West Orange County was a mecca for citrus growers for decades — until several devastating freezes in 1983, 1985 and 1989 marked the beginning of a changing landscape. Treetops gave way to rooftops as growers learned to be developers.
One area — nearly 23,000 acres of former citrus groves in southwest Orange County north of Walt Disney World — lay dormant until 1994, when a group of property owners in West Orange County discussed details for the elaborate and master-planned Horizon West while dining together at a local restaurant.
The idea was to incorporate dozens of neighborhood parks throughout the area — so many that every home is within walking distance to a park. And all of the neighborhoods would have walking and biking trails, and schools would be just a short walk away, too.
Originally, the Horizon West plan called for nine villages and a town center on 38,000 acres, but thousands of acres were removed because of municipal annexations and the creation of the Lake Avalon Rural Settlement.
The not-for-profit Horizon West Inc. was formed in 1993. The organization hired the land-planning firm of Miller, Sellen, Connor and Walsh (now VBH MillerSellen) to create a concept that state and county officials would accept.
Then-Commission Chairwoman Linda Chapin was supportive of the initiative. Then-County Commissioner Bob Freeman, whose district encompassed Horizon West, pushed hard for the project, as well.
Today, the members of the Horizon West Coalition are carrying out this vision with the neighborhoods, schools, parks and retail centers that will define this portion of West Orange County.
Coalition members are Boyd Development, D.R. Horton, Starwood Land Ventures LLC, Ashton Woods Homes, Bio-Tech Consulting Inc., Columnar Holdings LLC, Ford Properties, June Engineering Consultants Inc., KB Home, Lennar, Meritage Homes, M/I Homes, Park Square Homes, Pulte Homes, Ryan Homes, Royal Oak Homes, Standard Pacific Homes, Taylor Morrison Communities, Tramell Webb Partners Inc., VBH MillerSellen, Holston Properties & Windsong Realty, Commercial Realty of Central Florida, Titan Properties, Colliers International and West Orange Chamber of Commerce.
HAVING THE VISION
Property owners and area residents, with the support of the county, created a detailed community vision for Horizon West. When completed, Horizon West will include 42,000 residential units, five residential villages and a town center to serve these villages with commercial office workplaces and higher-density residential areas.
Each village includes two to four residential neighborhoods surrounding a village center. Each village center includes an elementary school and a park as the central focus, “with pedestrian trails to make it safe and easy to access schools and recreation,” according to the website, live horizonwest.com.
“Horizon West provides a meaningful alternative to the leapfrog development pattern of sprawl by creating self-sustaining villages that provide housing close to regional workplaces and community services,” it states.
The master plan has won numerous state and regional awards for planning, including recognition from the state of Florida as a Sector Plan.
In 1997, the Lakeside Village plan was adopted, and the Lakes of Windermere neighborhood was the first to open. This village includes the neighborhoods of Lake Burden, Lake Reams, Lake Sawyer and Summerchase and will have more than 10,000 homes upon completion.
A second village, Bridgewater, was adopted in 1999. It will have more than 7,200 homes when completed. Neighborhoods in this village include Isles of Lake Hancock, Signature Lakes, Stillwater Crossings, Center Bridge, Summerlake and West Lake Hancock.
The first homes were sold in Horizon West in 2002. More than 1,400 new homes were sold in 2006. By 2007, the Horizon West population reached 10,000 residents. When all of the villages are completed, it is estimated that more than 60,000 people will live in Horizon West.
In 2012, development of the 600-acre mixed-use community of Hamlin began along the shores of Lake Hancock. This is the first development in the Horizon West Town Center. A Valencia College campus is proposed in the area west of State Road 429. A hotel is planned, as well.
A year later, the New Independence Parkway extension opened, making Horizon West more accessible.
In 2014, six new communities were under development in the Seidel Road area.
Village F includes the Latham Park community. Village H includes the planned developments of Springhill and Waterleigh.
Lakeside Village’s development program included three neighborhoods, with a fourth neighborhood added in 2000, and a village center on 5,194 acres.
The Village of Bridgewater is composed of four neighborhoods and a village center in the 4,859-acre community.
Waterleigh is a new 3,600-home, lifestyle-focused lakefront residential community. It is located on more than 1,400 acres and more than a dozen lakes and clear-water ponds.
Independence, which encompasses more than 1,300 acres and has frontage on lakes Hancock and Speer, is the signature community in Horizon West. It includes hundreds of acres dedicated to parks, recreation and conservation areas.
Last year, Jon V. Weiss, director of Orange County’s Community, Environmental and Development Services Department, presented a Horizon West update to the Orange County Board of County Commissioners.
He provided development highlights:
• There are currently two village centers, Cornerstone at Summerport and Lakeside Village Shopping Center; and one neighborhood center, Lake Burden. There are 36 businesses and approximately 300 employees in these centers.
• Recent multi-family approvals include Citra at Windermere (Lakeside Village), which has 360 units, and The Retreat at Windermere (Village of Bridgewater), with 332 units.
• The Town Center (Hamlin) will have more than 1,500 single-family and multi-family residences in Overlook at Hamlin and Hamlin Reserve. It will also have more than two million square feet of commercial development, including retail stores and services, restaurants, office buildings, a corporate campus, hospital and healthcare, hotels and the Valencia campus. The Orange County National Golf Center is located within the Town Center, as well.
• A trails study has been conducted with the goal of creating overall connectivity trails plans for the Horizon West community.
• A Sportsplex project is planned near Bridgewater Middle School and will include Little League fields, soccer fields and, possibly, a health and wellness campus.
In December 2010, phase one of the Sportsplex Park opened off Tiny Road with horseback riding and hiking trails. When completed, the entire project will cover 260 acres.
HORIZON WEST VILLAGES
Lakeside: Established 1997; 5,202 acres
Bridgewater: Established 1999; 4,223 acres
Town Center: Established 2004; 3,624 acres
Village F: Established 2006; 2,551 acres
Village H (Hickory Nut): Established 2006; 2,975 acres
Village I: Established 2008; 2,129 acres
WHERE IS HORIZON WEST?
Horizon West encompasses nearly 23,000 acres of land north of Walt Disney World, west of the Butler Chain of Lakes and south of Johns Lake. State Road 429, the Daniel Webster Western Beltway, runs through Horizon West, connecting Ocoee to the north, with Four Corners and Interstate 4 to the south.