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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 5 years ago

Ocoee City Commission approves charter school plan near Lake Olympia

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by: Zak Kerr Staff Writer/Reporter

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On Oct. 7, Ocoee City Commission voted 4-1 in favor of an exception for constructing a Kids Community College charter school in Lake Olympia Square. The school will move from its current location in the Citrus Oaks neighborhood of Gotha in time to begin the 2015-16 school year next August.

The plan to build this school required a special exception, because the land is within a commercial district of Ocoee.

Many community parents and members of the development team gathered and spoke on behalf of the plan during a discussion that lasted more than one hour and 15 minutes.

“The synergy between the school and the shopping center is really good,” said Timothy H. Powell, Urban Planner for TSP Companies Inc. “Almost any commercial property of any size is going to want direct visual exposure to Silver Star Road. The school behind will enhance the value of those commercial properties. Is it prime commercial property? No, it’s in a dead corner of shopping center. A commercial building is not going in there.”

The proposal thrilled Commissioner Rosemary Wilsen from the start. She said members of the Lake Olympia and Orange County Kids Community Center had almost exclusively positive feedback, including many e-mails and a Change.org petition to the commission with 118 signatures.

“I see something that wants to come into our city to increase economic development,” Wilsen said. “We need to invite this type of school into our community to better our community. The school’s going to correct a water issue worrying some residents on that property. We have a complex next door that is in foreclosure. We talk about our mall being down the tubes—yes, because no one’s using it! We have the chance to bring in 350 families to use the local businesses. I see this as a win-win.”

Three commissioners had reservations about losing tax revenue and commercial development space on the 6.22-acre site, which has been vacant and had drainage issues. Commissioner Rusty Johnson said he and Commissioner Joel Keller were not sure they would approve the exception until they reconsidered the two outparcels along Silver Star Road at the site that would be left for commercial development.

“The whole purpose of (keeping) the property commercial is an avenue to get tax dollars out of that property,” Johnson said. “But it’s been vacant there so long, sitting dormant, if they’ll put two commercial buildings in the front, then I’ll support it.

“I was kind of hesitant—you can’t make your mind up until you hear the whole theory. There’s a couple of areas that probably would have been better for us as tax advantages, but I’ll live with it. Maybe it will work and people will shop at Winn-Dixie and Publix. There’s a Sylvan Learning Center that can work hand-in-hand with it.”

Commissioner John Grogan’s reservations remained too great for him to approve the exception.

“The one and only issue I have is the location,” Grogan said. “Not only do we have to remove the property from the books (tax revenues), but the commercial property that is within 1,000 feet from the school is now limited to what can be built on it. There is plenty of non-commercial property that would fit the school’s needs.”

The school will expand from kindergarten through fourth grades to pre-kindergarten through fifth grades upon its relocation. The lot will include a fence and two gates, as well as a brick wall along two sides. Access points include Silver Star Road and the adjacent shopping plaza.

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