If you have been following the Lake Pickett lawsuit you know it is all about protection of the rural area. And if you live west of the Econ in District 5 you know about all the traffic issues we experience every day. So how does rural protection and the ongoing lawsuit relate to traffic and how does it affect us?
I would like to share my perspective regarding the on-going lawsuit with Orange County over the Lake Pickett Text Amendment and how it can affect those of us who live in traffic every day on the west side of the Econ in East Orange County.
First it is very important to state exactly where I stand when it comes to protection of the rural area and the Lake Pickett Text Amendment. I fully support rescinding the Lake Pickett Text Amendment and I am in full support of the preservation of the rural area. I have made that very clear in my blogs and during public comment and most recently just last Tuesday at the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) by supporting rescinding the Text Amendment. I feel it is of utmost importance to protect the Econ River Basin and slow the growth of urban sprawl into this area. I am not against development but I am fully against development without regard to the environment or the infrastructure especially infrastructure that does not support multi-modal transportation option which includes bike commuting. Both Lake Pickett developments were to be built “as usual” but we cannot go into the future building “as usual”. We must build smarter and with multi-modal at the forefront of development.
Many of us applauded the decision by the administrative law judge who sent a “recommended order” to the BCC regarding the Lake Pickett Text Amendment. The recommended order has now been sent to the Governor and the Cabinet. If you want to know where we are in this process, you can watch for yourselves on Orange TV and listen to the county lawyer explain the process. Go to this link: http://netapps.ocfl.net/Mod/meetings/1 and click on III.A.1 on the right and scroll to minute 17.
Here is a summary of what he said.
The Governor and Cabinet sit as the final agency that makes the determination so when you saw a NextDoor post that said, “We won”, it didn’t mean it is over. It means the judge sent a recommended order to the BCC and the governor. This is in accordance with Florida Statutes. At this point the parties in this law suit can go through the decision and file exceptions to finding of fact and exceptions to conclusions of law. These are filed with the governors cabinet within 15 days of the recommended decision, August 28th. When the governor and cabinet receive the exceptions to finding of fact and exceptions to conclusions of law from the parties, they have 90 days to make a decision. They may uphold what the judge recommended. They may overturn what the judge recommended. They may overturn some of it. They may approve some of it. They may recommend actions the BCC can take.
How does this affect those of us who live west of the Econ
A year ago, the BCC approved a bond issuance of 300 million dollars of which 200 million was slated for infrastructure improvements. It is called INVEST. Of that 200 million, 28 million was designated for improvements in East Orange County. As many of you may know we now have a district commissioner, Commissioner Bonilla, who is very passionate and extremely pro-rural. Her election was won because of the efforts of people who live in and near the rural area and who want to preserve the rural area and do not want urban development in this area. So it is natural that she would show favor to these constituents.
I would like to see her pay more attention to the infrastructure needs west of the Econ as I fear the 28 million in INVEST money is in jeopardy. For years now, I have been pushing hard to have a new road built called the Richard Crotty Parkway which would extend Research Parkway along the utility easement east to N. Tanner. This road would complete a grid and provide another east-west roadway to alleviate traffic on both Hwy 50, N. Tanner and McCulloch Road. I would like to see our commissioner pushing for this roadway with as much passion as I see her defend the rural area.
The Richard Crotty Parkway is not a trivial project. The entire parkway actually starts at Semoran (436) and runs all the way to N. Tanner with the first phase from Semoran to Dean. The first phase of the project is approved and right-of-way has been purchased to the tune of 15 million so it is well underway. This road will provide another east-west major roadway from Semoran (436) all the way to N. Tanner. Wouldn’t that be nice?
I mentioned the 28 million from the INVEST bond issuance. I am worried the 28 million we were supposed to get to improve our roadways might evaporate as funds have in the past. The beginning step to spend this money is a regional traffic study that costs $250,000. This study is already funded and was authorized by a BCC vote a while ago before Commissioner Bonilla came to office. The mayor recently approved the start of the study and it went out for bid. I found out just a few days ago that it might be on hold because of this lawsuit. Without that traffic study, the county has no plan to know what to improve so it is imperative it begin. It will take 18 months to complete and was supposed to be finished at the end of this year, 2017. We are now looking at the end of 2018 and beyond.
While we should all applaud the work being done by these individuals who took on the county, please understand exactly how it affects you and put it in perspective. If you are happy with traffic the way it is then continue on but if you think traffic needs improvement as it always does then it might be wise to consider making sure your elected officials know because right now rural is in the limelight and traffic sits in the shadows. If the BCC and our commissioner don’t think we care about traffic, we can kiss the 28 million goodbye and we will have to live with what we have into the unforeseeable future. I for one think our infrastructure needs a lot of work.
If you care about this issue, please drop an email to the mayor (Mayor@ocfl.net) and our commissioner (email@example.com) so they know how you feel. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, just a note saying we are out here and we want our roads fixed. If you support the rural area then say that too. Don’t let them think for a minute that the rural area trumps everything. The rural area is vitally important to preserve but so are our roadways and we must continue to press for improvements. Don’t let that 28 million slip away because I can guarantee that if we don’t use it, there are other districts that will gladly take it. This has been our history on the east side of Orange County and we cannot allow this to happen again.
Where do the individual board members stand on the Lake Pickett Text Amendment?
You may think the entire BCC is in favor of the Lake Pickett Text Amendment. That is not the case. Here is my objective opinion of each board member and where I think they stand at this time. I watch every minute of every BCC video and by doing that have an insight into who these people are. They are all motivated in their own direction but I believe all of them do so with the best of intentions and in the interest of their constituents.
Mayor Jacobs: First I want to say that I place her in the top 1% of people I know that are just, ethical, empathetic, sympathetic, knowledgeable and every other compliment I could give. She is a class act person and runs the county in the same way. She is against the Text Amendment and has always been. She voted against the Text Amendment originally and I believe that if a vote came today to rescind she would rescind as long as it did not negatively impact Orange County in other ways. She understands that this is a process that must be followed and will let it run it’s course. I do not interpret this as evasion or being in favor of the Text Amendment.
Commissioner Bonilla: Our commissioner is very far to the pro-rural side. I would say she is as far to the rural side as our previous commissioner was to the pro-urban side. I believe if she could vote today it would be to rescind the text amendment.
Commissioner Thompson: She voted against the Text Amendment originally and I believe that if a vote came today to rescind she would rescind as long as it did not negatively impact Orange County in other ways.
Commissioner Clark: He voted against the Text Amendment originally and I believe that if a vote came today to rescind he would rescind as long as it did not negatively impact Orange County in other ways.
Commissioner Siplin: She voted in favor of the Text Amendment originally and I do not know exactly how she would vote today. She might vote to rescind as long as it did not negatively impact Orange County in other ways. A word on Commissioner Siplin. She is a woman I admire for many reasons one of which I believe she votes her heart. I do not for a minute believe she is swayed by developers and looks at all cases objectively and fairly. I have heard her many times talk about people and helping individuals in her district. I hold her in high esteem.
Commissioner Nelson: He voted in favor of the Text Amendment originally and I believe that if a vote came today to rescind his vote would stay the same. I do not think he can be easily swayed.
Commissioner Vanderley: She is relatively new to the board and came after the vote. I do not have any idea how she will vote but if I were to guess, I would say that knowing her thought process seems very similar to the mayors, she might vote to rescind as long as it did not negatively impact Orange County in other ways. But that is just a guess.
So worst case the vote would be 4-3 and possibly 5 or even 6 in favor of rescinding. I am somewhat perplexed at the recent email sent out by Commissioner Bonilla that states, “Mayor Jacobs has directed the county attorney to challenge the judge’s decision.” If you watch the video above at no time did the mayor direct the county attorney to challenge the judge’s decision. What I heard was the mayor saying the process needed to continue and run it’s course. I truly believe the board will do the right thing when the time comes but is going through a process they believe to be the proper way to proceed.