Local developer Dwight Saathoff breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday that was seven months in the making after his 1,200-acre Lake Pickett South development was freed to proceed by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet.
"It was a big victory for us," Saathoff told GrowthSpotter. "We're going to start work right away on designing the community's infrastructure, and would hope to submit that first (master utility plan) to the county within the next few months."
Also known as "The Grow," the mixed-use sustainable community in rural east Orange County would have more than 2,000 homes, up to 174,000 square feet of retail-commercial space, an elementary school, community park, public gardens, a working farm, equestrian facility and a farmers market.
In August 2017, a state administrative law judge ruled that Orange County Commissioners had violated their own growth rules when they approved a new zoning plan for The Grow in late 2016. On Wednesday, Gov. Scott and his Cabinet reversed that judge's decision, saying the county was allowed to interpret its own growth plan.
Looking forward, Saathoff's team can now move quickly into designing The Grow's utility infrastructure plans, because the community's Final Regulating Plan (FRP) and Planned Development zoning were written in such detail before they were approved by the county in 2016.
"That final RP has so much detail, much more than you'd typically see on a PD Land Use Plan," he said. "The rules in the Lake Pickett Comprehensive Plan policies dictated that we submit with that level of detail, and VHB's planning team did a great job."
Saathoff, a principal with Project Finance & Development LLC (PFD) and developer of The Grow, said his project affiliate would likely close on its purchase of the land later this year after the next stage of plans earn county approval.
Saathoff anticipates hiring VHB for engineering the next phase of plans, and having PFD self-develop The Grow's 1940s-style downtown and retail space. Do Good Farm is favored for the community's eventual farm management role, he added.
Interested homebuilders for the community could also be engaged as soon as next week, Saathoff said.
"What we're seeking is really a partner. We're not going to deal with multiple builders on (The Grow)," he said. "Instead we want to partner with a builder that has the wherewithal to take on a project of this magnitude and demonstrate to our satisfaction the ability to execute on the unique and cutting-edge design of an agrihood."
The Grow would lie south of Lake Pickett Road, covering 1,189.8 gross acres (837.9 developable) generally located north of E. Colonial Drive, east of S. Tanner Road and west of Chuluota Road.
It's a rural area where other large-scale residential projects have been pitched over the years by developers, and all been denied by county commissioners or withdrawn by applicants, due to resident protest and the county's own development restrictions near the Econlockhatchee River.
Every neighborhood in The Grow's FRP is connected by non-automobile paths, with more than 12 miles of pedestrian and bike paths throughout The Grow. Every single home will be less than a quarter-mile from its neighborhood focal point.
In conceptualizing The Grow, VHB staff studied some of America's most classic neighborhood designs, including Riverside outside Chicago from the 1800s and Radburn, New Jersey from the 1920s. They admired the central focal points of today's Savannah, Georgia, and the new urbanism success of Seaside, Florida.
The FRP zoning features four Transect Zones with their own development standards, public spaces, neighborhood boundaries, community focal points, street typologies and cross sections, intersection density and connectivity measures, green infrastructure components, interconnected open space systems, and streets with a strong bicycle/pedestrian orientation.
Transect Zones provide a predictable pattern to the community that lets its density transition from light on the exterior (near existing rural homes), to higher densities within the community and along E. Colonial Drive.
The developer is obligated to contribute funding for immediate road improvements to S.R. 50, but Orange County is also required to enter a local funding agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation.
The county must facilitate that agreement with FDOT and provide early funding to accelerate the S.R. 50 work. PFD's cash contribution would be triggered by residential development phases.