Fledgling group had a much smaller than usual crowd at July 13th meeting.
By Jacob Engels
Earlier this week, I attended a publicly advertised “townhall” meeting organized by Save Orange County, a group who has made a name for themselves squashing any and all development in East Orange County. The focus of this meeting was the planned developments for Lake Pickett North (LPN) and Lake Pickett South (LPS). After several of the board members of Save Orange County informed attendees about their ongoing campaign to stifle ALL DEVELOPMENT in East Orange County, they opened the floor up for a question and answer segment from the crowd.
While a little over 100 people attended this meeting as a “ramp up” to the upcoming County Commission Meeting, the audience was told that the group had previously averaged over 500. One of the moderators then announced that in recent months Save Orange County has seen several board members leave to actually support these developments, and is in the midst of severe infighting over the direction of the group.
After a few people spoke about their concerns regarding the LPN and LPS, I was allowed to voice my opinions on the projects.
As many of you have read in the past month, I am in favor of “The Grow” – a development that will be only the Nation’s 4th “agrihood”, teaching residents to live closer to the land with a central farm, edible walking trails, community gardens, a farm-to-table restaurant and more.
Shortly after other guests and the leaders of Save Orange County realized that I was there to ask reasonable questions about the positive impacts of the proposed developments…they quickly interrupted. Until this point, no one had been interrupted or stopped from sharing their thoughts, including one SOC audience member categorizing County Commissioners as “snakes”, as their points had seemingly been on par with the messaging of Save Orange County.
Eventually, several members of the crowd suggested I “go back to where I came from” or “go home,” for simply stating an opposing viewpoint. But that was just the beginning. As the night went on, of the almost 25 people who spoke at the event, at least 13 of those ended up speaking in favor of the developments, particularly “The Grow”.
At one point, a UCF student who said he was from Texas and speaking in support of the development highlighted his growing up with the rural lifestyle. The student would go on to discuss his dismay with communities like Avalon Park, and said that a development like “The Grow” was something that would make him feel more at home.
Before finishing his thoughts, the UCF student was interrupted by an audience member who discounted his opinions and then argued that the young man’s differing viewpoint was “what AIDS was doing to that generation.”
This type of remark would be the first of two made during the night against people speaking in support of the new development that would bring a much needed tax-base to the area and speed up the improvement of congested roadways.
Later on, another attendee who asked how the group was going to deal with the rude comments being made by supporters of Save Orange County was accosted by a man for having those “embarrassing skinny jeans”.
“I will graduate from UCF in a few years and if I could move into a community like The Grow, it would really change my plans for moving back to where I grew up,” Patrick Garcia, 25 told the East Orlando Post.
When another East Orange County resident highlighted the importance of bringing an “agrihood” to the Central Florida area, he was followed by a Save Orange County supporter who quipped that he did not want an “agri-HOOD,” emphasizing the type of people that he believes to live in developments; you know, because the hood in “agrihood” will bring “those people” to this side of town. Towards the conclusion of the night, another Save Orange County supporter explained that their rural lifestyle should not be changed.
“We don’t want anyone coming to this area. We don’t want renters, students, or people who are going to live in this ‘HOOD’.”
When another UCF student reached the microphone, attendees and supporters of the Save Orange County group turned their focus on the nation’s 2nd largest university.
“UCF is the problem. They are on our roads and in our part of town. We don’t want them here.”
The meeting continued deteriorating, led by a women who identified herself as a UCF professor, questioning the students’ intelligence and motives.
Former Marathon, Florida City Manager James DeCocq, who has managed over 150 special taxing districts said he was in support of balanced growth, intelligent designs, and communities like “The Grow.” “I can definitely understand some of the developmental concerns of the people in this room, but the way they handled themselves was inappropriate. So many of their problems with “The Grow” seem based on partial or misinformation. People should have the right to speak freely at a publicly advertised town hall meeting. To me, the derogatory undertones were shocking and had nothing to do with the subject at hand,” DeCocq told the East Orlando Post.
So now I suppose we know what Save Orange County supporters are really worried about saving the East Orange County area from.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at email@example.com