July 12th, 2 pm in the BCC Chambers at 301 S Rosalind Ave, Orlando, FL 32801, first floor
On July 12th the Orange County Board of County Commissioners will make three very important decisions that could impact our lives dramatically. These decisions could change the area in Orange County that is east of the Econ from a rural area into an urban area. To us who live in East Orange County, this is most likely one of the most important decisions the Board of County Commissioners will make during their tenure as county commissioners.
Most of us who have followed this over the years know that these two areas are highly controversial. The people who live in this area are mostly opposed to the projects because they believe the projects will forever change the rural character from rural to urban. There is no doubt these developments look like typical suburban communities and one could argue that being in the rural service area, they should more closely resemble rural type communities, not urban communities.
But while the opposition is fierce and coming at Orange County from many different angles and I cannot think of another time when so many different groups came together in opposition to a zoning change, my opposition is based on two concrete factors. One is traffic with two unresolved critical pieces to the puzzle and the other is the environmental concerns based on a Plan that was written in 1990 at the request of St. Johns River Management District.
I am concerned with the effect these developments and other future developments will have on our already overburdened roadways. I am convinced that after these developments ramp up and houses begin to be built, 10 years from now we will be exactly where we are today. But when that times comes, options to fix this problem will be limited and may not be able to curtail the traffic congestion that is to come leaving us painted in a corner. It seems to me that Orange County has an incomplete plan to address the long term traffic issues and until they have a concrete plan, they should not entertain building more homes.
There are two glaringly obvious unresolved issues that should delay these projects. The first is there is no agreement on the Richard Crotty Parkway with Research Park and the second is FDOT is not supporting the 408 extension at this time.
The Richard Crotty Parkway:
While there are many opinions on this roadway which are mostly based on individual bias, no one can argue this road will provide a third connection road inside the Urban Service Area from East to West. If it were connected to Research Parkway as a 4-lane road as Research Parkway already is, it will provide an additional two lanes in each direction. This coupled with the 4-laning of McCulloch from Lockwood to N. Tanner will provide enough lanes to move traffic far into the future well past the 2030 time frame.
The unresolved issue is political which makes it a very difficult issue to overcome. The roads within Research Park are private and Research Park does not want additional pass-through traffic. This is understandable but considering how the developers of both Lake Pickett South and Lake Pickett North have touted that their developments will serve primarily UCF and Research Park and provide living accommodations for their employees and students, Research Park as well as UCF should embrace this roadway as it will provide easy access to both UCF and Research Park. No development should be allowed until this is resolved.
The 408 Extension:
A couple weeks ago, a bombshell dropped when FDOT stated they did not want the 408 expressway to run along Hwy 50. Another very difficult political issue that will be hard to resolve. Central Florida Expressway Authority is conducting a study that is being done at this moment which started a few months ago and will be completed in a couple months specifically targeting the Hwy 50 corridor. In fact there have already been two community meetings showing two different illustrations of how the 408 extension will run either at ground level or above Hwy 50 on a bridge type structure. There is no other pathway to get from East to West without destroying sub-divisions along the way. Without this roadway, Hwy 50 will be over-capacity by 2030. It is a critical piece to the roadway puzzle and without it 6-laning Hwy 50 only delays the inevitable. No development should be allowed until this is resolved.
Why is there a boundary line along the Econ River clearly deliniating the Urban Service Area from the Rural Service Area? Did the Board of County Commissioners just arbitrarily decide one day that it was a good idea? What prompted this decision?
I believe it started with this 276 page document called the Econlockhatchee River Basin Natural Resources Development and Protection Plan that was written in 1990. This document is full of valuable information that predicted what we are facing today with crystal ball accuracy. Here is a quote from the Plan:
“Effective and vital development of the Econ Basin should establish a balance between full development on the one hand and full preservation of the environment on the other. The balance sought is one of compatible development at a scale and intensity, and with appropriate environmental safeguards, that will ensure the long-term viability of the terrestrial and water resources of the basin.”
This document is filled with this type of information and it cannot be taken for granted. It talks about how the Big Econ River and the Econ River Basin are one in the same and how the Big Econ is one of the 3 most pristine rivers in all of Florida and how the Little Econ was one of the most polluted in all of Florida because of urbanization. It goes on about impervious surfaces and how water draining down storm water systems prevents water from seeping into the aquifer. And it speaks of the importance of water and how scarce it will become if development continues on its current trend as illustrate in this quote:
“With a predicted doubling of population in 20 years, the unnatural stress on the hydrologic patterns in the Econ Basin due to human perturbations will increase. This will result in greater extremes in water excesses and shortages. Only through carefully controlled growth and wise resource use can the water balance in the region be maintained.”
We need to heed the warning inside this document and step back to make sure we are doing the right thing for our well-being and the well-being of future generations.
There is no reason to push this so fast and make this decision on July 14th. There are too many unresolved issues that need to be fully addressed. The community is not on-board and in my opinion the plan to address traffic concerns are incomplete and I think the environmental concerns are the most important which should prompt Orange County to consider doing development much different in this region.
My hope is the Board of County Commissioners realizes the effects of this decision and steps back to take more time to be absolutely sure it is the right decision.