ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — More than 2 million people are projected to live in Orange County by the year 2050.
What You Need To Know
- Orange County is drawing up a Vision 2050 plan, which will include a blueprint called Orange Code
- There will be more than a dozen meetings with residents, meant to solicit feedback
- A grassroots group called Save Orange County likes what it sees in the efforts so far
Thus, keeping rural land intact and protecting the environment, while responding to massive growth that is coming is a delicate balance.
That is why the county is working on a plan to set goals, draft policy and address growth, now the impetus for its Vision 2050 project. More than a dozen meetings with residents are meant to solicit feedback.
“It is unsustainable to continue to keep building out. Traffic continues to be a major issue, a problem,” said Alberto Vargas, Orange County's Planning Division manager. “We’re trying to better understand and draft the principles of how should we grow. We are not going to be doing business the same way.”
A comprehensive plan will serve as a blueprint for development, Vargas explained, with a new code, called Orange Code.
Some areas with underutilized or inefficiently laid out land, such as International Drive, will be rife for development. The area is currently a tourist zone, filled with attractions, but with few homes, apartments, parks or transportation options. Vargas said 24 acres will be targeted for infill development, making the area more pedestrian-friendly while accommodating to mixed incomes.
And as leaders met with residents and stakeholders to workshop in a series of meetings, Vargas said that sustainability and preservation of natural resources gravitated to the top of the concern list.
“Areas in Orange County will be targeted for an evolution, transformation. But there are also areas in Orange County that are going to be preserved,” Vargas said. "It’s about future generations that are growing up in Orange County.”
The future is something that professor, mother and environmentalist Kelly Semrad thinks about as well.
“For my children, if they continue to pave over all the land, what’s left for our next generation? It’s just concrete,” Semrad said. "We spend probably more time outside than we do indoors."
In 2013, Semrad and her husband moved to the area “east of the Econ River.” They loved the tranquility, larger lots and focus on rural lands.
But, since her move, Semrad said she and others have been fighting development. They formed a group called Save Orange County — a grassroots effort that Semrad said is now comprised of a community of nearly 13,000 people. Their red shirts are hard to miss, frequently dotting the Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting room.
According to Semrad, the group's overarching goal is to steer growth into Central Florida’s concentrated core.
And when it comes to Orange County Vision 2050, members of the group like what they’re seeing so far.
“It’s a good idea. It’s what we refer to as smart or sustainable growth,” she said. “The problem is once they put that plan into implementation, there are amendments. Within Orange Code, what we would like to see is that there’s actually a code for country estate living.”
In the meantime, some group members will attend a July meeting, serving as a voice for the community, Semerad said.
“I’m an environmentalist at heart, but I also believe preservation of natural lands leads to an increased quality of life,” she said.