Osceola to restrict new commercial development outside designated 'centers'

Osceola Commissioners gave preliminary approval Monday night to new land use policies that would restrict commercial development outside of a few dozen designated commercial centers in the county.

The policy is part of ongoing Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Code updates that county planners began in late 2017. With the adoption of the new centers approach, the county will create four future land use subcategories for commercial centers.

Those categories begin with the least intensive -- neighborhood centers -- and increase in size and density to community centers, urban centers and employment centers. 

Planner MelissaDunklin told commissioners the policies were designed to prevent Osceola County from developing as a bedroom community. The strategy is to direct new commercial development to areas where there is enough residential development to support it.  

"The centers will play a major part in increasing density, increasing the number of jobs and ultimately increasing the jobs-to-housing ratio," Dunklin said. 

But a key element in the new approach is limiting expansion of commercial areas outside of the designated centers, except in areas that already have Tourist Commercial as a future land use.

The issue already came up in a pre-application meeting earlier this month, when a developer sought to rezone property that abutted land already zoned for commercial use.

Mike Sozio told the Development Review Committee he was under contract to buy 4.3 acres on U.S. 192 east of Nova Road. A portion of the property was already zoned Commercial Restricted, but the back two thirds were zoned for a mobile home park -- a use that is no longer permitted in the urban growth boundary. 

Sozio said he was interested in building a recreation center, with basketball and volleyball courts. He asked if it would be feasible to expand the commercial zoning to the entire property, or at least far enough north to allow for a driveway connection to the nearest side street. That's where the new policy came into play.

Long-term planner Corinne Carpenter told Sozio the county had proposed a community center at E192 and Nova Road and another one further east at Harmony.

"The direction from the board is not to approve the expansion of commercial zoning outside of the centers," Carpenter said. "We are proposing to allow existing commercial (zoning) to continue."

She agreed with Sozio that the property wouldn't be suitable for Low-Density Residential (LDR) -- the underlying land use -- because it borders a mobile home park. She said staff would likely support a rezoning for Medium-Density Residential, but not commercial.

The planning staff has evaluated dozens of similarly situated properties at the request of land owners. One such parcel is the former Gator RV Resort, which is also on E192 less than half a mile from the Sozio site. Staff came to a similar conclusion, that it would support MDR on the 22-acre site, but not commercial.

Another case is a 73-acre site on Hickory Tree Road, immediately south of the Twin Lakes active adult community. The owner wants to rezone the site from LDR to Neighborhood Commercial. It's not located in a center, but the county did allow a rezoning across the street for a new 7-Eleven store.

Staff is still considering the rezoning request.

Planning Director Kerry Godwin said he expects the map to change over the next few months as the staff evaluates specific locations to see if they meet the criteria for a center. For example, two of the largest projects on the W192 tourism corridor are Margaritaville Resort and Magic Place, but neither is designated as an urban center on the current map.  

Monday's board vote only authorizes the county to transmit the Comprehensive Plan Amendment to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for review and comments. The final adoption is tentatively scheduled for September or October, at which time the planning staff also will propose a set of LDC updates that will include development standards for commercial buildings. 

"We want to achieve vibrant, walkable commercial centers that are right-sized and supported by an appropriate number of residential units, provide flexible uses and accessed by a range of transportation nodes," Dunklin said.

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