Reduced Horizon West residential plan receives county transmittal
| 10:55 a.m. July 31, 2015
West Orange Times & Observer
On District 1 Orange County Commissioner S. Scott Boyd's condition that a significant portion of proposed development area be removed from consideration, a plan for 75 homes in Lakeside Village of Horizon West received Board of County Commissioners transmittal July 28.
This development off the eastern side of Reams Road at the junction with Ficquette and Lake Hancock roads has been the subject of several community meetings and received staff recommendation for transmittal.
It is within the Lakeside Village Reams Road Corridor Study Area, part of the master plan for Horizon West.
"No one can really recall back in 1996 why all this land was put into Lakeside and it was only greenbelt," Jim Hall, a VHB Inc. planning director representing the developer, said.
Within that Reams Road Corridor Study Area, the maximum appropriate residential density is considered six units per acre.
"Having had community meetings out there ... we have dropped our request to two units per acre," Hall said. "And 87% of the property (265 acres) will be preserved forever. We'll put it into a conservation easement and give it all to the county or the water management district so that it's preserved."
Hall said this project would be consistent with the comprehensive plan, based on that density and county staff agreement.
But many community members spoke against the project, with more expressing displeasure with it in the audience.
"This land use amendment is not consistent with the ... county comprehensive plan, specifically those ensuring sustainable development that protects environmental quality," said Don Kendzior, an environmental consultant, executive director of environmental non-profit Noah’s Notes and a Windermere resident. "Further, this amendment does not uphold the Horizon West ... plan pertaining to natural terrain, drainage, vegetation and protection of greenbelts and wildlife corridors. This amendment defies ... planning principles and is indicative of what appears to be an abusive land amendment process in Orange County ... making a mockery of the comprehensive plan ... allowing profiting at citizen expense while destroying the few remaining parcels of ecologically valuable land in the county."
Kendzior said altered hydrology of the Federal Emergency Management Association 100-year flood plain has significantly raised the risk of flooding and property loss, noting an example of The Preserve at the Lakes of Windermere storm water retention system becoming overwhelmed last year, sending water to surrounding wetlands. Development in this parcel would exacerbate those issues, he said.
He also said this plot is part of the crucial local wildlife corridor and greater state wildlife corridors.
"This land is not former orange groves or pasture but undisturbed highly valuable ecological natural habitat," Kendzior said. "The comprehensive plan states that, wherever possible, superior examples of natural terrain, drainage and vegetation shall be preserved within parks and greenbelts. The natural habitats on this development are key to the survival of ... species of concerned, threatened and endangered status, such as the Florida black bear and the American bald eagle. ... Once destroyed, these biodiverse habitats cannot be restored or recreated."
The land is also more valuable monetarily to the county in a state of conservation, he said.
He said citizens would get national attention from major environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, if commissioners approved the measure. Representatives from the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club and several locals speaking to the area's preservation and adhering to Horizon West plans also spoke against the project. They mentioned concerns such as noise and light pollution buffers, promises from county planners that the area would remain in conservation and property value decreases.
Boyd said he would prefer the southeastern portion of the current proposal be included within the conservation easement to focus solely on the northern portion off Reams Road for development. The excised potion represents about 20 acres, according to county staff.
"That has been a problem for me the entire time," Boyd said to Hall, referring to the southern portion of the proposal. "I want to transmit, but I want that one gone, and we focus on the one on Reams. If you're not OK with that, then I can go ahead and deny it today, but that's totally up to you."
Hall said that area would not have vertical development but would have been an area for more diversified habitat.
With Boyd's condition, commissioners unanimously approved the project for transmittal to the state. It will return for public hearings before those commissioners regarding final approval.