october 4, 2016

The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in special session entitled “Constructing a Better Lake County Summit” on Tuesday, October 4, 2016 at 1:00 p.m., at the Clermont City Center, 620 Montrose Street, Clermont, Florida.  Commissioners present at the meeting were:  Sean Parks, Chairman.  Others present were:  David Heath, County Manager; and Susan Boyajan, Deputy Clerk.

welcome and overview

Commr. Parks welcomed everyone to the summit.  He commented that although a significant portion of retirees are moving to Florida on a daily basis, residents aged 18 to 34 actually outnumber those that are 65 and older.  He related that demographers estimate that two-thirds of Florida’s population was born in other states, and he stated that the fact that Florida is now the third most populous state in the country shows that there is something special about it that attracts residents, including the beaches, natural resources, and low taxes.  However, he expressed concern about future population growth and how it will affect the State’s future water supply and other resources, and he noted that water supply planning and alternative supply development needed to be done immediately to meet the needs of the growing population.  He also commented that residents of all ages care about the environment and want to live in unique places.  He stated that the purpose of this Summit is to challenge themselves to set a new course that is clear and ushers in a new standard in the way they develop in order to continue using the motto “Real Florida, Real Close” in Lake County.

Mayor Gail Ash of Clermont also welcomed everyone and opined that Clermont was continuing to grow and getting better.

lake county growth trends

Mr. Robert Chandler, Economic Growth Director, opined that it was important to understand the level and type of growth they would be seeing in order to get an idea of how that would impact Lake County, since uncontrolled growth could mean the end to the County’s unique “Real Florida, Real Close” atmosphere and quality of life that is missing in other areas of the State.  He opined that there will be growth pressures as a result of living close to more developed regions such as the Orlando area, and they need to make sure that it was the type of growth that maintains the quality of life that they need and want in Lake County.  He presented a chart illustrating a 50 percent increase in the population growth in Lake County from 2000 to 2015 and that Lake County was the 19th most populated county in the State of Florida, with consistent and large growth continually coming into Lake County.  He also specified that 41 percent of residents moving to Lake County are coming from another state and 1 percent from another country, while 58 percent are coming from other areas of the State of Florida, with most coming from the Central Florida area, which illustrates that there were growth pressures pushing out of Orange County and the other nearby urban areas that were impacting Lake County’s growth the most.  He added that these growth patterns generally follow the major transportation corridors, including the US Hwy 441 corridor, State Road 50, the Turnpike, and I-4; and he presented statistics showing that the population in Lake County will increase from 316,000 in 2015 to 520,000 in 2045, noting that 100,000 new homes would have to be built to accommodate that number of residents.  He added that South Lake County has seen the most growth in the County of 130 percent from 2000 to 2016 and that South Lake is expected to grow another 12 percent in the next five-year period.  He reported that significant projects would greatly impact the county, such as the Wekiva Parkway project, the Minneola Interchange, and Wellness Way.  He concluded that growth was inevitable, but it was important to plan for the future so that they do not end up with something they do not want in Lake County.

land development, water and energy restoration

Mr. Pierce Jones, Director of the Program for Resource Efficient Communities and a professor from the University of Florida, discussed the impacts of design on transit, energy, and water as well as opportunities for increased density and transit efficiency.  He related that the mission statement of his group was to promote the application, design, construction, and management practices that measurably minimize environmental degradation and to make more efficient use of energy, water, and other natural resources in master plan communities. He mentioned that a solar PV (photovoltaic) system on a typical 1,500 square foot home replaces roughly 3 metric tons of carbon dioxide generated by the coal-fired power plant in Gainesville.  He discussed a 250-acre project that was initially designed in 2006 in Volusia County for a mixed use, transit-oriented community with roughly 3.5 million square feet of commercial space and 8,500 dwelling units, which was changed in 2008 after the economic downturn into a much more compact project, in which 72 lineal miles of roadway that would have been needed in the 2006 design decreased to 39 lineal miles in the 2009 plan.  He also pointed out that because of those changes and the fact that shopping was provided in that mixed-use community, landscaped areas were cut in half from 6 to 3 million square feet, the metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 6,000 metric tons, the number and length of vehicle trips that would have been generated on the roadways significantly decreased, and the cost of the project decreased by $145 million.  He also mentioned that the reduced trips on the roadways would result in a very large savings in gasoline costs for those residents, and the community was designed to be walkable and very convenient to get around without an automobile.  He discussed four basic landscaping practices which would save water, and he summarized that the design features he discussed such as greater density, retention of natural areas, vertical development, and mixed use design would result in reduced energy and costs, as well as resiliency in the face of an economic downturn.

Mr. Jones then presented a design that was submitted to Lake County for a 210-acre project called Heritage Green located north of the Wolfbranch area initially zoned rural transition.  He related that the developer of that project requested a Comprehensive Plan Amendment for low density residential of two units per acre, which would allow a change from the use of well and septic tank to being able to hook up to Mount Dora’s water supply and treatment system for 418 homes with 53 percent open space and amenities such as a four-and-a-half mile walking trail and pool.  He commented that some of the advantages of the request were a reduced cost of infrastructure from $15 million to $6 million resulting in a reduction for each household, an elimination of phosphates and pollutants from septic tanks in their natural areas, and increased tax revenue generated which would take care of the cost of maintaining that community in the future without shifting the burden on current residents.  He opined that the higher density designs are a better option that would promote greater resource efficiency, and he recommended that the densities not be restricted to two homes per acre in the Heritage Green development. He presented the idea of “Lifestyle Malls,” which were mixed use developments with apartments above or near a variety of businesses such as restaurants, shops, movie theaters, health and fitness centers, grocery stores, and offices.  He concluded that water, energy, agricultural and natural areas are better protected by these compact, resource efficient, transit-oriented designs.

the green leap:  a holistic approach for urban developments

Mr. Mark Hostetler, Professor in the Department of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Florida, discussed lessons he learned in habitat preservation and community education while working with master-planned communities such as Harmony in Orlando and green-living communities such as Madera in Gainesville and how these experiences could be applied to future projects.  He related that three steps to think about in order to achieve this would be to start with the kinds of designs that would preserve resources and biodiversity types of values, to then transfer that to the construction phase, and to manage development in a way that preserves long-term biodiversity, the green infrastructure, and the wildlife in that area. He presented some design guidelines such as reducing the amount of edge by using circular patches; using large patches, which are better than small ones; and ensuring that the connectivity of the patches will make it easier for species to travel through the area.  He stated, however, that a lot of the subdivisions are in areas where it is not possible to conserve large patches, but even the small patches are just as critical for a lot of wildlife species, such as the birds that are migrating through this area to get to South America.  He discussed a new evaluation tool to determine how to get the most optimal designs for a particular species by implementing different designs for any development project to obtain a score relative to the effect of that development to different species passing through that area.  He noted that although it is important to conserve and protect wetlands on the site, sometimes conserving every wetland on the site may not be prudent if it fragments the site, which would compromise biodiversity, and he suggested that they use wetland areas as stormwater parks or enhance stormwater basins instead in those instances when it would result in more functionality.

Mr. Hostetler then discussed what to do during construction in order to improve biodiversity on the site and minimize impacts on surrounding landscapes as well as how to design and manage the urban areas that are being built throughout the State to protect the natural areas surrounding them.  He mentioned that the first step would be to use native plants, which is important to preserve biodiversity onsite and could also save a lot of money, and to reduce the amount of lawn around each home.  He cautioned that improper fencing around trees could affect the roots and cause the destruction of those trees, and he suggested that they designate where the utilities, homes and roadways were in order to conserve more of the trees and habitat onsite, as well as the use of proper pruning techniques.  He added that heavy machinery parked continuously in the buffers will compact the soil and cause it to lose the property of percolation and functionality of filtering water coming off the urban part into the natural area.  He cautioned against having the earthwork machines bringing in invasive exotic species coming in and off the site, and he recommended raising the home above the 100-year flood zone and conserving the topography in the soil.  He noted that there were a wide range of problems due to human behaviors after residents move into the development, such as over-irrigation, over-fertilization, improper management of the stormwater systems, and unleashed pets roaming free throughout the area; and he suggested ways to change the behavior of residents that would conserve natural resources and lessen impacts on nearby natural areas, including educational signs, a website, and brochures.  He illustrated examples of signs that had been used that have panels that are inserted with information that could be changed over time as issues change or the sun fades the sign and it becomes hard to read.  He reported on a study that was done which had shown that this type of signage program changed people’s behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes more than other types of efforts that were tried.  He related that it was also important to determine who will take responsibility for management of the development and how it will be funded and that it was critical to secure permanent funding over many years to come for this purpose.  He gave some suggestions on how to do this such as having a portion of the lot sales set aside in a management fund, setting aside a monthly contribution from homeowner’s association dues, and use of impact fees and mentioned that management could be done by state, city, or private entities.  He concluded that it was important to think of the three phases of design, construction, and post-management in order to plan for growth management and conservation of natural resources.

recess and reassembly

Mr. Chandler announced at 2:15 p.m. that there would be a recess for 15 minutes.

sustainable development by design

Mr. Brian Canin, President of Canin Associates, recounted personal experiences designing Restoration, a master-planned community in Central Florida and discussed application of how these experiences can relate to creating value and sustainable development for new projects.  He related that his office is currently in the process of developing a new four-base zoning code for Orange County, which makes use of place-based designs and was an example of a more adaptable and flexible type of planning catering to a broad range of opportunities and conditions rather than a “one size fits all” approach.  He noted that there were many new tools available, and gave an example of a place in Central Florida that embodies what he would like to share and explore where people, cars, landscape, open space, and mixed use all seamlessly blend together in a very comfortable way, with generous sidewalks and calm streets.  He recapped that nature, fun in the sun, beauty, relaxation, health and wellness, lush landscapes, and nice and new urban areas are some of the things that originally brought people to Florida in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  He opined, however, that Florida started to change and began to look like every other place and become less inspiring by the 1950’s but that they can start to craft a more intelligent approach to development.  He stated that the definition of sustainability that resonated with him is to build sustainable places that get better over time rather than degrade over time, and he showed pictures of an environment that illustrates that definition over the last 100 years.  He commented that development has been using up a lot of land at an extravagant rate, noting that the Central Florida area has gone from 25 percent to 48 percent developed in a small amount of time, which he opined was a “wake-up call” that they need to do something different. He added that they are seeing escalating home prices, tight lending requirements, high cost of transportation, eroded personal wealth due to the recession, and pressing need for more affordable housing.  He displayed a chart showing that median income has been flat whereas prices for homes have been increasing, and he opined that they should begin to think about new housing concepts that are more affordable and fit people’s needs differently than in the past, since 50 percent of households are headed by single residents.  He expressed his interest in smaller high-density, single-family detached homes, and he spoke about a specific project of homes that were about 2,100 square feet built at a density of up to 14 units per acre resulting in less grass to mow, less property to maintain, and less road to build.

Mr. Canin discussed new ideas and tools for managing growth and planning, mentioning a new land development code for Orange County that caters to a broad range of contextual opportunities to replace a 60-year old code that was no longer useful and did not fit developers’ needs.  He explained the meaning of the five zones of the code ranging from T1 to T5, with T1 being preserved land with no developments and T5 being very high-density mixed use development, with standards and parameters for all of those levels that make it work all together.  He presented an illustration of a prototypical village, noting that there was a lot of connectivity with two-lane roads that were very pedestrian and bike friendly with sidewalks and canopy trees, as well as waterscapes, parks, and an integrative trail system.  He then showed a slide illustrating one of the projects he was working on in Manatee County that was on a 1,300-acre infill site overlooking Sarasota Bay consisting of 6,500 affordable and attractive units with components that one would want to see in a balanced infill community that caters to everyone’s needs, with a town center, workplace, multi-modal shaded trail, limited large store development, main street tied to a community open space, central park areas that could host community activities and get-togethers, and a 19-acre lake with a walkable circumference.  He mentioned that the use of edible plant materials is one alternative way of landscaping, and all of the parameters of the development could be organized and put together in a very workable design which would create high-value and great people places that would cater to a very broad range of needs and options.  He pointed out that they strive to keep beautiful amenities such as parks and lakes open without being encumbered by residential units, which adds overall value to the entire community rather than just the immediate value to the houses on it.  He concluded that reflecting, rediscovering, and building on what initially brought people to Florida will result in better and more sustainable development.

financing and marketing sustainable, healthy developments

Mr. Jim Lentz, Chairman, Harmony Development Company, opined that he believed that Lake County wants to cooperate with the developing community and to see it succeed, and he recounted personal experiences about developing the Harmony community, with an emphasis on how to finance and market green features.  He mentioned that the developers of Harmony were very responsible and receptive to the bottom-line costs, and they tried to figure out ways to make the development more environmental-friendly, such as the use of Energy Star specifications, which could be done at a similar cost of a typical home while saving the consumer 10 to 20 percent in future energy use and cost.  He presented a video illustrating a new project they were currently working on in Winter Haven called Harmony on Lake Eloise showing some of the amenities they included in their Harmony project in Osceola County.  He pointed out that the dog park was a popular and inexpensive amenity that was much more cost effective and popular than their golf course, and he commented that the amenities he had shown on the video, such as community gardens and greenhouses, were not expensive, gave the development a sense of community, and brought people together.  He added that they built eight to ten zero-net-energy homes in their previous development and will strive to make the new development contain all zero-net-energy homes, which made economic sense as well as providing environmental benefits.  He elaborated that they also were working on a cooperative agreement with the city to make their development a zero-net water community using reclaimed water provided by the city as well as swales and rain gardens throughout the community to capture rain water.  He opined that they believe the market indicates that a desire for these types of amenities will assure them a good return on their investment for those homes.  He added that another great feature of the original Harmony development was the dark sky lighting, which enables residents to have an amazing view of the sky at night and eradicates “light pollution” without costing more than typical lighting.  He related that although they could have built 200 homes around the two lakes in the neighborhood, they instead created a community development district encompassing 7,000 residents who pay a small premium which paid for the construction of a community park in front of the lake and creates access for the whole community to those lakes.  He suggested that developers can work in conjunction with local governments to come up with some creative solutions to improve their community and to do the right thing that will not result in higher costs.  He opined that estimation of migration to Lake County will be about 60 percent more than what is expected because of greater affordability, greater elevation, and a sandy soil.

panel discussion

There was an opportunity for audience members to ask the speakers a question or to make a comment.

Mr. Chandler started the question and answer session by asking each speaker to give one piece of advice regarding what Lake County should focus on as they move forward into the next era.

Mr. Pierce responded that they should look at density supporting the transit.

Mr. Hostetler stated that they should think about managing the property over the long-term.

Mr. Canin opined that it will take a lot of visionary leadership to make sure the tools are available for smarter growth.

Mr. Lentz commented that he believes there is growing popularity to do an agricultural-based community which grows crops within the neighborhood as part of a trend towards wellness which also includes walkability and bicycle access.

Mayor Gail Ash asked how they could get developers to build the types of great developments in Lake County that they presented.

Mr. Lentz assured her that they were starting to set the stage for that type of development, that developers want to do the right thing and to be environmentally conscious, and that they will find the developers that will be attracted to this beautiful part of the State.

Mr. Canin suggested that they find one or two developers that could do a pilot project and to build on that success.  He also noted that developers want to know that there is a predictable framework that they can work within which presents less difficulties getting through the process, adding that growth pressures will create incentives for developers to come to the area.

Mr. Hostetler recommended that governmental entities create enabling conditions for developers who try out new things that would get them through the permitting process faster.

Commr. Parks added that the County has to work with the developers in being more selective in the future of what they approve.

Mr. Lentz noted that he chose the location for his project based on the ability to work with a progressive government that would move the process along and allow them the entitlements to create the development properly.  He stated that the County has an opportunity by their cooperation to induce developers who will do the right thing.

There were questions, comments, and expressions of concern from other members of the audience on issues such as contacting the State to ask for fracking prohibitions, becoming a bedroom community of Orange County, the pending question of Water Management District credit for the swales in the Lake Eloise project, the problem of getting the power companies to be more accepting of zero-net-energy systems as the price of those systems decrease substantially, preserving the topography and hills in the Clermont area during development, reserving strategic places for employment centers, the possibility of a commuter rail system going from Mount Dora to Orlando in the future, the master gardener classes offered by the Agricultural Center to help adults and children learn to grow their own food, and the need for leadership to be able to lead the County towards better growth.

Commr. Parks thanked the Economic Growth staff for putting this summit together as well as the speakers who attended, and he expressed hope that the planners from the cities will be able to use some of the information in planning for future growth.  He commented that it was incumbent upon the elected governmental officials to strive to set the bar higher regarding development in Lake County and assured everyone that he was committed to taking the issue of better growth very seriously.  He concluded that they need to make the process more predictable and to work with the Home Builders Association and the business community in order to implement any of the changes that were discussed that day.


The Summit adjourned at 4:04 p.m.






sean M. parks, chairman