Ocoee High FFA seeks help from Commission as development limits access to land lab

At the June 18 Ocoee City Commission meeting; members, parents and teachers from the Ocoee High FFA program urged the commission to help restore road access to land lab.

  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Members, teachers, alumni and supporters of Ocoee High School’s FFA program packed Ocoee City Hall for the City Commission meeting Tuesday, June 18, in response to a recent development near the school that has had negative impacts on the program and its members. 

Four students from the program — Payton Grant, Ava Yarborough, Madelyn Young and Ziah Pierre — along with local FFA supporter Thomas Lightbody and Ocoee High agriculture teacher Amy Anderson, all took to the podium during the public comment section of the meeting to ask the commission for help.

“The adjacent development to the north of the school is not only causing issues to the program but (also) … severely threatens the existence of the Ocoee FFA program itself,”Lightbody, an FFA alum, said. “I pulled the full set of development plans and came to find out that the access road that Ocoee High School itself has been using since 2005 was in fact previously owned by the city of Ocoee and not OCPS. When the property was sold to the developer, unfortunately, that developer was given permission, per the approved development plans by the city of Ocoee, to completely do away with that access road and its decades-old configuration. Unfortunately, in doing so, (it cut) off vital access to the Ocoee FFA program. … We are sincerely asking for your help.”

This inability to access the program’s land lab via car could be harmful to the program’s projects, its animals and students, and the surrounding environment, FFA supporters said. 

“The onset of construction has led to the destruction of natural resources and has blocked any access to the road unless permission is granted through legal channels,” Yarborough said. “An example of how this has affected us is by the increased waste at our land lab, which necessitates frequent dumpster replacements, yet the road closure hampers timely access. This disruption has severely affected my routine, my chapter and our animals. The closure of the road has forced us to carry heavy bags of feed weighing up to 50 pounds and endless supplies from the back of the school to the land lab each day.”

Under the leadership of agriculture teachers Anderson, Travis Eisentraut and Peter Jordan, the Ocoee FFA chapter has grown to become one of the most decorated and recognized programs in Central Florida. 

“Eight years ago, I moved to Ocoee High School as the program was growing and expanding into more than just a horticulture program,” Anderson said. “Our program has tripled in size due to student interest, and our program now includes three teachers who specialize in animal science, aquaculture and horticulture. We have even established a student-run dog daycare program called Knight’s Kennel.”

Ocoee Assistant City Manager Craig Shadrix said the city is aware of the issue and has been working with the developer, Orange County and Orange County Public Schools to rectify the situation. 

“The city entered into a PUD (agreement) with Orange County Public Schools and with Orange County, when we all got together and acquired all this land up at Crown Point a long time ago,” Shadrix said. “They agreed on a zoning land use plan … so it has always been contemplated that there was going to be development up here.

“When this (FFA program) started, and apparently it started and just grew into this wonderful thing that you guys came in to talk to us about tonight,” he said. “But what should’ve happened is, we should have had a PUD amendment from Orange County Schools saying, ‘Hey, we want to have an agricultural research center here associated with the high school.’ (That) would trigger a site plan, which would require us to look at all the water and sewer, the buffering so it can even plan to accommodate for any future development from additional property owners. So, now what’s happening is we’re having to deal with that, all at one time, at the inconvenience of this great program.”

In Other News
  • The Ocoee City Commission approved its consent agenda unanimously and without discussion. Included in the five-item agenda was an approval to submit an application to the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation for the purchase of fire safety education equipment and an approval of the large-scale final subdivision plan for the Ocoee Oaks development, which will bring an 18-lot single-family detached residential subdivision to the northeast corner of the South Clarke Road and White Road intersection.

  • MetroPlan Orlando presented its Vision Zero Safety Action Plan to the commission during the meeting. Vision Zero’s mission is to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries within the city by 2040, and it will use a systemic approach to increase safety and mobility for all roadway users by building and maintaining smarter streets for improved driver behavior, engaging communities to expand awareness through education and encouragement, and prioritizing areas with high numbers of pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders.

  • The commission approved an ordinance to amend the Ocoee Land Development Code pertaining to floodplain management. Zoning Manager Anoch Whitfield led a presentation on the initiative to change the city’s code to improve the city’s rate class in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System. Not only would the new regulations improve the city’s rate class, but also they would increase flood resiliency within the city, specifically concerning the elevation of manufactured homes and critical facilities in flood hazard areas, substantial damage and substantial improvement projects, and development activity within special flood hazard areas. This ordinance also would save Ocoee residents money on flood insurance — increasing the discount for those residents in special flood hazard area properties from 5% to 15%, while maintaining a 5% discount for those not in SFHA properties.



Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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