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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2019 2 years ago

Orange County explores ideas for park in Horizon West

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Orange County hired a master planner to design the future park, which will be 220 acres — one-third the size of New York’s Central Park.
by: Gabby Baquero News Editor

The Horizon West community soon will be home to a park about 11 times the size of any existing Orange County park.

The 220-acre Horizon West Regional Park is located north of New Independence Parkway, southeast of State Road 429 and west of Tiny Road. 

Presently, the park is used for hiking and horseback riding, but the county plans to revamp the park with several amenities for which the community has expressed desire, Orange County District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey said. 

“The county has owned that piece of property and has intended it for a park for a very long time, but we just recently started to jell around a particular vision for the park,” VanderLey said. “We just signed a contract with a master planner to help us envision what’s going to go in the park, how it’s going to fit in, how it’s to be laid out, and figure out who our public-private partnerships might be.”

VanderLey has collected ideas from the public regarding amenities the park could have, but no amenities have been decided on yet, she said. The multi-step process for the park’s designs has only recently begun, and the county wants to ensure its able to build a world-class park, she said.

"A lot of really large parks like this — world-class parks — like New York Central Park, often will form its own 501(c)(3) to build and operate the park. This will take far more than the taxpayer dollars that are currently available." – Betsy VanderLey

“I’ve heard a lot of ideas: aquatics, tennis courts, folks want to make sure that the trails out there connect into the park,” she said. “There’s a need for a venue out there for Rotary Club meetings and weddings. There’s a need for a nice public building in that area because there’s nothing out there right now. Some of the folks have talked about a concert venue and how neat that would be. There are a lot of ideas floating out there, and there’ll be more public meetings held to gain further input from the residents. After that, we’ll decide what reasonably fits in there and what can coexist well on the property, how we’re going to fund it and where the money could come from.”

Orange County has several million dollars earmarked for the park, but VanderLey aims to establish a 501(c)(3) organization to help raise money, set up public-private partnerships, and possibly obtain Tourism Development Tax dollars, she said.

“A lot of really large parks like this — world-class parks — like New York Central Park, often will form its own 501(c)(3) to build and operate the park,” she said. “This will take far more than the taxpayer dollars that are currently available. So instead of diverting all the park monies to this park and not being able to do things in other areas, my vision is that we would do this 501(c)(3) stand-alone, which would then be able to go out and write agreements, do capital campaigns to raise the money, and all that.”

The park originally was purchased cooperatively with monies from the Environmental Protection Agency, which relinquished its rights to the park’s property a month ago, VanderLey said. Owning the full rights allows the county to get its ambitious plans for the park done without needing federal government approval, which would require a long process, she said.

“There will be a lot of public input, and ultimately, it will be a decision made by the parks department, Orange County and perhaps stakeholders,” VanderLey said. “For instance, if one of the big corporations came to the table and said we’d like to see this particular amenity in this park, and we’d willing to come up with this much money — obviously that would be something we would take into consideration, as well. So, it’s about what the community wants, what can be realized here, what we have funding for and what we can get with some partnerships in place — all of those things will ultimately define what this looks like.”

The timeline for the park’s construction depends on funding, and a cost estimate for the park is not yet known because the park is only in its preliminary planning phases, VanderLey said.

“Depending on how successful we are with the capital campaigns, that will determine how quickly the park gets built,” she said. “If we’re very successful, perhaps we can build it all at the same time. If not, we’ll look at how to phase this in over time according to the most acute need for the community. But this is very early days — we are just now starting to put this together, and just hired the master planner and given them notice to proceed.”

Gabby is the news editor for the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer newspapers. Have a story tip? Contact her at (352) 448-5856 or at [email protected]....

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