This is an incredible deal for the county as a whole, and the commission is to be commended for considering it.
By Jacob Engels
Last year our publication was wildly critical of the Seminole County Commission for their reckless handling of the controversial River Cross development. They’ve been in federal court and a month ago, the commissioners voted 5-0 to explore a trade of the 667 acre River Cross property for the 238 acre Econ River Wilderness Area. The properties are right across the Econ River from each other.
This is the biggest “no-brainer” for Seminole County since they swapped out the name Mosquito County.
The properties literally abut. The county is getting 667 acres and giving up 238 acres – almost twice as much uplands and about eight times as much wetland. According to supporttheswap.com, the county paid $3.5 million for the land in 1994 and the developer, former state legislator Chris Dorworth, is paying $35.3 for the land now. Even factoring in inflation that number doesn’t reach $6 million. Almost three-to-one in size and six-to-one in cost.
Heck of a deal, but that doesn’t begin to explain why this deal is so critical. The River Cross piece is 667 acres, most all of them developable, that is 1.6 miles as the crow flies from the University of Central Florida. It is huge, and it is tempting both now and forever. This was the piece of land that got 660 lots approved on it in 1992 that quite literally led to the formation of the first rural area in the comp plan that became the charter rural area. The schools are a 24/30 on Greatschools.org and as long as the land is not made into a permanent conservation area, developers and homebuilders will want to make it part of suburbia.
In the sixteen years since the voters passed the rural area, only two applications have been made to develop in the boundary and both are rejected. A family tried to make a shopping center up the road at Snow Hill Road in the rural area 12 years ago and now, Dorworth’s attempt at River Cross, so the economics of developing smaller parcels seem to be uninviting.
It isn’t a cheap or easy or popular thing to do, but Dorworth has been aggressive about doing it. He convinced the Florida House of Representatives to legislatively remove the River Cross development from the rural area to allow the city of Oviedo to develop the property, something they couldn’t do if it was in the rural area. The senate did not take the bill up, so Dorworth sued in federal court. He runs the Orlando office of one of the nation’s largest and most powerful lobby firms and counts among his close friends some of the state’s most powerful elected and business leaders.
Would a developer like Dorworth do this for a 50-acre strawberry farm in Black Hammock? Only if he wanted to lose money.
No, its got to be a big one and HI-Oaks is the single biggest contiguous piece of land near any city that could annex and develop the property should the federal court strike down the rural boundary. It is the Big Kahuna. The White Whale.
The Econ River Wilderness Area has 13 5’ acre parcels that neighbor it to the north. I am sure they aren’t pleased. But make no mistake…. if Seminole County loses that lawsuit on the basis that it had a segregative (racially segregated) zoning code, developers will take a torch to the rural area. Winter Springs and Oviedo will expand their tax bases through the Black Hammock and Chuluota all the way of 426 into Geneva. It’s proximity to UCF will drive industrial, commercial and residential growth at rates that the county will not be able to slow down.
It has happened literally everywhere else in central Florida, and the world class schools and available land of Seminole County will be the biggest draw of all.
So a word of advice to those who say the county should reject this swap. If you will, close your eyes and imagine how you’ll feel should a judge rule against the county knowing that the county could have tripled their land and forever taken the most enticing piece of undeveloped land off the chopping block for all time but decided to roll the dice to protect Seminole County’s future.
This is an incredible deal for the county as a whole, and the commission is to be commended for considering it. Up next, I will be reviewing the respective websites (one supports and one opposes) and discuss the arguments here. Stay Tuned!!!
Jacob Engels is an Orlando based journalist whose work has been featured and republished in news outlets around the globe including Politico, Infowars, MSNBC, Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Daily Mail UK, Associated Press, People Magazine, ABC, Fox News, and Australia’s New Dawn Magazine, LauraLoomer.US, and The Gateway Pundit.
Mr. Engels focuses on stories that other news outlets neglect or willingly hide to curry favor among the political and special interests in the state of Florida and beyond.