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Osceola and St. Cloud leaders butt heads over residential densities in JPA

The Osceola-St. Cloud Joint Planning Area (yellow) extends well beyond the city limits (pink), from the Orange County line all the way to the Green Island Ranch south of Lake Tohopekaliga.
The Osceola-St. Cloud Joint Planning Area (yellow) extends well beyond the city limits (pink), from the Orange County line all the way to the Green Island Ranch south of Lake Tohopekaliga. (Osceola County)

Osceola County commissioners and St. Cloud officials both want to see the fast-growing neighborhoods around the city flourish with high-priced homes, but they don’t see eye to eye on how to achieve that objective.

During a joint meeting of the two boards Monday afternoon at Osceola Heritage Park, City Councilwoman Linette Matheny asked county commissioners to consider changing the land development code to require larger lot sizes in the Osceola-St. Cloud Joint Planning Area.

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“You know, the density is an issue for me, and we’ve talked about among Council,” she said. “We’d like to have the opportunity to have more of what we call executive lots, like larger style lots. We don’t really have the ability to do that anymore, outside of the city limits and the JPA, because of the densities.”

The city’s Low Density Residential zoning caps the density at four homes per acre, while the county code allows between three and eight. Matheny also said she wants the county to enact architectural and design standards for new residential subdivisions to attract the quality of development as Lake Nona.

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County Manager Don Fisher said he’d be open to setting higher design standards that would be consistent with the city’s vision for the area. But he said reducing density standards wouldn’t draw in more executive housing - bringing in more diverse commercial, retail and cultural amenities would. He pointed to the recent Concept Plan for a Crystal Lagoon community in the East Lake Toho district, which is in the JPA, as a positive sign that quality development is on the way.

“So I think we should concentrate on the economic development side of this as a way to get executive-type homes,” he said. “The discussion I’ve had with commissioners is that lot size doesn’t cause executive homes to happen. An attractive community causes executive homes to happen. Just look at Laureate Park as an example... a lot of those lots in Laureate Park are definitely smaller than 50-feet wide, but they’re there for the things that Laureate Park has to offer next to the residential.”

He said communities like Lake Nona and Celebration have a brand appeal because they have thriving town centers and parks.

“The thing that we struggle with at the city level is exactly that,” Matheny said. “If you go up into Lake Nona now there’s $500,000 homes that are, you know, 25 feet wide, and you’ve got all these amenities. But we’re not getting that in St Cloud, and then we just keep getting told it’s the market. It’s market driven, it’s market driven. And what do we need to do to have better development standards?”

Commissioner Viviana Janer expressed frustration at the request. She said Osceola County did update its subdivision standards three years ago, and the city of St. Cloud hasn’t followed through. The city’s zoning code hasn’t been updated in decades.

Councilman Keith Trace acknowledged that the city’s outdated comprehensive plan and land development code have been a problem. As a general manager for Mattamy Homes, he knows there’s limited customer demand for quarter-acre lots, the smallest allowed under the city’s LDR zoning.

“Every development we get comes in as a (Planned Development) because our land development code is poorly written 30 years ago, and it’s kind of in pieces. But it’s been five years to get you guys to update your land development code piece by piece — stuff that we need to do almost overnight.”

St. Cloud City Manager Bill Sturgeon said there would be an item on the next council agenda to hire consultants to update the city’s zoning code.

Trace suggested the city and county look at reducing the size of the JPA, which extends from the Orange County line at Narcoossee Road all the way to the Green Island Ranch south of Lake Tohopekaliga. Trace said it’s not economically viable for the city to continue annexing large developments because they don’t generate enough taxable revenue to pay for the municipal services.

The two boards also agreed to discuss consolidating the county’s E-911 service and to work together to improve the review process for engineering plans on projects in the JPA that are adjacent to the city limits. One problem Matheny pointed out is the difference in elevations between older communities and new construction, which is required to use more fill dirt to meet current building codes.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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