HORIZON WEST — A developer for several communities in Horizon West is hoping to add another on land currently designated as green space in the master-planned West Orange community.
Phoenicia Development CEO Tom Harb, whose projects also include Casa Del Lago, Lake Sawyer Sound and Lake Cypress Cove, among others, has applied for an amendment to add a luxury-home community to land currently designated as greenbelt and wetland/conservation space in Horizon West’s Lakeside Village Specific Area Plan.
Currently, the 306.8-acre parcel, located on the east side of Ficquette Road, south and west of Winter Garden Vineland Road and north of Center Drive, is approved for 12 lots. This change would allow up to 284 homes. The majority of the parcel is wetlands and un-developable; however, it contains 70.8 acres of uplands, which is where Harb is proposing the new community.
Jim Hall, a planning director with VHB Inc. representing Harb, said the original plan for Horizon West called for six villages with a minimum of a 150-foot-wide greenbelt around each of them. At 1/4-mile wide, the greenbelt on which this project is proposed is significantly larger.
“No one really remembers why, in 1997, that the greenbelt of Lakeside Village ended up being 1/4-mile wide,” Hall said. “That was looked at last year by Orange County planning. … Staff changed the policy in its Comprehensive Plan that would allow this property and a couple of other ones … to not be greenbelt anymore but to go in and have some residential. … We have just followed suit on that and made this application.”
About 100 neighboring residents attended a community meeting hosted by Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd May 11 at Sunset Park Elementary School, to protest the change. Chief among their objections were the potential development’s impacts on local traffic and wildlife.
Don Kendzior, environmental consultant, executive director of environmental group Noah’s Notes and a nearby resident, said the green space is critical not only to the immediate area but also to the wildlife traveling through the state.
“Some of the last remaining bio-diverse high-quality habitat in the county is right here,” he said. “We have (more than) 100 bird species recorded in this area, including birds of threatened and endangered status. And yes, there are bald eagles active in this area. They have made a nest … they are expanding, and we presume fairly soon … the offspring will start nesting in this area.
“The Comprehensive Plan says these areas should be protected and preserved as wildlife corridors,” Kendzior said. “This is actually a wildlife corridor that runs all the way from Lake Apopka down to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. An animal can actually traverse the entire portion of the state from south to central via these greenways. If this project is developed as proposed, it will sever this link in the greenway.”
Kendzior said animals such as black bear, Florida panther and a bird species from as far away as Mexico have been spotted in the area.
Moreover, he said, building on just the uplands would cause significant impacts regarding storm water runoff and flooding, and any fertilizers and chemicals used on lawns of the proposed homes would drain back into the wetlands.
“This is going to fracture this habitat,” Kendzior said. “The wetland is kind of like the heart; the uplands are the lungs. They work together. If you just save the wetland … nothing else lives. The animals that are here need the uplands. To say there is no impact ... is not true.”
Resident Arelene Grey agreed.
“(We’re considering) giving up something you cannot buy; we will not get it back,” she said. “No matter how much money you have, you will never get it back.”
Other residents said the purchased their homes on the premise that the area was to remain greenbelt.
“When we bought our property, this was green space,” said resident Chad Wilson. “I knew it was green space. I researched the zoning and knew it was wetland. For us to go in and change it now, after we in the community have bought around this area, is not acceptable. We’re going the wrong way.”
Patrick Spikes said he is concerned about the impacts the proposed community will have on Horizon West’s already crowded schools, including Sunset Park Elementary.
“When do we say, ‘Enough is enough?’” he asked. “If we’re going to have continuously overcrowded schools, then schools aren’t doing what they traditionally do — improve the land values and property values. It’s going in the other direction. All they know is the line wraps around the fire station (near Sunset Park) to drop the kids off in the morning. Until we get that infrastructure, we don’t need anything else.”
Currently, Orange County Public Schools is scheduled to open Independence Elementary School this fall, two new schools in 2017, and the new West Orange relief high school. However, the Orange County School Board assesses its construction program every July, so those timetables could change.
Boyd said Horizon West is facing these infrastructure issues because of the intense growth the area.
“You’re living in one of the fastest-growing areas in the state of Florida … and probably in the top 10 or so in the country,” he said. “Probably every major homebuilder in the United States is here; they’re all looking for places to lay a stake in the ground.”
Harb, who attended the meeting, said he will take the residents’ concerns into consideration as he moves forward with the proposal.
The transmittal hearings will determine whether Orange County will transmit the project for state review. Following state review, the project will return to the county for consideration.
Planning and Zoning Commission/Local Planning Agency: 9 a.m. June 18
Board of County Commissioners: 2 p.m. July 28
ADOPTION PUBLIC HEARINGS
Planning and Zoning Commission/Local Planning Agency: 9 a.m. Oct. 15
Board of County Commissioners: 2 p.m. Nov. 10
Hearing dates are tentative and subject to change.
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].