“The Grow” May Well Be the Solution to East Orange County’s Congestion
By James DeCocq
For the last 20 years I have been involved in development, growth, and growth management throughout this great State of ours. For the last 25 years I have been involved locally, nationally, and internationally with ecosystem restoration projects, most of which, unfortunately, involved unnecessary mitigation for developmental impact. As a three-time City Manager in newly incorporated Florida municipalities, I have had the unique experience of balancing the wants and needs of growth with rectifying the inadequacies of basic preexisting infrastructure, such as water and sewer systems, storm water drainage, and of course roadways and traffic control.
As the Manager of over 50 Community Development Districts (CDD), being involved with the operation and maintenance, updating infrastructure, and, in some cases, complete redevelopment of over 150 such developments, I have been afforded the knowledge of what to do, and in many cases what not to do, while fixing designer and developer oversights. Finally, being directly involved with the operations and maintenance of hundreds of public and private facilities on vastly varying scales, I have gained insight into efficiencies and helped dozens of communities avoid costly mistakes by building correctly from the beginning.
In each of these cases, the goal was always to minimize cost and impact, maximize longevity and return on investment, and provide for the needs of my residents.
I have spent the better part of the last three (3) years traveling by car from coast to coast, through almost the entire contiguous 48 States, helping various corporations extend their reach into almost every conceivable type of neighborhood in almost every conceivable region. Suffice it to say, I have seen more of this Country than most, particularly during these trying times.
With all of this being said, from the standpoint of both a public and private Government Administrator, someone with degrees in Marine Biology and Marine Affairs and Policy, and someone who has seen and corrected the mistakes of dozens of development projects, I have to voice my strong support for the concept of The Grow. Moreover, I offer the idea that The Grow may not only offer a solution to traffic congestion on the east side of Orange County, but also an opportunity to become a blueprint for alleviating similar issues throughout the County and the State. In short, The Grow seems to incorporate very sound principles of minimum impact on the area, with maximum self-sufficiency, as opposed to the standards of lacking internal facilities and operations provided for new residents, and major impact on the existing community infrastructure. These are goals that I think we can all appreciate.
This proposed development is planning for things that I have been emphasizing, and have been successfully implemented in my communities over the last two (2) decades, however, never on this scale, and unfortunately most of the time as a developer afterthought. Orange County, but in particular East Orange County, has a unique opportunity to be a part of something that is quite literally groundbreaking. But, more importantly, we have the opportunity to cure many of our greatest ills. Through principles such as the use of native and edible plantings, public gardens, and fishing ponds, The Grow can help meet some of the demand for food on a local level, with the community being able to provide, at least a bit, for themselves.
With greater than 50% of the development dedicated to open space, they are providing recreational opportunities, reducing impervious surface, minimizing potential population and pollution loads, and conserving resources through reduced maintenance. And, depending on how they intend to engineer ingress and egress, and what support they lend to upgrading main thoroughfares abutting the community, they can help redirect and/or remove traffic from the busiest roadways, and even expedite traffic improvements for the area in general. Now, all of this depends on open communication between The Grow, the County, and most importantly East Orange County Residents.
So, I say, it is time for the Residents of East Orange County to become more involved with understanding exactly what The Grow and other developments propose and how this may provide what we are missing on this side of town. It is time for the County to work with developments who are indeed trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, and minimize impact to the area, while providing needed amenities and common sense solutions to future growth issues. It is time for developments, in general, to consider similar principles in conserving resources, reducing short-term and long-term expenditures, minimizing local and regional impacts, and overall improving life for local residents. It is time for developers who are not only concerned with themselves and maximizing profits through building as much as they are legally allowed, who are not allowed to build without consideration of the existing community in general, and who do not create all of the infrastructure necessary to provide for their new residents, be it schools, recreation facilities, sewer capacity, etc.
But most importantly, it is time for the The Grow to be allowed to assist with the alleviation of traffic impacts in any and every way possible in association with this project. It is time for the County to assist with this process, whenever and wherever possible, be it through a Development Agreement, a Private-Public Partnership, or the establishment of a Community Development District, which could relieve the County, and the general Taxpayers, from funding construction and ongoing maintenance of much needed roadway improvements, and other major infrastructure necessary for such an endeavor, placing these obligations on the future residents of The Grow. Of all the exciting innovations presented in The Grow plans thus far, “growth paying for growth” would indeed trump them all, and bring great relief to serious problems facing East Orange County, now and well into the future.
James D. DeCocq is the President and CEO of NJC Corp Enterprises, Inc. which specializes in the creation and management of local governments, and environmental design. He has been contracted throughout Florida and the Caribbean to help create, fund, and manage various scales and types of projects, including special taxing districts, traditional developments, and environmental restoration projects. James has decades of experience in local government, building municipalities from the ground up, and is hailed nationally as a government efficiency expert. He can be reached at email@example.com