The Board of County Commissioners in Orange County have an opportunity to take Central Florida to the next level… but will they?
By Jacob Engels
Over the past few weeks, we have been focusing greatly on the fight to get the nation’s 4th only “agrihood” built in East Orange County. The development would feature edible walking trails, community gardens, farm-to-table restaurant, equestrian housing and more. Labeled, “The Grow”, the proposed “agrihood” has 55% more open space and almost 30% less pavement than surrounding master-planned communities like Avalon Park.
Last week, we attended a meeting of the organization “Save Orange County”, and discovered that racist, homophobic, and classist undertones were motivating this groups opposition to the project. “We don’t want them people who are going to live in that agri-HOOD,” “Students and that school are the problem,” and “that’s what AIDS is doing to your generation,” and other detestable remarks were uttered by supporters or members of “Save Orange County” when people spoke in favor of balanced growth.
Now, with only 7 days until the BOCC votes on this matter, it’s time that they fully understand what they could do to stiffle Central Florida’s growing momentum by bending the knee to a SMALL collective of people opposed to ANYTHING DIFFERENT. Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Commissioner Victoria Siplin, Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, Commissioner Pete Clarke, Commissioner Scott Boyd, Commissioner Bryan Nelson, and Commissioner Ted Edwards… here is what is at stake.
Development is coming and Central Florida, in particular East Orange County, continue to expirence vast growth each year. Our proximity to the nation’s second largest school is a driving force for that growth.
Last year, UCF awarded more national merit scholarships than any other Florida institution and UCF was ranked the “Best Southeastern College” by The Princeton Review.
With UCF continuing to grow and rise to the top, we as a county must do everything we can to help contribute to balanced growth, and developments that will serve as important recruitment tools for UCF. The Grow does just that.
Imagine, a professorial candidate having to chose between UCLA and UCF and how much the incentive of the nation’s 4th only “agrihood” being situated less than 5 miles from their new work could play a role in us attracting the best and brightest professors, or administrators and support staff for that matter.
Imagine a student at the top of their class who want to go to school in a city where they can graduate and lay down roots… how powerful it would be to have The Grow as a shining gem they can look forward to and be motivated to start a family and their life in the city they went to school.
Imagine a leading prospect for a defense contractor, technology leader, simulation or engineering giant looking at the areas surrounding his job offers… what they would see with a groundbreaking community like The Grow.
The most important thing the BOCC can do is work to provide the best environment they can to attract the best and brightest to Orange County. The best jobs providers, investors… and the best students, educators and employees looking to secure a new job.
John Hitt, current President of UCF, recently said…
“Any university’s most strategic resource is its people: talented faculty and staff members and students. We must do all we can to continue to attract and retain the brightest and best to our community. To achieve this objective, especially in challenging times, we must nurture and protect efforts that enable the university to achieve its core academic mission.”
With that in mind, I think the BOCC should tread very carefully. Do they want to be known as the group of people who stopped Central Florida from becoming a leader in yet another area? We are the 4th largest growing area in America, have the nation’s 2nd largest university, and the 4th largest research parkway. Now, we can have the nation’s 4th only “agrihood”? But we might not…and why… because our BOCC might yield to the political pressure being placed on them from a group of people (1,000 or less) who want to serve far less than half on one percent of the total population in this county.
Commissioner Ted Edwards, who represents the area where the proposed development is planned, has aspirations of becoming Mayor of Orange County one day. Will he and his commission colleagues, who each have their own political dreams, serve an isolated group of people who are motivated by hate and ignorance or will they continue helping Central Florida’s forward momentum?
Will they stand in the way of helping the recruiting momentum of UCF which has 61,000 students who spend $30,000 a year in Central Florida, or the 20,000 families who live locally and send their children to UCF? What about the 100,000 alumni who live locally and want to see UCF be all it can be and continue to grow?
And what of the families in Central Florida with children that will someday go to college. With UCF becoming more and more renowned and diverse in their offerings, it’s a much easier sell for Central Florida high school students to attend UCF and live close to their families. Will Commissioner Ted Edwards and his collegues on the commission stand in the way of growth that would see families spending more time with their children during their college years?
The Board of County Commissioners certainly have a lot to think about in the next week, whether they will stifle forward momentum or promote forward momentum and balanced growth. Whether or not to listen to small fraction of society that pays far less in taxes, who don’t vote regularly or aren’t registered to vote.
Or, they can stand up for the greater good in Central Florida and Orange County. They can match growth with growth – but balanced growth that is environmentally conscious and brings much needed tax revenue to fix our broken roads system in East Orange County.
The Orlando Sentinel observed that the Department of Economic Opporunity for the State of Florida recently stated that Central Florida’s jobs and growth engines are very important to the state.
The choice for me is clear, we need to support balanced growth and forward momentum in Central Florida. Let’s hope the BOCC gains the same clarity over the next 7 days, even if they need a little nudging.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org