Orange County preps rural enclave protection measures for 640 acres

Orange County is primed to take a step Tuesday toward adding the first rural residential enclaves to its Comprehensive Plan, which would protect three areas of the county with nearly 640 net acres from suburban redevelopment in the future. 

Commissioners are expected to vote Tuesday night to transmit amendments for its Future Land Use Element to the state's Department of Economic Opportunity for review.

The changes designate three areas of the county as rural residential enclaves, and provide a set of Comprehensive Plan policies that address consistency and compatibility. 

The three enclaves include Lake Mabel in southwest Orange County's District 1 near Horizon West (200 gross acres, 147 net acres), Berry Dease in District 3 east of S.R. 417 (309 acres gross and net), and Chickasaw in District 3 west of S.R. 417 (183 acres gross and net). 

These rural enclaves were among the first four cases in Orange County that, due to rising pressure for development more than three years ago, prompted planning staff to initiate small-area studies where residents were crying out for protection. 

The transmittal to Florida's DEO should occur this month, then Orange County is anticipating a June adoption by the Local Planning Agency (LPA), and July adoption by the Board of County Commissioners.

Two of the three enclaves are well within the county's urban service area, which generally includes areas where public utility services are available to serve dense urban growth. But none of the proposed enclaves have been rezoned for more urbanized development patterns, and for the most part retain their agricultural and large-lot zoning, which are characteristics of rural areas. 

The conflict lies in how Orange County's Future Land Use Map depicts those two enclaves in the urban service area as Low-Density Residential, which would allow development of up to four dwelling units per acre. But the current zoning districts continue to reflect historical agricultural or rural development patterns.

"From a developer's standpoint, under today's Comp Plan any property owners within these enclaves can ask to be rezoned up to a district that allows Low-Density Residential, or four dwelling units per acre," Olan Hill, assistant manager of Orange County's planning division, told GrowthSpotter. "But their average densities now generally range from one unit per five acres to one unit per acre." 

These three rural enclaves were prompted by actual rezoning applications more than three years ago. Community meetings were held, and it became clear the existing neighborhood was opposed to suburban development patterns allowed by the Comp Plan, Hill said. 

The fundamental consideration for any type of land use change or rezoning is compatibility. Orange County has policies within its Comp Plan that require planners to consider compatibility when reviewing rezoning or new development applications. 

"In these situations in the past it became apparent that compatibility in these rural neighborhoods was a true concern," Hill said. The Board of County Commissioners began asking if allowing properties to rezone for suburban development would result in incompatible development patterns in existing rural neighborhoods, he added. 

The enclave process has taken three years primarily because consensus wasn't always achievable among residents, Hill said. 

"It was a very detailed process, with an effort to find middle ground between those property owners who wanted no growth and those who wanted the maximum growth allowed by the Comp Plan," he said. "It wasn't an easy result. Even today, though a great majority in each neighborhood support the staff recommendations there are still some individual property owners who are opposed." 

Lake Mabel is the proposed enclave that is not in the county's urban service area, and rather is sandwiched between that boundary and Horizon West. The neighborhood's underlying Future Land Use map designation currently allows one home per 10 acres, so in order for the development of one-acre lots, the proposed policies allow for a significant increase in density, Hill said.

In the case of the Berry Dease enclave, which lies on the eastern side of S.R. 417 and east of the proposed Chickasaw enclave, the county has had a pending rezoning application for new development that's been on hold for three years. 

It was submitted just before the small-area study began, and was the main application that prompted commissioners to take a closer examination of the rural neighborhoods, Hill said. 

"That applicant has since agreed to continue their application, in hopes that the recommendations would recognize and provide an opportunity for them to rezone," he said.

As it turns out, the proposed policy changes will not give that opportunity to achieve the desired development program, Hill added. And a previously executed school capacity agreement has since expired, preventing continued consideration of the application by the Board of County Commissioners. 

Looking beyond these first three proposed enclaves, the policies would allow consideration of other rural residential enclaves and potentially shielding more land from future dense development. 

That move would require a number of rural property owners to band together and make the request, Hill said. The issue likely wouldn't surface in far-flung areas of the county until someone proposes to rezone a property within the area, triggering a community meeting that can help neighbors organize. 

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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