For Lake County to protect its rural lands from sprawl, commissioners are working on design guidelines for Rural Conservation Subdivisions. The goal is to protect rural lands by separating them from urban uses. But unless the surrounding cities buy into the concept, the county will be hard-pressed to actually get the result they are seeking, commissioners said during their board meeting on June 14.
Lake County’s Comprehensive Plan contains policies requiring design and development in the form of Rural Conservation Subdivisions in its Rural Protection Areas (RPAs). This requires design criteria in the Rural Future Land Use Series, Wekiva River Protection Area, Wekiva Study Area, and the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern.
The county hired Randall Arendt, a landscape planner, site designer, author, lecturer, and an advocate of conservation planning to create the design standards for these Rural Conservation Subdivisions. The design criteria are meant to provide housing that preserves agricultural and forestry lands, natural and cultural features, scenic views, and rural community character.
Commissioners fear that their efforts will not meet their goals unless Lake County’s municipalities get on board and create similar zoning categories with less impactful development. Some citizens who spoke during the discussion agree.
“If cities aren’t buying into it, they may actually go opposite,” said Board Chair Sean Parks. “This is something I hope we can accomplish later this summer,” meeting with the cities to work out cooperative agreements.
Commissioner Leslie Campione took it a step farther, saying since the county cannot make unilateral decisions about annexation, the commission should consider making a review of annexation requirements a priority in the 2023 Florida legislative session. The way rules were written regarding annexation years ago do not work well today, she said. “We could at least make some improvement.” Today, in some instances, people wanting to develop rural lands can have them annexed into a municipality to avoid stricter rural regulations.
Commissioner Kirby Smith suggested the county go to the cities and urge them to adopt ordinances similar to the one they are working on regarding Rural Conservation Subdivisions. That way, intense urban uses won’t be constructed against these conservation areas.
“We understand the parameters set up by this ordinance, but we are concerned,” said Nancy Prine with Friends of Wekiva River. “We are concerned that should annexation take place, many of the important actions that have taken place (in the new ordinance) will be void.”
Campione suggested reaching out to cities with Interlocal Service Boundary Agreements and asking city leaders to create their own standards for annexation that will not interfere with rural subdivision criteria.
Meanwhile, Lake County will move forward with the process of amending its Comprehensive Plan to include Densities and Design Standards for the Rural Conservation subdivisions while continuing to work on the Land Development Regulations that must go along with them. Comprehensive Plan amendments must go to a public hearing, then to the state for review. It would then come back for a second public hearing to consider adoption. The ordinance would create a four-step process for permit approvals, beginning with requiring developers to submit a sketch of the proposed lot layout and conservation areas for the site.
Here are some examples of requirements being considered in the Densities and Design Standards for the Rural Conservation subdivisions:
- Connections between “Primary Conservation Areas” and “Secondary Conservation Areas” where practicable. Primary areas involve natural features that form the core of the protected areas, including wetlands, flood plains, and sinkholes. Secondary areas consist of unconstrained buildable land, including natural uplands, farmland, natural areas and wildlife habitat, slopes, historic sites, and public or private recreation sites. Rain gardens for stormwater filtration and scenic views are also listed.
- The preserves can be undivided or connected.
- Protected space must be owned or administered by a fee-simple conveyance to the state, conveyance to a homeowners’ association, or the original owner, such as a farmer who continues to farm. Protected spaces are forever restricted from further development by permanent conservation easements.
- Density will be calculated based on the assigned Future Land Use category.
- Subdivisions must be designed around the preservation areas.
- Trails and streets are to be connected.
- In areas where the goal is to conserve forested lands, natural areas, or wildlife habitats, dwellings must be placed in unwooded parts of the site away from mature forests, wildlife corridors, or other natural areas.
Lake County Commissioners did not set a date for the Comprehensive Plan public hearing and said only that they will continue discussions on the densities and design criteria and work to get the county’s municipalities on board with the Rural Conservation Subdivision concept.