Tavistock Development Company has made a costly concession, agreeing to relocate a new utility plant for Sunbridge in exchange for the full support of Osceola County Commissioners -- and environmental groups -- for a new toll road that clips the southwest corner of the Split Oak Forest.
Tavistock Vice President Clint Beaty told GrowthSpotter the decision will cost the developer millions of dollars and could delay construction in the Osceola portion of Sunbridge for years.
But it clears the way for the Osceola Parkway Extension to be constructed using the alignment that directly benefits the developer and links its three largest communities: Lake Nona, Poitras and Sunbridge.
"After conversations with stakeholders, including the environmental community, we decided that moving the utility plant was a reasonable compromise in continuing to move this significant regional roadway project forward," Beaty said.
The developer had been working on the utility permitting for more than two years and was scheduled to start construction this summer. Osceola Commissioners had already voted in February to support a Comprehensive Plan Amendment to allow the water and sewer treatment plants to be built on the site just east of the Split Oak Forest.
But environmental groups complained that the 61-acre site consisted of a pristine scrub habitat that should be preserved to compensate for the impact to Split Oak. They wanted the utility plant shifted east, to lands that had already been disturbed by agricultural uses.
Osceola Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins Jr., who also chairs the Central Florida Expressway Authority, negotiated the deal with Tavistock and got a unanimous vote from county commissioners last week.
He said he approached the developer at the request of Charles Lee, director of advocacy for the Florida Audubon, who served on the OPE working group for CFX.
"Charles reached out to me and implored me to help them," Hawkins said. "Let me tell you, it wasn't fun to go in and ask Tavistock to do this."
Beaty said Tavistock is still evaluating what the impact will be to Sunbridge, a project so large it has its own independent stewardship district to manage water, sewer and reclaimed services throughout the community. The Osceola portion of the project spans more than 19,000 acres, and its first phase is entitled for 4,834 residential units.
"At a minimum, relocating the site will require us to redo numerous plans, applications, permits, and tests – including a new application of our master utility plan, a new concept plan with the county, filing a new (Natural Resource Utilization) land use designation, and more," Beaty said.
This isn't the first time Tavistock has made a significant financial commitment to advance the toll road project. The developer paid $15 million in late January for 200 acres in the direct path of the OPE toll road. That decision allowed CFX engineers to shift the road alignment west, reducing the impact on the Split Oak Forest.
"I don't think we see any of our decisions as a trade-off, but rather a compromise as part of continuing conversations with the community and key leaders as to how we get this significant transportation project underway," Beaty said.
"The new roadway is certainly important to our development projects, but it's also a vital corridor for the region and part of Osceola County's long-term vision and plans for the land formerly known as the Northeast District (NED)," he added.
CFX is scheduled to vote in May on a contract with RS&H for the Project Design & Environmental (PD&E) Study for the toll road.
In addition to publicly supporting the OPE toll road, Osceola Commissioners agreed to fast-track county permitting and land use changes needed for the new utility site, as well as amending the concept plan for Sunbridge.
They also agreed to support modifications to Tavistock's utility agreement with Toho Water Authority, and to assist in permitting with the mitigation sites with South Florida Water Management District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission.
"What we agreed to do doesn't cost the county anything," said Hawkins, noting the the county would expedite the approvals without cutting corners.
"These types of permitting processes, they're not a matter of a couple of months," Hawkins said. "It's more like years. I don't know how far it took them back. I know it is significant, and in a developer's world time is money."