OCOEE The latest step in forming the Downtown Ocoee Master Plan involved two days of informal input from residents to city officials and designers at City Hall, including a meeting April 27 with a review of ideas and feedback generated.
The meeting centered on a brainstorm with five themes for citizens and officials to focus on, based on feedback about the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in and near downtown Ocoee: connectivity, the lakefront, activities, character and public image and business development.
One of the biggest goals Ocoee officials have is to continue expediting roadway improvements, specifically in the areas around Maine Street, Bluford Avenue and Silver Star Road.
Design officials suggested roundabouts on Silver Star Road at Bluford Avenue and at Oakland Avenue, part of an overall concept of better transportation circulation. Other ideas included moving City Hall to McKey Street because it is built on a poor land foundation, connecting the West Orange Trail to downtown Ocoee, expanding the city grid westward, linking Franklin Street to Silver Star Road and Oakland Avenue and becoming friendlier to pedestrians, bicycles and other transit forms.
Citizens said Ocoee-Apopka Road traffic has been a problem, the Silver Star Road and Bluford Avenue area used to be a major hub, the Ocoee Woman's Club should be a community space and connecting to the West Orange Trail would be important.
One resident said Ocoee has more large trucks in its traffic than Winter Garden, which to him would conflict with roundabout ideas and necessitate a separate truck route. He said Silver Star Road has become more of a highway, perhaps not best for roundabouts.
That resident also noted a desire to reconnect Lake Olympia and Starke Lake, which could draw more customers to businesses near the lake, as well as for more sidewalks around Starke Lake.
Designers suggested more environmental and nature experiences around the lake, supporting local water quality, big events, intimate places, enhancing access to the lakefront – including boat access – and dining options near the water.
One particular idea involved a large green space from Oakland Avenue all the way to Starke Lake. Another called for glass-box buildings to the side of the shore, not the middle.
Residents agreed with that idea, because seeing the water is important to them. One said food trucks take the best spots to sit near the water to eat and generate too much noise close to the lake, which should be a main focus of Food Truck Fridays to take advantage of it as a unique offering. Movie screens forcing viewers to turn away from the lake detriments similarly, he said.
District 4 Commissioner Joel Keller suggested having a restaurant in that area as a trail head. Mayor Rusty Johnson said traffic from Ocoee Middle School would have to be kept in mind if business were added to the lakefront.
The discussion of the lakefront produced ideas of keeping cars and boats on one end of the lake and exploring the pros and cons to public and private ground leases.
At the meeting, designers suggested making the area with historic buildings such as Withers-Maguire House a community space centered on such buildings. They previously collected feedback calling for more frequent community events and opportunities; tethering art, food, music and the environment into one scene; play areas for pets, splashing and gardens; enhanced shopping and dining availability; and keeping it all family-oriented.
Residents suggested a bar, restaurants, extended Wi-Fi capabilities and a local history museum.
CHARACTER AND PUBLIC IMAGE
The design team suggested an old Florida, low country architectural feel, one that would be uniquely Ocoee with an apparent contrast to the brick, industrial buildings in Winter Garden. Brick streets and big trees would be welcome, though, based on prior comments, they said.
Residents added that the lakes also differentiate Ocoee from Winter Garden. They preferred the character to resonate with the natural environment and plants while being welcoming to animals.
Historic architecture and landmarks remained a focus in this section, but with notes to embrace and encourage diversity, maintain appealing gateways and streetscapes and project a safe, clean and peaceful vibe not always associated with all of Ocoee.
Designers said it has been clear citizens want to make downtown Ocoee a place for business with social, cultural and environmental tourism while keeping residences in close proximity.
Ideas in this portion included city government supporting businesses, programs supporting emergent small businesses, modern spaces with upgraded historic buildings, strong neighborhoods with new residential investment, new high-quality development around State Road 429, coordinated social media and marketing strategies and links of main street and park activities.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].