“The growth that is coming to us is not something we necessarily asked for but knew we had to prepare for if we wanted to do it right and maintain our identity and way of life,” said Oakland Mayor Kathy Stark. “We’ve been preparing for this for years. Growth is coming; it’s not going to grow around us.”
West Colonial Drive has few businesses along its stretch in the town of Oakland, but the empty land, mostly zoned commercial, won't stay that way forever.
“My philosophy as manager is planning and preparation, the value of it, and putting resources and financing there, as opposed to not planning and then having to put corrective measures in place,” Foltz said.
“(Managing growth in Oakland means) residential and non-residential development that maintains the unique character of Oakland,” he said. “This is based on community visioning and legally approved standards and review processes that ensure the highest levels of transparency and community involvement to create a 21st-century community that maintains its 19th-century charm.”
But the nuts-and-bolts planning must come before the added charm is visible.
While it doesn't look like much is happening on the main thoroughfare through the town, there has been an abundance of activity for several years as elected officials and town staff develop an ambitious strategy to manage what businesses come to Oakland and how they will fit into the town’s landscape.
This planning process began in 2013, when a visioning charrette was held with the commission, Town Hall department heads, Planning & Zoning members, homeowners associations, the churches, citizens representing all sections of the town and key personnel from Orange County and neighboring cities. All Oakland residents were also invited to observe the session.
This set the stage for all future decisions.
Foltz shared the significant progress made in 2016: Completion of the force main and main wastewater lift station to connect with Clermont; securing of a $1 million legislative appropriation for further construction of the main wastewater gravity line along State Road 50 and securing of easements; approval of the zoning, development agreement and Phase 1 plat for Oakland Trails (145 single-family dwellings); approval of zoning and development agreement for Oakland Park (295 single-family dwellings); approval of the Comprehensive Plan amendment for Oakland Preserve (300 single-family dwellings, 300 multifamily dwellings and a 150 unit assisted-living facility); annexation of the Eagles Landing property (20 single-family dwellings); and adoption of the Joint Planning Agreement with Orange County.
To handle the extra vehicles these developments will put on the roads, construction is expected to begin on the roundabout at the western end of Oakland Avenue, where it intersects with State Road 50, Old State Road 50, J.W. Jones Road and the West Orange Trail. This will alleviate some traffic nightmares, especially once the new subdivisions are built on J.W. Jones Road.
Residents could see the first new business — a RaceTrac convenience store at S.R. 50 and Remington Road — before the year is over, and it, like all new construction, will be subject to the architectural and landscaping criteria established in the Gateway Corridor Overlay District ordinance. The commission created these rules in 1999, when the town was in its earliest stages of development along West Colonial.
What could possibly follow the RaceTrac are a small hotel, food and beverage locations, banks and local businesses, Stark said, and all with walkability and access to ecotourism.
“This year will be about trying to get people to understand what we're trying to do in regards to growth,” she said. “Our approach has to be very measured and careful.
“Our mission is to protect the identity of this town, period,” Stark said. “And then recognizing that landowners have a right to build on their land.”
All new development increases the tax base in the town, which has always been low.
But the addition of the commercial element — and the increase to the tax base — can’t come without the sewer system.
The current plan, orchestrated by Stark, the town commissioners, Town Manager Dennis Foltz and Public Works Director Mike Parker, takes the town down to its bones and begins with building a centralized sewer system. It’s a major change for Oakland, which has always operated on a septic system.
The town received one million dollars from the state of Florida last year, which will help pay for taking the sewer system from the lift station on the west side of town to Florida’s Turnpike to the east. This opens up the opportunity to develop S.R. 50 to the east. Parker has been working diligently to acquire grants for this massive project.
To help the commission and department heads, as well as the Planning & Zoning Board, an Appearance Review Board was established.
“This is to make sure we stay ‘Oakland,’” Foltz said.
“Now we are at the point where the planning is essentially done and now it's time to start putting things in the ground,” Stark said. “I want this to be a place everyone just has to see. It’s a special place.”
While Stark and Foltz have a passion for infrastructure preparation and making sure the community is prepared for the growth, each of the commissioners has his own area of concentration, which makes for a well-rounded group of elected officials.
“The commissioners all have a passion that they have seemed to take on, and it's been pretty natural,” Stark said. “It's not something that we've sat down and said, ‘You do this, and you do this.’”
Joseph McMullen’s passion is arts, children and giving back to the community, and he has spearheaded the new Oakland Art and History Center project. Mike Satterfield has been involved with the Oakland Avenue Charter School since the beginning. Rick Polland is devoted to the Oakland Nature Preserve and Friends of Lake Apopka. And Sal Ramos has a commitment to the poor and underserved.
“Also, Mike Parker has had such an impact on this town,” Stark said. “He’s good at finding grants and administering grants. He is so smart. Our department heads are awesome, but Parker is just amazing at what he does. He flies so far under the radar, and I don't think he gets enough credit for the background work that goes on.”
Stark and Foltz agree it takes more than staff and the commission to keep the town progressing.
“I encourage residents to get involved and attend meetings so they are informed about the decisions that we are making and to understand the amount of volunteer work that our residents do (on the various town boards) on behalf of all residents,” Stark said.
“We have to be in the position all the time that we do what's right, and we can walk away knowing we did everything we could to do what's right for the town,” Foltz said.
Contact Amy Quesinberry at [email protected].