Friday, July 4, 2008

Geller: Preserve Avalon's Rural Character

Rick Geller’s Statement to the
Avalon Homeowner & Property Owners Association

Dear Friends:

I live in a neighborhood in the West Windermere Rural Settlement District, near Fiquette and C.R. 535, and hope to represent you on the Orange County Commission.

I grew up on two acres of land, half of it wooded, in Amberley Village, Ohio, outside of Cincinnati. I spent my childhood blazing trails and playing in the backyard creek beds. To maintain a rural ambiance, Amberley requires large lots, parks, and greenbelts between streets, while prohibiting sidewalks and streetlights.

I married into an agricultural family. My wife, Gabriela, is from a small village in Argentina, where her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have worked the land as farmers and ranchers since the late 1800’s. My four children—Hannah, Max, Melissa, and Caroline—and I ride horses on our visits to my wife’s family.

Orange County reversed longstanding policy and, due to liability concerns, no longer allows horseback riding on Conserve II land. This policy, however, is inconsistent with the County allowing ten miles of horseback riding on the West Orange Trail (which links to the Clarcona Horse Park). I am an attorney and, having reviewed Florida law, determined that, with some exceptions, one who sponsors horseback riding “is not liable for an injury to…a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.” As a Commissioner, I would urge the County to again permit horseback riding on Conserve II land by those who sign a release and indemnity agreement. We can protect Orange County against unwarranted lawsuits while restoring Avalon residents’ recreational opportunities.

Before the 429 opened, I often drove through Avalon on C.R. 545 on my way between home and Tampa. Carol Johnson gave me an in-depth tour of Avalon, on roads less traveled. To adequately buffer Avalon from more intense land uses in Horizon West, such as landfills (which often seek expansion), high density residential neighborhoods, and the Town Center commercial district, will pose challenges in the years ahead. My experience as a community volunteer, working to buffer and protect neighborhoods, would lend itself well to helping Avalon deal with these issues.