penny tax would generate 330 – 380 million dollars a year for infrastructure.  1.2 billion divided by 350 million is about 3 1/2 years so a one penny tax for 4 years would get us back on track.  I agree with what you said.  We are on the edge of cataclysm; the point of desperation.

Have you ever heard someone say the phrase, “it’s only money”.  Whenever I hear that phrase it tells me that person has enough money to pay for what he needs and is not financially burdened.  But if someone is financially burdened, you will never hear them say those words because it is all about the money.  Well, Orange County is financially burdened when it comes to infrastructure repairs and it is all about the money.

And as you said, it takes a vote of the people.  Let us decide if we want this burden in order to fix our roads.  If this commission has the power, please consider finding a way to add this to the next ballot.

 


Who’s on the Charter Review Commission?

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