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Osceola to consider moratorium on new development on 35K acres around lakes

Osceola to consider moratorium on new development on 35K acres around lakes
Osceola Commissioners are considering a one-year ban on any new developments around the Alligator Chain of Lakes to study environmental impacts. (Osceola County)

Osceola Commissioners are scheduled to vote March 20 on a one-year moratorium for new development that could affect 35,000 acres on and around the Alligator Chain of Lakes, to conduct an environmental study of the watershed.

The item was on the board's March 6 agenda, but that meeting was canceled for lack of a quorum.

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If approved later this month, the ordinance would put a hold on the acceptance, processing or approval of any new permits or development orders in the Chain of Lakes watershed.

"They want to do a more thorough study of the impacts on the various types of uses on the long-term sustainability of the lake," Community Development Administrator David Tomek told GrowthSpotter on Tuesday. "The plan is to take a pause and hire some folks to do the study and see what kind of standards we need to develop to ensure a long-term, vibrant lake system."

The goal would be to set new policies regulating the boating activities, including potential restrictions on boat size, numbers and types, and how they access the lakes. "It's called a lake carrying capacity study," Tomek said.

Jones Homes is already building an 1,100-home active adult community, Twin Lakes, with a marina on Live Oak Lake.

Thousands more homes have also been entitled through a series of projects in the watershed, many of them with boat access either via private marinas and/or boat lifts. Any project with an approved Preliminary Subdivision Plan would not be affected, Tomek said.

Orlando-based Hanover Capital Partners, for example, has received permits to start construction on Hanover Lakes, a 558-home boating community with a lift providing direct access to Alligator Lake. The plan also includes boat ramps to both the 45-acre internal lake and to Alligator Lake.

"The intent is not to all of a sudden stop development," Tomek said. "The boat lifts are not really a big deal. We get maybe one every 10 years."

County officials estimate the moratorium could affect 54 square miles (35,000 acres) of eastern Osceola County, including the entire Hickory Tree Road corridor. That's roughly five times the size of Winter Park, and it has some property owners up in arms.

"What I have to say about it is that it's a theft," said Daryl Carter, president of Maury L. Carter & Associates. "They're taking away development rights from people without compensation. It's a taking, and it ought to be illegal."

Carter's family is heavily invested in lakefront property on Coon Lake.

"We don't have an immediate need for the property on Coon Lake, but that misses the point," Carter said. "It has an impact on the property. I just don't think a moratorium is ever the right answer. If you want to plan, plan all you want -- but don't take people's property rights away as you're planning."

At least two other major subdivisions have already been approved on Alligator Lake and Lake Gentry. Last year Snow Construction President Nick Gross told GrowthSpotter he was ready to move forward on Buena Lago, a 545-home boating community with an approved PSP.

The site plan calls for a mix of townhomes and single family homes built around a 31.4-acre internal lake with its own beach and clubhouse. The lot sizes ranged from 100-foot estate lots on Alligator Lake to 75-foot internal lake lots, and 60-foot canal-front lots.

And Lake Gentry Landings, located just south of Mildred Bass Road, is already slated for a 700-home community to be built around a man-made lagoon with its own marina and boat lift.

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Tomek said the moratorium carves out exemptions for any property owner who wants to make improvements to their property, and it would not prevent someone from receiving a building permit for an existing buildable lot.

It also excludes Buck Lake and Cat Lake, which are regulated under the Harmony Development Agreement. Those communities don't allow motorized boats on the lakes.

The commissioners are also scheduled to vote March 20 on an update to the Land Development Code that provides new language and regulations for marinas, boat ramps and lifts.

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 Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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