Friday, September 2, 2011

What Should a Rural Settlement Look Like?

Chancellor's proposed West Windermere Hamlet
Architecture by Tory Parish, Jackson-Parish Architects
3-D modeling by AzulArc, Atlanta, Georgia
 The Orange County Commission voted 6-1 to transmit a Land Use amendment allowing Chancellor Investments, LLC, a client of my law firm, to develop the corner of C.R. 535 and Fiquette-Hancock Road, in West Orange County.  The buildings face inward, away from C.R. 535, creating the rural village Main Street environment depicted above, which even the project's critics concede is beautiful.  The site falls within, and sits at the edge of the West Windermere Rural Settlement. 

The application has raised passions about Orange County's rural settlements.  At the transmittal hearing on August 30, a half dozen leaders from various Rural Settlements spoke in opposition, concerned that approval of Chancellor's application would set a precedent for more commercial development in their own Rural Settlements. 

My law partner, Kurt Ardaman, former president of the Gotha Rural Settlement's community association, created a record demonstrating how the West Windermere Rural Settlement is unlike any other.  Suburban subdivisions--mostly gated--predominate West Windermere: Keene's Point, Lake Butler Sound, Glenmuire, Waterstone, Oxford Moor, Tildens Grove, to name a half dozen.   Most West Windermere residents live a suburban lifestyle--without the horses, livestock, and large tracts of open land typical of other Rural Settlements.  Commissioners Russell, Edwards, Brummer, and Damiani stated that approval would not set a precedent.

Bellaria--A typical gated suburban subdvision in West Windermere.
Upscale new homes in Waterstone, a gated subdivision in West Windermere.   
My daughter, Hannah, walking to stables for horseback riding in the Avalon Rural Settlement--an environment very different from suburban West Windermere.  
The protections of living in a Rural Settlement are not absolute.  The County's Future Land Use policies have permitted intrusion of surburban sprawl into Rural Settlements--both residential (allowed by the County's Comprehensive Plan as "clustering") and commercial: 
Glenmuire--A gated subdivision in West Windermere. 

Clarcona Rural Settlement--intersection of Apopka-Vineland and Clarcona-Ocoee Road

Christmas Rural Settlement.
Commercial sprawl like that depicted above is of particular concern by Rural Settlement leaders.  This raises the question: what should a Rural Settlement look like?  The current zoning code--regulating use, intensity, and density--inadequately preserves the look and feel of a Rural Settlement. 

In Gotha, where time stands still on a quaint rural village Main Street, a Mediterranean mansion intrudes. 

Gotha Rural Village Main Street (Hempel Avenue)

Architectural incongruity.  This suburban Mediterranean home, though beautiful, is inconsistent with Gotha's historic, Old Florida structures next door and across the street. 
Form-based zoning standards could help avoid architectural debasement of Rural Settlements.  Standards proposed by Chancellor--requiring Florida vernacular architecture--could help.  

The County removed considerable land from the Lake Whippoorwill Rural Settlement along Narcoosie Road last year--a reaction to the highway's six-laning--for new commercial and office uses. The intersection of Conroy-Windermere and Apopka-Vineland Road, removed from the West Windermere Rural Settlement in the 1990's when the roads became four-lane highways, now features hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial and office development.  The widening of Clarcona-Ocoee Road into a multi-lane highway will increase pressures in the Clarcona Rural Settlement.  Rural Settlement leaders should pay close attention to the County's Capital Improvements Element, as it goes through the approval process each year, and urge transportation network alternatives to widening roads in and adjacent to Rural Settlements, including improving connectivity.  When roads become highways, commercial pressures--and pressures to chip away at Rural Settlements--surely follow.