- February 11, 2016
Contention over a proposed South Lake County development involves residents in West Orange.
McKinnon Groves is planning 660 homes on 357 acres of the 15,000-acre Wellness Way master plan. Land-use descriptions include mixed-use urban and suburban plans, rural reserve areas that will border suburban developments, and the preservation of environmentally sensitive areas.
Opponents see the project as an example of overdevelopment. Residents of Orange County’s Lake Avalon Rural Settlement, which would border McKinnon Groves, feel their property values and way of life would be threatened by a higher-density development.
Jacob Malherbe moved to the Lake Avalon Rural Settlement six years ago from Keene’s Pointe in Windermere in search for more open spaces and a natural environment.
“We feel a little bit like Central Park, because we have Horizon West on the Orange County side, and now we are fighting Wellness Way on the Lake County side,” said Malherbe, who owns corner properties on both sides of the intersection of Rex Road and Phil C. Peters Road
Lake Avalon was designated a rural settlement in 2004. The plan limits residential and business development as a means of protecting the natural landscape and the community’s quality of life. The prospect of inconsistent development at its borders raises concerns of increased traffic, sight line interference and other encroachments.
“There is a need for consistency in the densities on the Orange County side of that region and the Lake County side,” Orange County Commissioner Nicole Wilson said. “I really have the greatest respect for the jurisdictional boundaries. … That being said, we have to look at things with a regional scope.”
Environmental and property concerns have made McKinnon Groves a target for backlash, also aimed at former Orange County Commissioner S. Scott Boyd, whose family owns 159 acres in McKinnon Groves.
Boyd is involved with development and has discussed the plan with several residents.
“Not only do I live here, but we own land on the other side of the county,” he said. “I want to make sure that it’s done correctly. Because whatever happens with that land will impact us.
Sophie Sacagiu currently owns a 6,500-square-foot property on Terra Vista Court. She has lived in that area of Lake County since 1994 and enjoys the undeveloped landscape but has always considered development an inevitability.
“You cannot stop growth unless you buy the property,” she said.
Despite losing some of the natural landscape, Sacagiu looks forward to the upscale homes, trail systems and rural reserve areas that McKinnon Groves will bring.
“I feel like Scott (Boyd) has put something really nice together — especially with the five-mile trail,” she said.
In addition to the trail, Boyd said vehicular access on an improved realignment of Hartwood Marsh Road, a half age-restricted/half single-family residential plan, and 48 acres of nonresidential development that will focus on recreational facilities and agribusiness.
The need for heavily landscaped transitions to border neighboring communities, such as Lake Avalon, is being addressed by one of those businesses.
Flowering Tree Growers, located at 18010 Lookout Hill Road, is a commercial tree farm that will provide wooded landscaping to fill buffer zones that will measure at least 150 feet wide.
The voices on both sides of the land-use debate seem to share the concern of additional traffic on roads that cannot accommodate increased volume. One road in particular, Hartwood Marsh Road, will provide northern access to the new community.
“It’s very small; there’s huge trucks going by,” Sacagiu said. “I feel (the county) should widen the roads. I hope, with the extra money that they’re going to recoup from everything, that they put it back into our road system.”
Additional congestion on Hartwood Marsh Road also would affect the connecting Marsh that leads into Winter Garden.
“It is already an F-level service road, with (more than) 11,000 trips at the site of the proposed entrance,” Winter Garden City Manager Michael Bollhoefer said. “This is bad for the residents of Lake County, Orange County and the future residents of the proposed project.”
However, Bollhoefer points out upcoming improvements that will offset the added traffic.
“The good news is that there are road projects scheduled in the near future that will alleviate a significant portion of these problems. The future extension of County Road 455 linking to the future Wellness Way Parkway will go a long way to easing the traffic congestion and safety issues on Marsh Road. The CFX-S.R. 516 Orange Lake Connector will also help.”
If approved, construction on McKinnon Groves will not begin for one year, with a buildout of between four and six years. In that time, Wellness Way and other road improvements would be complete, Boyd said.
Lake County commissioners are set to vote on rezoning for McKinnon Groves during their Sept. 28 meeting. Wilson has promised to keep residents’ concerns at the forefront.
“I’m going to try to stay as plugged in and as involved as I can moving forward if it does get approved,” she said.
Boyd said he has tried to be clear about the considerations built into McKinnon Groves and sees criticism as a product of misinformation on social media.
“You can either sell (your property) and let the fate of the land lie with the individuals who buy it, or guide it,” Boyd said. “And that’s what we did here, we guided the development pattern with the community in mind.”