Future of Osceola parks decided at commission meeting

As a community’s population grows, so should its parks. That was the logic behind standards put in place by prior Osceola officials  - to create a park-to-person ratio to provide enough green space and recreational facilities for the county’s future.

Those standards came into questions in June, when current county commissioners nearly approved major strategic plan changes meant to serve as the standard for park development until 2040.

The proposal before commissioners June 4 would have cut the relative size of community parks – which typically include facilities like sports fields, walking paths and green space - by more than half, from four acres per 1,000 residents to 1.5 acres.

It would have also reduced the size of regional parks - which tend to be larger and showcase natural resources like lakefront shorelines or conservation areas - from six acres to five acres per 1,000 residents. 

The changes didn’t sit well with many, including St. Cloud resident Valerie Anderson, who spoke about the proposed amendment at length during that meeting.

Her points raised so many doubts that commissioners voted to have staff re-evaluate the ordinance and bring it back to the board in September.

That’s what happened on Sept. 10. Anderson – who also serves as the Policy and Legislative Chair for the Pine Lily Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society - thanked county staff and commissioners for some changes, though she pointed out that the new amendment still contains some flaws.

Taleaways from the Large-Scale Comprehensive Plan Amendment:

  • One community park per 15,000 people. The previous standard for community parks was four acres per 1,000 people.
  • Provisions for regional parks increased from 6 acres per 1,000 people to 10 acres per 1,000 people.
  • There is no minimum acreage requirement for community parks now.
  • Stronger wording that prevents public lands being purchased for private purposes.

Anderson said she “really liked” the county’s changes to regional park acreage, which, along with community parks, is projected to add 18 new parks to the county by 2040.

“I do hope those are all purchased, planned and developed,” she said

But Anderson said she and her group wanted to see a minimum 30 acres per community park and/or increase the number to two parks per 15,000 people.

She also voiced concerns about a language change from “levels of service” to “parks resource indicators.” The former is part of state statutes that would guarantee greater enforcement protections, Anderson said, unlike the new language, which serves more as a general guideline.

There was discussion from county commissioners. Peggy Choudhry said she wanted to add an acreage minimum to community parks, as Anderson requested.

But ultimately, the board approved the ordinance as presented.

Chairman Fred Hawkins Jr. said he would like for staff to bring it back in three years to see if it was working correctly.