August 14, 2017
Significant victory for comprehensive planning: Decision protects rural and environmental resources in eastern Orange County
A judge has stricken down approval of Lake Pickett South, a 2,796-acre development that had been proposed for rural lands east of the Econlockhatchee River in Orange County. Residents of eastern Orange County have been working with 1000 Friends of Florida since 2015 to advocate for maintaining policies in the county’s comprehensive plan that designate lands east of the Econloxhatchee River, including the proposed Lake Pickett South site, as rural.
In response to an administrative challenge filed by Orange County residents over the county’s approval of the proposed development, on August 11, 2017, Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk issued an order finding the county’s decision inconsistent with its own comprehensive plan. “The County has established a clear policy of directing urban development to the [urban area] and allowing only low-density future residential development in the [rural area],” wrote Van Wyk. “The plan amendments direct urban development to the [rural area], contrary to the County’s desired development pattern.” She concluded, “Where a local government has established in its comprehensive plan a prohibition, and a plan amendment authorizes development directly contrary thereto, there is no argument that the plan amendment is internally consistent.”
Petitioner and Save Orange County board member Kelly Semrad said in response to the decision, “This ruling provides the citizens and rural America with a win. Save Orange County hopes that the judge’s decision provides precedent for preserving natural Florida.” Semrad continued, “I’d like to give special thanks to 1000 Friends of Florida for providing strategic guidance and expert testimony from the County Commission meetings to the administrative hearing. The people’s voices and interests in preserving the environment would not have been possible without cooperation amongst community members, industry leaders and 1000 Friends.”
The Orange County Commission had approved the development proposal in the summer of 2016. Orange County residents then filed an administrative challenge to the decision, arguing that the county had exceeded its authority under its own comprehensive plan by favoring Lake Pickett South. 1000 Friends of Florida participated in the appeal, providing expert planning analysis and testimony during a hearing in March 2017.
“Great urban areas are essential for our economy and our quality of life,” explains 1000 Friends Policy and Planning Director Thomas Hawkins. “Cities provide a quality of life that should be available to Florida residents and workers. But cities should also have edges so some Floridians can enjoy a rural lifestyle and to protect essential agricultural and environmental lands.” Concludes Hawkins, “The Lake Pickett South decision not only protects the Econlockhatchee River, it encourages positive urban development by directing growth to Orlando.”
“1000 Friends has long understood that a combination of sound planning principles and a firm grasp of the law is essential for success in legal battles like the Lake Pickett South challenge,” says the not-for-profit organization’s President, Ryan Smart. He notes that 1000 Friends is proud to help save Florida’s special places like rural Orange County which, in addition to protecting natural lands, also serves to improve the quality of life in urban Orlando.
1000 Friends of Florida has served since 1986 as a member-supported not-for-profit watchdog over planning and growth issues in the third largest state in the nation. For more information, visit www.1000friendsofflorida.org. Please make a donation to 1000 Friends of Florida today so we can continue to assist local communities in protecting our environment and quality of life by providing free professional advice and expert testimony.