OAKLAND — When Oakland residents want to fill their gas tanks, they have three convenience stores from which to choose. If they want to enjoy a sit-down meal or go shopping, though, they have to drive either west to Clermont or east to Winter Garden, Ocoee or Orlando.
But major changes are coming.
The Oakland Town Commission has spent the last 21 months rewriting its 16-year-old Gateway Corridor Overlay Ordinance, updating the language and the rules originally established to control reckless development along the town’s main avenue.
The town is also in the midst of a major infrastructure project that will bring sewers — and, officials hope, businesses — to Oakland.
Mayor Kathy Stark said she is pleased with the new GCO, which she calls the town’s blueprint for the future.
The old rules — written before the town had plans to implement a sewer system — stipulated that the design of commercial buildings on S.R. 50 be restricted to the one-story Florida Cracker style.
The intent was to create in the small town — population: 2,700 — an attractive thoroughfare that maintained a structurally cohesive look.
This is still the town’s intent, but now there are expanded options.
Currently, there is just a handful of businesses along S.R. 50: three gas stations/convenience stores, a motel, a storage unit, a shed company, an outdoor-furniture business, a car and RV dealership, motorcycle dealership and a bus sales and service business; as well as a cemetery. Two more commercial buildings are in the process of being repurposed.
Many of these were developed before the GCO was written, so they were grandfathered in and not subject to the strict guidelines.
A two-day visioning session was held in April 2013 to discuss the scope of S.R. 50. Residents and town leaders came together to look at how to control development along the highway and how the growth could best suit the town.
The GCO regulates details such as architecture, signage, landscaping and merchandise displays.
When updating the overlay district rules, the town looked at acceptable architectural styles, the intensity of the buildings along the highway and how all of this will connect with the community, which boasts the West Orange Trail, the Oakland Nature Preserve and the Oakland Town Center.
“The overall vision is to maintain and apply characteristics such as architectural style consideration and scale, the asset of our existing tree canopy and the continuity of uses that encourage a safe environment, which make up the charm of Oakland while encouraging the development that will help support the growing local economy,” Spann said.
“I think mostly in good ways, change is inevitable, and we have an opportunity that most towns/cities do not have,” Stark said. “Our commercial corridor on (S.R.) 50 is mostly a blank canvas, and we have worked very hard to develop a vision and supporting ordinances for the development that is coming. It will be consistent and will fit into our culture and community. In addition to local needs and services, this can also serve the region and travelers, including ecotourists.
“This will also bring additional tax revenue, which will be good, too,” she said. “In the future, we hope to be able to look at reducing the tax burden to our residents.”
SETTING THE STAGE
Houses and subdivisions are sprouting up all over Oakland, but commercial development has been slow to follow, even before the moratorium was put in place. One of the problems has been the town’s lack of a sewer system; septic tanks couldn’t handle restaurants, hotels and other large facilities.
Oakland officials are remedying this now with a 30-year infrastructure project that will ultimately bring sewers to the town. Oakland has entered an agreement with the city of Clermont, which will handle all of the town’s wastewater. A master pump station will be located near the Orange-Lake county line. Then the sewer lines must be laid.
Oakland Public Works Director Mike Parker said the first projects to tap into the new sewer system upon completion will be a new residential development in west Oakland and commercial development west of the turnpike on S.R. 50.
Once the sewer systems are in place, the landscape of S.R. 50 will change considerably.
Said Max Spann, Oakland’s Planning & Zoning director: “The town would like to see retailers and service providers dedicated to convenience of the local population, as well as local, regional and national retailers and services. We also see ecotourism related entities as a specific market focus but not the absolute nexus of development.”
Stark is excited to see what will unfold along the highway.
“I envision development on (S.R.) 50 fitting into the fabric of our already-established town. We want to keep the development small to medium in size with buildings framing the corridor, lots of landscaping, low lighting, etc. I would like to see walkability and services that residents of the town can use.”
She said she would like to see independent businesses, coffee shops, restaurants, gourmet food and wine shops “and perhaps an inn or a hotel at the interchange that fits into our design specifications.”
Town Manager Dennis Foltz said citizens can expect an abundance of trees and bushes and more pedestrian trails and walkways intermingled in the design.
“We’re talking about doing things that are appropriate in specific areas,” Foltz said.
“The S.R. 50 corridor will encompass a mix of uses both active and passive, large and small,” Spann said. “The town is positioning itself to encourage the development of a framed corridor east of the (Florida’s) Turnpike interchange and west of the turnpike interchange to have architectural massing that is organized to provide some framing characteristics but also allow relief for multimodal connectivity, ingress and egress to commercial developments, existing public infrastructure easements and design speed and capacity of S.R. 50.”
The highway, which was recently expanded to six lanes, stretches for 2.3 miles through Oakland. Florida’s Turnpike splits the town nearly in half, with 1.3 miles of the highway to the east and one mile to the west.
“We have an amazing opportunity with the turnpike interchange that we can develop with easy access in and out,” Stark said. “I really want to do something that draws people off the turnpike to take a rest, eat, shop, etc. Our intent is that Exit 272 will be seen as a special and unique place that travelers will want to return to and will tell their friends about.”
Spann said citizens would play an instrumental role in having a voice in what is developed near the turnpike.
“The asset provided to the town in the reconstructed interchange is immeasurable,” he said. “The town now has an opportunity to put its mark on the Florida’s Turnpike. A lot of what will determine the outcome of the development near the interchange is really community pride. … Conversely, we will be looking to the potential developers to invest the same type of pride in being a part of our business community. The interchange developments will be the catalyst for what is expected of S.R. 50 development within the town, the same way an older sibling is expected to be an example to its younger siblings.”
While officials were rewriting the guidelines for the 50 corridor, the commission suspended the processing of applications and plans relating to development. The moratorium was lifted Dec. 15.
Already, several projects are in the planning stages, including a 24-pump RaceTrac gas station at Remington Road and S.R. 50 and a 106-acre planned unit development called Killarney Village/Oakland Trails.
“Where are we going to be in five years, 10 years?” Foltz said. “We’re probably going to double our population.”
Oakland has such a unique setting, Foltz said, and “we have the components in place — overlay with standards, Appearance Review Board, residents who care, a commission with their thoughts of how they want it to look — to make it happen.”
This is an exciting time for Oakland, Stark said
“We are putting the infrastructure in to realize our goals for (S.R.) 50,” she said. “We must prepare for the future without sacrificing our unique character and identity. Without this preparation, we expose the Oakland commercial corridor to development that would not be the town’s best interest. The next few years will be busy ones, and I cannot wait to see how we evolve in our objectives to achieve our community vision.”
Added Spann, “We are working to cultivate another great destination in Central Florida.”