Local leaders and community members are urging Horizon West residents to stay engaged in the process of securing a much-needed library branch for the area.
For a couple of years, Horizon West residents have been lobbying for their own library branch, and the idea has progressed through the Orange County Library System through the last few months.
The system’s Board of Trustees approved a resolution during its Nov. 12, 2020, meeting that selects the Horizon West east parcel — 5600 Tiny Road — as the preferred location for the Horizon West branch. In January, the board approved committing to purchase a parcel of land there, near the northeast corner of the upcoming Horizon West Regional Park.
However, the deal is not done. Lake Nona — another rapidly growing area of the county — also has been lobbying for a branch of its own. The problem is OCLS can build only one new library branch at a time.
Kristopher Shoemaker, CFO for OCLS, said in March that the library system currently has funding for one location to be complete in fall 2025. However, a second location wouldn’t be possible for three to four years after that, depending on economic conditions and construction costs.
“These dates are estimates given current procurement processes, economic conditions and construction costs,” Shoemaker wrote in an email. “Any changes to the cost assumptions will alter the timetable.”
Shoemaker added OCLS is continuing its due diligence regarding purchasing the property at Tiny Road and Hamlin Groves Trail.
With two rapidly growing areas vying for the next branch, data has been paramount. Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson said the OCLS Board of Trustees took into consideration data presented to them regarding growth upon their initial vote.
“They really did a great job of even coming back and showing sort of the data-driven reasoning behind their vote,” Wilson said. “Horizon West was growing at twice the pace as the Lake Nona area, and they actually exceeded the population projections … and there was a piece of property that was available and reasonably assessed or appraised (in Horizon West).”
According to an OCLS presentation of demographic information comparing Horizon West and Lake Nona, the difference in population is vast. The presentation states that more than 25,000 people call Horizon West home, with an estimated projected population of 100,000. Horizon West is expected to have more than 41,000 housing units when complete, and the area is responsible for 47% of the county’s single-family home permits pulled in 2020.
Meanwhile, nearly 18,000 currently live in Lake Nona, which has an estimated growth population of more than 43,000 should a planned development amendment go through. It is expected to have more than 18,000 units when complete.
Additionally, the presentation stated, about 55,000 Lake Nona residents would be located within a 5-mile radius of the library service area. For Horizon West, that number is nearly 92,000.
That’s why Wilson said she was surprised to attend an OCLS Board of Trustees meeting in March and learn Lake Nona representatives were pushing harder for their branch, despite the fact that Horizon West had been given priority.
When the board met in April, speakers from both Horizon West and Lake Nona were present, and discussion ensued on the possibility of OCLS moving forward with the Lake Nona branch at the same time as the Horizon West branch.
Horizon West resident Christine Kirby presented a petition to OCLS Library Director and CEO Mary Anne Hodel to ensure the next library branch is built in Horizon West. That petition has garnered more than 1,100 signatures.
Now, Wilson and Horizon West residents are concerned the Horizon West branch could be delayed with the new efforts discussed regarding alternative forms of funding the Lake Nona branch.
“I guess there were more Lake Nona properties being evaluated or put forward, which that’s fine,” Wilson said. “If they can figure out how to do the financing for that and they can do that, that’s great. ... But there are competing interests, so we just need to stay engaged.”