Osceola County has responded to efforts spearheaded by Audubon Florida and a coalition of Audubon chapters in Central Florida by ordering an independent ecological review of the vast Deseret North Ranch sector plan.
The 133,000 acre development proposal, involving a potential new population of over 500,000 people, and over 180,000 new housing units was headed on a fast track toward approval in October, when Audubon sounded the alert and filled the County Commission chamber with many concerned citizens and representatives from Audubon chapters in Osceola, Orange, Polk, Seminole and Lake Counties.
The Deseret development would be the largest single development proposal ever to take place in the state’s history.
The lands affected include important ecosystem components of the Econlockhatchee River Headwaters, the St. Johns River and tributaries, and highly important wildlife corridors and wildlife habitat. Components of the Sector Plan proposal include a proposed new bridge over the St. Johns River, and a new reservoir which would capture water now contributing to the base flow of the St. Johns River. In October, Osceola County Commissioners voted 4-1 against the transmittal of the plan to the Department of Economic Opportunity, the first step in the approval process. Instead, a commission majority asked the County Manger’s office to initiate a stakeholder process to further evaluate the proposal.
The county has now taken another important step to assure a proper and objective evaluation of this massive development project. Following recommendations made by Audubon Florida during stakeholder meetings, the county has retained some of Florida’s best known and most respected ecologists to perform a peer-review analysis of the sector plan and the land conservation plan presented by Deseret’s planners and biological consultants. The team, consisting of Dr. Richard Hilsenbeck of the Nature Conservancy. Dr. Reed Noss of the University of Florida, and Dr. Jay Exum of Exum Associates Inc. will spend at least two months in the evaluation process.
Further action by Osceola County on the Deseret Sector Plan will now not take place until April 2015 at the earliest. The outcome of the process will likely be shaped by the recommendation of the county’s new ecological peer review team.
Audubon Florida extends heartfelt thanks to the Audubon leaders in Central Florida who stepped forward to state concerns about the Deseret plan. Audubon also thanks the County Commission, County Manager and staff at Osceola County for doing the right thing to assure a proper and thorough evaluation of the Deseret Sector Plan.
A letter stating Audubon Concerns about the Deseret Sector Plan, and other related materials can be viewed by clicking here.
Deseret Sector Plan Facts:
- Projected Population – 500,000 +-
- 182,600 Development (housing) units
- 43,837,390 Square Feet of Commercial/Service Industry space
- 23,969,010 Square Feet of Industrial space
- 15,660,500 Square Feet of Institutional built space
- 20,390 hotel rooms