They’re Ba-ack! Lake Pickett North and South Communities’ Developers Wrong For East Orlando

The phrase, “They’re ba-ack!,” spoken by the little girl in the 1986 thriller Poltergeist II – The Other Side. In this sequel, evil spirits and strange forces invade a suburban home. “Evil spirits and strange forces” – developers, more traffic and congested roads – are invading rural East Orange County to the tune of an estimated 15,000 more vehicles and 5,000 homes.

Two separate building groups have put together development requests that the County is required to consider. If approved, the construction of the Lake Pickett North (LPN) and Lake Pickett South Communities (LPS) will represent “a hard jump” from rural to urban environment and additional urban sprawl for the residents and businesses of east Orange County.

The scope of LPS and LPN are illustrated here.
The scope of LPS and LPN are illustrated here.

Resistance to the development of these properties, located north and south of Lake Pickett Road between South Tanner Road and SR 419 (See map) is growing as evidenced by the more than 300 residents who attended the April 19, Sunday, Town Hall Meeting at River Run Church on SR 419 in Chuluota. An estimated 400 people attended a County-sponsored Community Meeting on April 28 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30.

This community meeting provided those in attendance with an updated project schedule, an overview of discussion items at upcoming meetings, a transportation analysis by Olan D. Hill, Chief Planner, Orange County Planning division and a review of application transmittal package requirements by Applicant 1 (LPS – “The Grow”) and Applicant 2 (LPN – “Sustany”).

The County plans on conducting two more meetings, one on May 12 and on May 19, which is a tentative date, to summarize prior meeting comments, review the conceptual regulating plan, proposed policy language and changes plus provide an opportunity for open discussion, comments and additional suggestions. These meetings are an integral part of the three-stage Lake Pickett development process that includes a transmittal public hearing, an adoption public hearing and a rezoning public hearing.

A pivotal meeting will be held on July 10. The Board of Orange County Commissioners will consider a change to the Comprehensive Plan that would alter the zoning of the land north and south of Lake Pickett from rural (one home per 10 acres) to “an ‘average’ of four units per acre.” In actuality, “this would allow high density housing in excess of four units per acre plus commercial property.” At the community meeting, one upset resident shouted, “Zoning is the only shield that stops the development and the additional 15,000 cars!”

Students and staff from the Montessori School at the intersection of Percival and Lake Pickett demonstrate their school ‘spirit.’
Students and staff from the Montessori School at the intersection of Percival and Lake Pickett demonstrate their school ‘spirit.’

A key factor is LPN and LPS are presently in the Rural Service Area. which means they are outside the Urban Service Area. According to Save Orange County.org, “The dividing line between these service areas is the Econ River. Once development crosses the Econ, there is nothing to keep it from building all the way to the St. Johns River and down to the southern county line, filling the entire area with development.” The Rural Service Area east of the Econ River may be the last line of defense and needs to be held.

However, the most visible and felt experience for area residents, traffic congestion, really raises residents ire when they consider the prospect of 5,000 additional homes in an area where the critical roads – SR 50, SR 419 and portions of Lake Pickett – are already seriously over-capacity.

According to the transportation analysis, in 1990, Orange County “was still rural and traffic flowed smoothly on SR 50 and county roads. 2005 was a game changer with the area’s build out.” One of the Applicants declared, “You have rural roads with urban traffic.” A concerned resident fired back,“The roads haven’t created traffic problems, development has!”

Montessori School Director Marcia Hurlbutt voices her objections to the Applicant: “We’ve been at that house for over 40 years and have 35 acres to protect us from terrible things like this!”
Montessori School Director Marcia Hurlbutt voices her objections to the Applicant: “We’ve been at that house for over 40 years and have 35 acres to protect us from terrible things like this!”

There appears to be a broad consensus among planners and residents that current and proposed road improvements won’t provide sufficient infrastructure to fix the growing traffic mess. Jurisdictional issues complicate matters. For example, SR 50 and the current nine – eventually 11 – traffic lights between Alafaya Trail and Avalon Park Boulevard are controlled by the State. Other roads are controlled by Orange County and some are managed by Metroplan Orlando and interstate highways are under federal highway authority. It’s a mess!

Funding is another critical matter. Orange County does not have the money to make the necessary road improvements because its only sources of revenue are the gas tax ($30M) and impact fees ($10M). The question is, does anybody have a real plan and the resources to accommodate 5,000 more homes and 15,000 vehicles?

Clearly, the residents of East Orange County realize the difference between rural and urban areas: large amounts of open spaces, undeveloped land and low population density versus urban sprawl and degradation of air, land, water plus further constriction of their “country” way of life. They see beyond urban-to-rural “transect” planning models — the “New Urbanism” — and a developers artful “Agrihood” marketing strategy for a future farming ‘cooperative’ (The Grow) within an existing farming community (East Orange County).

The for sale shirts pretty much tell the story.
The for sale shirts pretty much tell the story.

Yes, “They’re ba-ack!” Hopefully, we can stop the “evil spirits and strange forces” whose relentless, rural development land push threatens our “country” way of life. The Econ River represents our line in the sand. If the developers are allowed to build east of the Econ, they will eventually consume every undeveloped space. We become like “exiles from Eden.” There’s no guarantee we can prevent this. The only sure thing is the collective effort of individuals like you going out, building relationships with others in the community, spreading the word and supporting/joining SaveOrangeCounty.org. It’s our best and only real defense.

By Mark A. Bernhardt, Resident Observer