Three key hurdles remain in coming weeks for Saathoff's The Grow rezoning pursuit

Three key hurdles remain in coming weeks for Saathoff's The Grow rezoning pursuit
The infrastructure map for green space within The Grow development planned in east Orange County, which is bordered to the north by Lake Pickett Road and to the south by S.R. 50. The light purple spaces in the center of the project were the former locations for the elementary school and public park. (VHB, Inc.)

Relocating a central park, negotiating a public school and finalizing $28 million in traffic mitigation fees remain key hurdles in the coming weeks for the development team behind The Grow, as the window to earn rezoning approval from Orange County tightens between now and a late June deadline.

As GrowthSpotter reported on Feb. 4, local developer Dwight Saathoff and urban planner Jim Hall are working with county staff to make zoning history with The Grow, a mixed-use sustainable community proposed for 1,200 acres in east Orange County with thousands of homes, commercial space, an elementary school, community park, public gardens, a working farm, equestrian facility, and a farmers market.


Orange's Development Review Committee (DRC) took no action on Saathoff and Hall's first meeting on Feb. 10, in which they sought a DRC recommendation to rezone the property, and implement the county's first Regulating Plan (RP), a form of Planned Development. The project was expected to take at least two DRC meetings, and will continue on Feb. 24.

Ten outstanding issues remain for The Grow's development team. Of those, seven are considered small technical issues that Hall is confident can be resolved with county planning staff before Feb. 24.

Those include at least one roadway stub-out to Tanner Road for a possible future connection points, and potential expansion of Lake Pickett Road right-of-way along the project's northern perimeter.

The three main issues involve agreements yet to be finalized with county agencies for the new school, park and roadway impact fees. All three are currently being negotiated, and must be finished before a June 30 deadline, when the project should appear at the Board of County Commissioners for PD-RP rezoning.

June 30 is the deadline, when a state-issued extension for the associated Lake Pickett Comprehensive Plan amendments expire.

"I'm optimistic we'll get it all done," said Hall, urban planner for VHB, Inc., who has written the RP for Saathoff's The Grow. "I started this project in November 2012 (with previous developer entities) and put years of effort into it. To give up now would be folly."

The size and location of a public elementary school in the center of the development still requires approval of Orange County Public Schools (OCPS). Saathoff's team must meet with OCPS to discuss proposed school sites and mitigation, and file a Capacity Enhancement Agreement (CEA) application, something that must be done now to get through three to four months of analysis before the June deadline.

A 20-acre public park had been planned for directly southeast of that school, a location first encouraged by county planning staff, Hall said. But part of the segment has a power line easement running through it, something the county parks department won't accept in a new park.

"There are three power lines on the property, a significant constraint because the schools and park can't be near them, and there's a utility tract of (3-5 acres)," Hall said. "So we have to reserve 38 acres for a school, community park and reuse water storage; that is a real challenge."

The Grow's team must now analyze alternative school, park and utility sites, in order to meet minimum acreage requirements and avoid any encumbering easements. Those changes should have limited impact on the general location of proposed transect zones, said Olan Hill, chief planner with Orange County.

That power line easement runs along the border of the two properties owned by two families that Saathoff is combining for the development. He may have to work with those owners to merge those properties into one via sale, to eliminate the boundary and move the easement.

The developer also must finalize a $28 million Road Network & Mitigation Agreement with the county's Road Agreement Committee (RAC). That payment has been calculated as Saathoff's fair share to pay for improvements to be made to S.R. 50 (to the project's south) and Chuluota Road (to the project's east), based on the traffic impact The Grow will cause to those already congested roadways, according to Hall.

The payments would be $16 million for S.R. 50 at the start of the project, and the remaining $12 million for Chuluota Road later, after a certain number of homes are built. No action on that road agreement has taken place, but it's on the RAC agenda for this Wednesday.

Although it appears many of the outstanding issues may be resolved prior to Feb. 24, final DRC action for Saathoff's project and the anticipated March 17 Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) agenda date could be delayed, Hill said. The project's rezoning could still meet a June deadline for the BCC if DRC action takes place in March, followed by the PZC in April.


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