A developer who wishes to make a substantial change to an intended use or zoning in Orange County must first participate in a community meeting with surrounding residents. After attending several about proposed work here in Horizon West, I have noticed some common and consistently shared arguments which I feel are not nearly as effective as those who share them believe they are. Let me explain.

“But when I bought here I was told…” [...]

On Wednesday, February 29, 2012, national traffic calming expert and executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, Dan Burden, hosted a walkability audit of the intersection of County Road 535 and Overstreet Road here in Horizon West for several concerned parents of students attending Sunset Park Elementary.

During the brief walking audit, Dan, who indicated “gross omissions”, pointed out several problems but also shared practical solutions to implement.

The only thing as disappointing as our reason for having him there was the lack of participation by the school’s administration particularly after multiple email invitations and a phone call. We received no explanation, excuse, or reason for their lack of interest. It would be nice to have their partnership in pressuring the County for improvements for life safety for their students.

If you missed Beth Kassab’s Orlando Sentinel column “Suburbs Shouldn’t Settle For Riskier Roads” on March 4, you should know that the accompanying video was shot during the audit. I found it particularly illustrative with moms and a stroller walking in the foreground and vehicles zooming both directions in the background. Great job Beth and George Skene of the Sentinel!

Also, click to see an earlier assessment I performed on this intersection aslt fall. I feel Dan was able to better boil down the problems to immediate needs with solutions.

Please click for Dan’s assessment of and suggestions for this intersection. This will launch a PDF.


Last fall, the McDonald’s restaurant here in Lakeside Village of Horizon West was constructed and opened. It’s built identically to the style and site plan of the McDonald’s in Winter Garden Village. This is not an anti McDonald’s tirade. In fact, I enjoy their fries as much as anyone. And it’s not completely an anti drive-through tirade. After all, I have kids and sometimes that’s just plain easier. This is a ding on the developer and county officials who approved the site plan for this restaurant.

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McDonald’s wanted a drive-through in this ‘pedestrian-friendly’ location. They got it. Sad thing is, at this location, an individual outside of the vehicle gets twice as much exposure to moving vehicles as an individual at a typical suburban fast food restaurant with a drive-through!

During a typical drive-through process (and this is not great), a motorist must enter the property from the main thoroughfare, drive down the right side of the building, place the order at the rear of the building, drive around the left side of the building to pick up the order, and exit onto the main thoroughfare. Each individual walking to the property or coming from a parked car has one chance of exposure to each car moving through the drive-through.

At the new McDonald’s in our pedestrian-friendly Horizon West, each person walking from a parked car or from off property has double the exposure! No matter which vehicular access a motorist enters from, they must drive all the way around the building before placing an order. Then of course the process takes them around the building again after picking up the food order.

What gives?! This is worse than the usual suburban template. How was this allowed to happen here in Horizon West?

It’s time that we demand better. All drive-throughs are auto-oriented, but it’s time to think creatively about how they can be better integrated. The one-size-fits-all approach and standard cookie cutter template are no longer good enough.

If County officials won’t uphold the foundations of Horizon West, we have to remind them. And we have to stay ahead of their approval process by understanding what is at stake.

By the way, below are photos of fast food restaurants elsewhere with drive-through configurations that better separate motorists from individuals on foot in the parking lot or walking to the restaurant. It is possible to do better.

Beaverton, OR:

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Orlando, FL:

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January 27th, 2012

Harvesting Locally

During the January 10, 2012 Orange County Board of County Commissioners meeting, District 1 Commissioner Scott Boyd raised an issue related to water management that I found particularly interesting. He showed an aerial photo of a section of Horizon West within walking distance from my home. This track of land consists of a residence and a pick-your-own blueberry operation. The blueberry operation was new last spring, but it seems to have already become part of the community. In fact, I already look forward to taking my kids to pick this spring.

Once the issue of whether reclaimed water can be used was answered (it can subsurface, but it can’t touch the fruit), the question was raised as to whether other types of agricultural commodities, like blueberries, should qualify for the same discounted rate for reclaimed water as citrus. Should there be a standard agricultural rate for this water?

Don’t know where this will lead, but the general response was positive that standardization should occur if at all possible. Regardless, I’m hoping to see continued support for these types of endeavors in our community, and especially right here in Horizon West. The demand for locally produced foods is certainly growing. This benefits the local community. Plus less energy and fuel are used to transport, process, and package foods that are used locally.

“In the future, when we practice a different kind of agriculture than the heavily subsidized, petroleum-intensive, single-crop system we follow today, farming may be down-scaled and regionalized, more food grown and consumed locally.” - James Howard Kunstler in The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape

Over the last few weeks, residents in Lakeside Village have come together again. They have been organizing to plea with county leaders to deny a request by Avatar Homes to remove the required southern connector road in Lakeside Village from the planned development. The planned development is a set of guidelines attached to the property that define how it can be developed.

The decision was continued from September 13 and September 20. The majority of those speaking in support of denial live in the neighborhoods of Newbury Park, Grande Pines, and Lake Mabel Shores. Since the closure of Reams Road, they have seen drivers short cut through their neighborhoods to exit onto County Road 535. The intended route from Reams is to drive north on Lakeside Village Lane, but this adds several minutes and approximately a mile of travel. The safety issues are self-explanatory as these are small neighborhoods with families with young children. [...]

The debate continues over Lakeside Village Center. Currently, there are two ongoing discussions regarding roads. These include the closure of one and the placement of another. I feel, however, that the biggest hurdle to cross with our roadways here is even bigger than these. It will be making the zone between the current Reams Road and Chase Road a village-like zone. One must look at Lakeside Village within its context to determine the relevance of the debate.

Simply put County Road 535, also known as Winter Garden–Vineland Road, is a four-lane highway with wide smooth lanes, large empty shoulders, and, for the most part, no curbs.  One portion through Lakeside Village even includes elevated acceleration banks (high bank on the outside portion of the turn to accommodate speed). Drivers feel comfortable at a high rate of speed because the road was incorrectly designed for that purpose.

The portion of 535 between Reams Road and Chase Road must be treated differently in order for this to be our village center. We already have a massive fail just north of the village center. Sunset Park Elementary, our neighborhood school, was constructed on the east side of 535, and 1000+ homes are on the west side. The school’s geographical proximity makes it ideal for parents to walk their children and for kids to ride bikes to and from school.  However, to do so means crossing several lanes of highway during busy mornings. And did I mention that the speed limit on this portion is 55 mph?!  Obviously, this has created huge safety concerns (for most reasonable people). [...]