Conservation land preserved in Kissimmee after Osceola officials deny rezoning request

Townhomes were intended for county property, located west of Pleasant Hill Road and north of Suzette Drive, shown on the map above.

Osceola County may be pushing back on some new development projects in areas that lack the roads and schools to support them.

County Commissioners took a stab at it on June 17 by rejecting a re-zoning request that would have converted almost 11 acres of conservation land in Kissimmee to low-density residential housing.

Townhomes were intended for the property, located west of Pleasant Hill Road and north of Suzette Drive, according to a county staff report. Three to eight residential units per acre would be allowed if zoning was approved, resulting in 150 or more additional cars on nearby roads.

That worried resident Elizabeth Forbes who lives on Suzette Drive and voiced concerns about the impact the decision may have on the surrounding community.

Forbes said she wasn’t against townhomes or apartments described in the plan.

“Our community needs affordable housing,” she said. “The concerns we all have are about the infrastructure that’s not in place for this proposed development.”

The resident noted that the project would be within one mile of the busy intersection of Orange Blossom Trail and Pleasant Hill Road. Adding more cars would only intensify an already unpleasant traffic situation, Forbes said.

The resident also worried about new students entering nearby public schools like Pleasant Hill Elementary, Horizon Middle and Poinciana High that are already near or at capacity.

 “There are too many unanswered questions,” Forbes said. “We deserve more transparency and better communication.”

Another resident asked if a stop light would be added nearby.

“I think this development would be wonderful, but I think we need a light there,” James Forbes said.

Building new homes without preparing nearby roads and schools is a common complaint for Osceola County residents, who often blame intense traffic on rapid growth. Previously, county commissioners said the state of Florida rendered local governments powerless to halt development projects due to what’s known as concurrency passed in 2012.  

But at a June 3 meeting, County Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. said it might be time for local government to start pushing back.

“I want the attorney’s office, the county manager’s office – bring back whatever you can for this board to address,” he said. “If it takes us getting sued, that might bring light to what we deal with turning down some development.”

Two weeks later at the June 17 meeting, County Commissioner Brandon Arrington - whose district includes the proposed project in the area - made the first motion to deny the rezoning request for townhomes.  

He echoed school capacity concerns and on-going traffic woes in Poinciana.

Arrington said he recently met with officials from the Florida Department of Transportation who expect a proposed fly-over bridge meant to alleviate congestion to take a decade or more to complete.  

Hawkins backed Arrington, adding that gridlock may have a direct impact on response time from emergency personnel.

“We’re going to have to look harder at this now,” he said.

Compatibility was another major reason the zoning request was denied. The surrounding area near the 11-acre property is mostly rural, so new townhomes wouldn’t mesh well with the existing neighborhood, county officials said.