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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 5 years ago

State Road 50 business reps discuss gateway improvements

by: Zak Kerr Staff Writer/Reporter

WEST ORANGE — Business owners along West Colonial Drive are hoping a new delineated gateway on the corridor not only will help better identify the West Orange community but also revitalize Pine Hills.

The owners discussed the idea of the gateway at their Stakeholders’ Meeting Oct. 30, at the Holiday Inn Express Orlando-Ocoee East. The meeting was the third in a series to discuss redevelopment and business retention.

“When you go over to Mills 50, as soon as you get to the very edges of it, you start seeing that brand; you start recognizing you are in the Mills 50 area,” said Jerry Presley, executive director of the Pine Hills Neighborhood Improvement District. “When you go into Winter Park and other areas, you begin to see the signs that tell you, and we don’t necessarily have that here for this area. We need to create that entrance.”

That entrance is part of what Presley’s team intends to provide in a rebranding effort to revitalize blighted areas along West Colonial Drive, especially Pine Hills.

The area under discussion was between Apopka-Vineland Road and Pine Hills Road, referred to as the West Colonial Retail District, but representatives as far as Oakland attended.

“I may be far out west, but anything along this corridor is going to affect us out in West Orange County,” said Joseph McMullen, Oakland commissioner. “I’m very interested to see how we are going to develop this corridor, because as we embark on our infrastructure in consumer, retail and business, I think it all comes through this area.”

Lavon Williams, manager of the neighborhood preservation and revitalization division, presented an outline of the proposed new criteria for a neighborhood improvement district, which a committee had altered within a new ordinance, in hopes of expanding inclusion of areas facing significant blight.

Under the new criteria, at least 75% of the designated area must be commercial, office or industrial, affected by a high rate of criminal activity and meet at least three of the following measures: congested traffic, cyclist and pedestrian flow; significant blight; designation as a blighted area, slum, community redevelopment area, Brownfield area or enterprise zone; significant levels of poverty, based on the most recent available census data; hard-to-develop parcels or tracts, as a result of zoning, fragmentation, unsuitable topography or poor lot layouts; economic decline in an area where significant flight or loss of business has occurred; lack of sufficient public infrastructure or utilities; and negative public perceptions related to crime or blight.

“We know that if we’re able to change this statute, it will allow us to do some comprehensive redevelopment throughout Orange County,” Williams said. “Of course, we want this to benefit West Colonial, but it also benefits other areas in Orange County.”

Williams also presented a means of establishing an ad valorem tax or special assessment, allowing certain businesses to pay taxes in proportion to perceived value.

These items face a vote in December in front of a county committee, Presley said.

Stina D’Uva, president and CEO of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce, said members of the chamber had been frustrated with the recent flight among businesses within this particular corridor of West Colonial Drive, which led to this series of meetings in which local business operators could offer their thoughts on how to improve commerce in the area.

“The chamber, in 2003, was asked by the Pine Hills Community Council if we would take that area over, change its (status),” D’Uva said. “We were asked, ‘Why don’t you have Pine Hills within your footprint?’ We got together and said, ‘You’re right — why don’t we have in our footprint the gateway to what would be called historic West Orange County, which is mainly Winter Garden and Ocoee?’ So, we embraced the concept for development of this area.”

The crime rate of Pine Hills is down 16% this year, including low commercial crime rates, a result of improved landscape, not more police, said Jeff Stonebreaker, head of patrol sector three of the county for Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s actually safer to live in Pine Hills than (the adjoining sectors),” he said. “We need to get that message out to a greater audience. I was short on resources when I got here; I’ll be short when I leave. More police isn’t the answer. Changing the landscape is. Walt Disney came up with the idea that you can’t change people in the long run, but you can change the way they adapt to it.”

Stonebreaker said the solution to crime problems that have plagued the area at times was not more arrests but a changed community, with families to fill housing and support local businesses.

“We need more social cohesion — greater communication among all of us,” he said. “There are some low-cost, high-efficiency ways we can change landscapes to disallow (criminal activity).”

Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].

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