Ashton Woods will scrap over 50 homesites in a proposed subdivision on East Lake Tohopekaliga and will double the amount of conservation area if that’s what it takes to win a recommendation for approval from Osceola County’s Development Review Committee.
The DRC held a special meeting Wednesday with executives from the homebuilder’s Orlando office and its attorney and engineer to work out differences on the project that had received a scathing review last month.
The builder has a contract for 97.5 acres directly across from Tohopekaliga High School and just west of Austin-Tindall Regional Park. The property is a former “fish camp” RV park and public marina and is the final phase of the Marina Bay Planned Development, which was approved in 2007. The first two phases, with 251 homes on 70-foot lots, have already been built. The fish-camp parcel was entitled for another 171 homes, also on 70-foot lots.
The county’s planning staff recommended denial of the PD amendment that would have increased the number of homesites to 494. The initial round of comments said the project lacked creativity and ingenuity, that it wasn’t environmentally sensitive and that it did not “appear visually pleasing.” Most troubling, according to Community Development Director Dave Tomek, was the high number of specimen trees that would be destroyed.
The builder and Appian Engineering submitted a revised plan that eliminated 29 lots around the perimeter of the project and created additional conservation areas to protect tree hammocks, but Tomek said the changes didn’t go far enough. To earn a recommendation of approval, they would need to expand the conservation area along Lake Tohopekaliga to 21.7 acres – the same amount that was approved in the original PD.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Ashton Woods agreed to another redesign, expanding the lakeside park as requested. To do that, the builder would have to lose all of the 60-foot lots on the southern boundary of the community and several 45-foot lots.
Tina Lee, land entitlements manager for Ashton Woods, told the staff they would work with the county to preserve as many trees as possible.
Jo Thacker, a partner with Nelson Mullins represents Ashton Woods. She said the new concept plan would more closely match the tree line that was defined by the county arborist. The developer would shift an internal road slightly north so that it would hug the southern boundary of the internal retention pond, and the 45-foot lots that can be saved would now face north and back up to the conservation area.
“We’ve got to figure out where to put that new conservation line,” Tomek said. “I think we can work with that. The amenity center area will be the one area where we will allow new construction.”
Now the developer and engineer must scramble to complete the new concept plan and resubmit by Thursday to keep their spot on the Dec. 19 Planning Commission agenda. DRC Chairman Jose Gomez agreed to continue the case until the next DRC meeting on Dec. 18 to allow the changes to be made. He acknowledged that the project has drawn significant opposition from homeowners in the area, and he wants them to know if the staff changes its recommendation to approval.
“What I would like to avoid is a recommendation of denial (on the agenda), and then have that go out to the public,” he said.
The case is scheduled to go to the Board of County Commissioners on Jan. 13, 2020.