DR. PHILLIPS — Residents in Dr. Phillips got their first look at a project that could add more than 300 residences to their community during a community meeting April 30 hosted by Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd.
The meeting was the public’s first look at a proposal for an amendment to the county’s future land-use map that could change the use of a 24.31-acre lot from commercial to high-density residential. The parcel, of which about 6.5 acres is developable, is located on the west side of Majorca Place, west of Turkey Lake Road, north of West Sand Lake Road and south of Toscana Boulevard.
Builder Wood Partners hopes the land soon will become the second phase of The Rialto apartment complex. This phase would add up to 325 apartments to Rialto.
Representing the builder, VHB Inc. Planning Director Jim Hall said the project will be similar in style and function to the existing Rialto development.
“They would like to put the second phase of Rialto on the lake shore in behind the commercial (of the first phase of Rialto),” he said. “They would be joined and linked; people could drive and walk back and forth between the two.”
According to a study conducted by Wood Partners, the traffic impacts from a residential project such as Rialto would be less than that of what would come under the existing commercial land-use designation.
“From a traffic standpoint and from the methodology we ran with Orange County, if this were to develop with commercial, there would be more trips coming off the property as it’s approved today than there would be with the apartments,” Hall said. “Actually, the apartments reduce the amount of traffic from what is permitted on this property from the future land use.”
However, residents in attendance balked at that prediction and said a residential component would add significantly more cars during rush hours in the morning and evening on Sand Lake and Turkey Lake roads — an already-congested area.
“This community (Dr. Phillips) is completely dysfunctional,” said Jim Pasquinelli, a Dr. Phillips resident of 15 years. “I live in southwest Dr. Phillips. I cannot get to Home Depot. If I want to go in the middle of the day … it’s going to take two hours of my day to drive back and forth to a store that’s supposed to be completely accessible to me.
“They (the traffic studies) just don’t tell a realistic story, and I hate to hear we’re powerless in all of this,” he said. “It should not take an hour to go … less than five miles. I can’t live a normal life. I’m a dad and I have a small business, and I work all day every day. In my free time, I don’t want to be sitting in traffic. I just can’t understand why the message is, ‘Well, we’re really handcuffed.’ And if I’m truly being represented, then I expect creative solutions. Something has to stop. … We’re hostages; that’s the reality of our lives. I’m not against anybody building anything, but it has to fit.”
Pasquinelli was one of several residents who questioned why improvements to the surrounding roads could not occur before development. Renzo Nastasi, Orange County’s transportation planning manager, said decisions made in Tallahassee have impacted the ability for local governments to regulate growth.
“Local governments cannot disapprove development based on traffic issues,” Nastasi said.
In addition, the state mandates that local governments give impact-fee credits equal to any monies a developer pays for its impacts on roads and surrounding infrastructure.
“Let’s say they write a check for $1 million,” Nastasi said. “We are then obliged to give that developer $1 million in an impact-fee credit. That’s the position local governments are in.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to need change in Tallahassee, and it’s not our local government, and it’s certainly not our Board of County Commissioners,” he said. “We have to follow the state statutes.”
The county’s two revenue streams include gas taxes and impact fees.
“With what happened four or five years ago with the economy, we basically are collecting about $10 million in impact fees as opposed to $40 million prior to 2008,” Nastasi said. “Gas taxes are primarily used for maintenance, because we have to maintain what we already have, and not for new capacity.”
Currently, the county has plans for major improvements in the area, including the widening of Sand Lake Road from John Young Parkway to Turkey Lake Road, which should begin in summer 2016. That project should take about two years. Plans also include addressing the signalization at every major intersection along that stretch.
Furthermore, Boyd has worked to accelerate a complete reconfiguration of the Sand Lake Road/Interstate 4 interchange. No definite start date has been set for that improvement, Nastasi said.
The county also is studying the stretch from Turkey Lake Road to Apopka Vineland Road, but that may not necessarily be a widening project.
Despite the state statutes, residents maintained the approval for Rialto’s second phase should not take place until after these road improvements are made.
“Let’s wait until these roads are in,” Orange Tree resident Bill Hayes said. “Why should we suffer because you want to put a building and make a bundle of money?”
“Because we have a right to do it,” Hall said.
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 7
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].