When Stina D’Uva was looking for a home more than 26 years ago, it was one in MetroWest that caught her eye.
“I just really liked the layout and the look of the house,” she said. “I really liked the landscaping as I was driving along Hiawassee Road with the Realtor.”
D’Uva arrived at the community only a few years after it was founded. MetroWest, one of the first master-planned communities in Central Florida, celebrated its 30th anniversary March 13.
The development began along the main arteries of MetroWest — Hiawassee Road and MetroWest Boulevard — and expanded from there. The MetroWest Golf Club opened in 1987, soon after the beginning of the development, according to Francine Burruezo, the catering and event director at the MetroWest Golf Club.
Now, more than 1,900 acres have been developed, with more than 9,600 residential units and 42 neighborhoods, and commercial and retail options dotted throughout.
“There’s a lot of business in MetroWest,” said Julie Sanchez, general manager at the Metro-West Master Association.
The community affords easy access to Interstate 4, State Road 408 and downtown Orlando.
Driving into MetroWest, many people notice the landscaping
and the large sign that welcomes people into the community.
“You can definitely tell when you come into MetroWest and when you leave it,” Sanchez said.
The slogan — “Live. Work. Play.” — resonates with residents such as D’ Uva, who feels the community offers everything she would like to do.
In 2012, MetroWest won Orlando’s City Beautiful award. The community also has been a finalist in the Florida Communities of Excellence for Florida-friendly landscaping and water conservation. The city of Orlando also awarded the Environmental Excellence award to the community because of its irrigation system, which is operated remotely. The web-based irrigation system allows operators to check water levels on irrigation in the common areas from the computer and control the system remotely. The system also keeps water from being wasted on roadways and sidewalks.
Another source of pride for the community is that all schools zoned for MetroWest are A-rated.
But MetroWest has faced challenges along the way.
For most of MetroWest’s existence, the developer controlled the community. That changed in October 2014, when a buyout gave the MetroWest Master Association control of the community.
“(Community members) hold their own destiny versus someone trying to control it,” Sanchez said. “They make their own decisions, they drive where their money goes, how it’s spent and what the community really needs from their perspective.”
Having a developer-controlled community wasn’t all negative, Sanchez said, and the association has been able to build on some things the developer established in the community.
Since then, the association has been able to create a greater sense of community, using events like the JazzFest as a way to form connections. The community also has created a new mobile app to help people feel connected.
Another challenge the community has faced is changing the perception of crime in MetroWest.
“Right now it is a perception and not so much a reality,” Sanchez said. “(To change perception) is a little more challenging than the fact of the matter. It is about, again, connecting people, educating people, educating the media … when they indicate MetroWest and it’s really not in the boundaries of MetroWest.”
The community has also established a public safety team to address any incidents that do happen in MetroWest. They can also address complaints and concerns residents have.
The MetroWest Master Association has plans to continue to make MetroWest feel like a tight-knit community.
“It’s all about the connections of people,” Sanchez said. “In that, the vision is ‘how do we connect people?’”
The association has used events and media platforms to connect people, but ideas include making physical spaces gathering places. Sanchez would like to see Veranda Park be developed into a central place for people to gather, as well as continuing to make the MetroWest Golf Club a place that brings people together.
“Those are two anchor partners in MetroWest that I think drive a lot of people and activities and bring people together,” she said.
Sanchez also envisions the expansion of a bike trail, which currently runs from the east side of Kirkman Road to MetroWest Boulevard. She would like to see the bike trail continue to turn on Hiawassee Road to go south, which would allow the trail to pass through an area with many businesses along Hiawassee and Veranda Park, which is intended to become an anchor of the community. The trail would conclude at Turkey Lake, where a cyclist could pick up other bike trails.
Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].