The Osceola County Commission on Monday approved a “large-scale” amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan that allows Lake Nona developer Tavistock to build on land designated for natural resources.
The 63-acre parcel owned by Tavistock is adjacent to Split Oak Forest and is tied to the company’s massive Sunbridge development south of Orlando International Airport.
The change technically converts the land from a natural resources designation back to its original mixed-use designation, county planners told the commission at Monday’s meeting.
Tavistock requested the second change to Osceola’s comprehensive plan after deciding to build a water treatment plant for Sunbridge at another location.
Osceola County Commissioner Viviana Janer said county planners told her that moving the water treatment plant away from the forest was environmentally preferable. The planners explained the measure at Monday’s meeting using technical jargon and legalese.
“Not everybody is familiar with the technical piece. I think we, as a commission, have gotten used to it. But when you’re looking from the outside and you’re a member of the audience and not used to listening to these terms and terminology on a day to day basis that makes it confusing to the public,” Janer said at the meeting.
County Commissioner Peggy Choudhry also had county planners confirm during the meeting that the change in designation was unrelated to the controversial plan to extend Osceola Parkway through a section of Split Oak Forest.
Tavistock has successfully lobbied the Central Florida Expressway Authority to extend Osceola Parkway eastward to benefit future Sunbridge residents. Many plans for the toll road expansion that CFX is considering would impact the Split Oak Forest.
The 2,100-acre conservation area was purchased with taxpayer dollars more than 20 years ago in anticipation of the development boom there. It was kicked off by Tavistock with Lake Nona, a 17 square-mile community and business district just north of the Osceola County line.
The boom is far from over, and government officials are now considering lifting protections for Split Oak to accommodate the needs of continued growth.
Lake Nona encompasses high-end homes, recreation facilities and Medical City – a 650-acre health and life sciences park that includes Nemours Children’s Hospital and the Orlando VA Medical Center.
It has spurred massive residential and commercial growth in Osceola along Narcoossee Road. Sunbridge is expected to do the same. Both the forest and the planned community span Osceola and Orange counties.
St. Cloud resident Valerie Anderson spoke out against the change during Monday’s public hearing and has been advocating to protect the forest from development for nearly two years.
“Changing the county’s comprehensive plan is supposed to be a big deal. But in Osceola County (the Commission) changes it at practically every meeting,” said Anderson, who founded the Friends of Split Oak Forest advocacy group in 2017.
“We don’t have a comprehensive plan. Whenever a developer wants a change, we make one,” said Anderson, who has built a coalition of local residents and environmentalists from around Central Florida through Friends of Split Oak.
Anderson has asked county commissioners to create a resolution protecting Split Oak, considering it was purchased with public money for public use, but to no avail.
The organization has filed a lawsuit against the county to protect the forest. The next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 2.