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Perdue Emphasizes Community Engagement in Road Planning

Perdue Emphasizes Community Engagement in Road Planning

What’s In Store For Marion County’s State-Owned Road Projects?

At Horse Farms Forever’s Conservation Summit on November 14, Jared Perdue, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Tracy Straub, Assistant Marion County Administrator, shared detailed information about Florida’s transportation approach and goals, and specific road improvement projects in Marion County. Secretary Perdue, who took over the post this past April, gave an update on the improvements to I-75 and the Northern Turnpike Extension project, which will resume in one to two years. He also emphasized FDOT’s new emphasis to recognize and protect the unique heritage and culture of Florida’s communities while at the same time improving road safety and efficiency.

The partnership between FDOT and Marion County was also highlighted as a vital component to completing nearly 42 road improvement projects that will widen and extend roads, build several flyovers, and a new interstate interchange at NW 49th Street. These projects will help divert traffic off of I-75 and allow residents to travel both north-south and east-west without having to access I-75. This blog will highlight important aspects of Secretary Perdue’s presentation. We will cover Administrator Straub’s in detail in the next release. To Summit livestream was recorded, and is available for viewing here.

Efficient Transportation Challenged By Astronomical Growth

At the beginning of his talk, Secretary Perdue shared that the core FDOT mission is to provide safe and efficient transportation for the citizens of Florida, and to support the supply chain of goods and services. This is a challenge as Florida’s population continues to grow.

“This is one of the challenges with transportation – how do you provide necessary transportation, but still protect and conserve what makes Florida special,” said Secretary Perdue. “We have a unique challenge in Florida. We are the third most populous state in the union. We are growing rapidly, exponentially. Sixty percent of our growth is concentrated in 10 Counties: Osceola, St. Johns, Sumter, Walton, Lake, Orange, Santa Rosa, Manatee, Nassau, and Lee.. A lot of areas in Florida are growing at 20 percent annually.” Perdue shared that for every 100 people that move out of Marion County, 500 move in. “FDOT plans transportation projects based on a 3 percent population growth rate, and many areas of Florida are growing in excess of 20 percent, and so here’s what that means for an individual,” he said. “Yesterday, you had a 30-minute commute to work. It’s almost like you went to bed and woke up the next morning and all of a sudden, you’re sitting in traffic for an hour and a half trying to get back and forth to work.”

Transportation systems typically take 15 to 20 years to complete because of limited and finite resources that have to be spread across a very large state. FDOT must focus on a long timeline – planning for growth two decades in the future while maintaining enough capacity to handle emergency situations, like the recent devastation from Hurricane Ian. This year’s FDOT budget of $12.6 Billion is the largest in history.

“The challenge is because those areas have been growing so fast, 20, 30, and some areas even 40 percent growth, and so here’s the challenge, how do we think about transportation infrastructure differently so that we can start to catch up strategically,” he added.

Northern Turnpike Extension Is Still In The Plans

Secretary Perdue answered the most pressing question about the proposed NTE project to extend Florida’s Turnpike from Wildwood to U.S. 19 in Levy County. The NTE project was paused earlier this year, but Perdue confirmed that it was still in FDOT’s plans. The time frame has not been determined, but work on the proposed NTE project will start within the next one to two years. The project was paused due to the overwhelming negative feedback about the proposed routes from the communities in its path. FDOT’s response was to hit the pause button.

“Yes, we hear you, we don’t want to put a road through the heart of your community,” he said. “But we know we have to do something so let’s step back, let’s reengage with our communities and let’s talk about what those right solutions are because we know we need something.”

Perdue said the Northern Extension will connect to I-75 because it fits together as part of a bigger picture of how to solve the transportation challenges; because Florida is going to continue to grow and people and goods and services need to get from point A to point B. The NTE is also important for the future in terms of resiliency, hurricane evacuations, and natural disasters.

“We know we need to do something,’’ he said. “We want that something to preserve your farmland, to fit the growth patterns that are occurring. We want that something to continue to provide the needed transportation while embracing and maintaining the character of your community. And we believe that there’s a way to do that.”

A Love For Rural Florida

“I love the idea of protecting horse farms. I love horses and owned them myself,” he said. “I love Marion County and I love rural Florida. I was born and raised in rural Florida, so it’s really important to me.”

Secretary Perdue emphasized FDOT’s value on relationships with local governments and the goal to embrace and protect the character of communities.

“The reality is that anytime we set out to do something important, the way that people feel and that way that we engage them matters. It is absolutely critical for the future success of transportation systems in Florida,” said Secretary Perdue. He also addressed preservation and conservation directly. “What does that mean for how we deliver transportation in the future?” asked Secretary Perdue. “We believe that in order to successfully deliver infrastructure for the future based on the way that society has changed, based on the way that the state of Florida is changing and growing and adapting, that the absolute number one priority is for transportation infrastructure to embrace communities.”

He described the diversity of Florida and how important embracing this diversity is for transportation projects. Each community has its own culture, heritage, traditions, and also its own vision for the future.

“We believe that enabling transportation infrastructure to be a part of that heritage, a part of that tradition, but also a part of that vision for the future is where success is in transportation infrastructure,” he said. “This has become an umbrella focus for us. We believe that every single transportation infrastructure project can truly embrace the community that it lies within.”

Question from Kevin Sheilley of the Ocala Metro CEP

QUESTION:

Two recent hurricanes came through Florida, 1 hitting the southwest coast and another the southeast coast.

  •  How did the interstate system handle the evacuation routes from the coastal areas?
  •  And, does there need to be a connection between the Suncoast Parkway and I-75 to enhance evacuations?

ANSWER By Secretary Perdue:

“There are a lot of complexities that go into evacuations, depending on where the storm is going, how much time people have to make decisions and what available routes there are. Depending on where the storm hits in Florida the plan completely changes. With Hurricane Ian, the path was changing constantly. The forecast wasn’t set in stone and it changed at the last minute. People had hours to figure out what to do.

We have outfitted our interstate system with technology so that we can watch evacuation behavior in real time. In the case of Ian, we saw a lot of congestion on I-4 and I-75 in general – in particular those hot spots where traffic is always an issue. If the facility is not reliable in everyday life, how is it going to be reliable in an evacuation?

Did our facilities do well during the Hurricane. I would say the answer is yes. Everybody that decided to get out, got out. We opened the shoulder of the road to help with traffic flow, but those pinch points on I-4 and I-75 were still there.

We want to build facilities to be reliable and resilient. To do that, you have to not only relieve those problem areas that already exist, but also build out for future growth.

We believe that something is needed for evacuation between I-75 and the West Coast. We will have to work through that solution together.”

Question from Navroz Sanju of HDG Hotels

QUESTION:

We hear a lot about autopilots in cars and self-driving trucks.

  •  What is the future of self-driving cars and self-driving trucks on the interstate system?
  •  And is there any new technology you are including when you build a road to work with those systems?

ANSWER:

“Technology is one of our big strategic focus areas. Here in Florida we have 100 percent coverage of our Interstate System with the most current detection devices. We have the backbone in place for the future of autonomous driving vehicles. Technology changes so fast, and there’s been a lot of emotional speculation about what the future will look like.

We’ve developed new standards for these technologies to work. Artificial intelligence is always collecting data and using it to make decisions. Our infrastructure needs to facilitate that.

So, what’s realistic over the next ten to twenty years? First, there is tremendous efficiency to be gained on interstates using autonomous technology, such as the platooning of trucks. Our facilities must be upgraded for this future. We are already working on that. Autonomous vehicles can test and pilot on the Florida Interstate System. Second, what is really important is the ability of technology infrastructure to communicate important information to every day drivers – lane closures, stopped traffic, and accidents can be communicated to navigation apps by the road itself, helping drivers to make decisions.

We recently rolled out a pilot program that will allow every lane closure to be shared in real time with navigation apps.”

Early Feedback

Getting early feedback from communities is a new way of thinking for FDOT, but Secretary Perdue said that it’s “been hugely successful. Sitting down with communities before we decide what’s going to be done on that project to ask you: Hey what do you want to see – What would you like the feel of this roadway to be – How would you like it to look – What type of things would you like to see incorporated to help it align with your community?”

He said one example of this approach is the Wekiva Parkway, which protected more land for conservation than it impacted.

“I’ll give an example in terms of preserving and conserving with transportation actually having a net positive impact on what Florida’s true character is with the Wekiva Parkway in central Florida,” said Secretary Perdue. “A lot of the Wekiva Parkway, that’s a new toll facility, utilized an existing road, State Road 46 for a lot of the way, and we had a net positive impact on the environment because we actually purchased more conservation land as part of the project than we impacted with the project itself.”

However, due to FDOT budget constraints, not all suggestions are possible, but, when FDOT engages communities early in the process, the community becomes part of the team.

“Then we together can implement infrastructure that takes on the character of the community that it lies within,” he said.

Improvements to I-75

FDOT is coordinating closely with Marion County on nearly 42 projects and one of the top priority projects is improving I-75. The traffic congestion is a capacity issue, but it’s also related to the surrounding road network and because the Florida Turnpike ends at I-75 just south of Marion County. The goal of the master plan is to enhance mobility, improve reliability, and safety. There are two phases to the project with phase one adding additional lanes in each direction between SR 44 and SR 326. Phase one also includes interim modifications of the SR 326 and SR 40 interchanges. Phase two is ongoing.

The I-75 Master Plan is also divided into two study areas. The Southern section is approximately 22.5 miles and it begins at Florida’s Turnpike, SR 91 in Sumter County and ends at SR 200 in Marion County. Interchanges to be evaluated include Florida’s Turnpike, SR 44, CR 484 and SR 200. The Northern section is approximately 25.3 miles and it begins north of SR 200 in Marion County and ends south of CR 234 in Alachua County. Interchanges to be evaluated include SR 40, U.S. 27, Northwest 49th Street (planned), SR 326, CR 318 and CR 234.

The Master Plan is to “identify improvement options for I-75 that we can affect quickly,” he said. “We don’t have 15 to 20 years. As a matter fact we need something there that should’ve been done probably 10 years ago based on how fast we are growing.”

The interstate must meet several different needs in Marion County including growing residential communities, heavy industrial development, and commercial development along the interstate. The challenge is to provide a facility for all of the different types of vehicles.

“This is a big conversation and it all works together but you don’t want to get lost in talking about what we need 20 or 30 years down the road when it needs it fixed today,” he said. “We’re looking at phase one and of what can we implement quickly and efficiently that will actually improve at a minimum the reliability of the roadway.”

The I-75/CR 484 project is .75 miles and begins west of SW 20th Avenue Road and ends east of CR 475A. The improvements include on/off ramps, CR 484 at 1-75 interchange, CR 484/475A interchange, bike lanes, sidewalk connectivity, and improved lighting. The cost of this project is close to $10 million.

FDOT is partnering with Marion County to build a new interchange on I-75 at NW 49th Street. Marion County and FDOT are both providing the funds to build the new interchange, which is estimated to cost about $81 million.

“Marion County is absolutely a vital partner in transportation,” he said. “It’s truly a seamless partnership.”

The new interchange is a Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI) that will help improve interstate and regional mobility, accommodate future traffic growth and provide relief to existing surrounding interchanges. The right of way will be funded in 2022/2023 and the design will be completed in late 2024. The construction is expected to start in 2024.

The new interchange “is a broader picture of your how do you manage the system around that I-75 corridor and this is a going to help provide some of that connectivity,” said Secretary Perdue.

Next: Focus on County-Owned Projects

Tracy Straub, PE, Marion County Administrator, Public Works and Growth Services, also presented an update of the top road improvement projects including the area known as the Ocala Triangle, which includes State Road 200 and Southwest 60th and Southwest 80th Avenues. Straub gave an update on the CR 318 and I-75 Sunny Oaks/Irvine area. Our next blog will cover Administrator Straub’s presentation, including downloadable maps for the Marion County projects. Stay tuned!

Photos by Sean Dowie Photography. Remaining graphics provided by FDOT.

Watch the entire Summit presentation online:

Questions About Conservation?

Contact Busy Shires, our Director of Conservation Strategies, by email or by phone 386-853-4437.

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

Congestion-Relieving Road Projects in Marion County: Where and When

Congestion-Relieving Road Projects in Marion County: Where and When

A Conversation About Transportation with Marion County’s Tracy Straub

There was never a time where Marion County wasn’t home to Tracy Straub. A fifth-generation Marion County Floridian, she has a deep perspective on the changes that have taken place in the County and its needs going forward. Straub’s career at the County began 21 years ago. She has been the County Engineer and now leads both Public Works and Growth Services as an Assistant County Administrator. We were honored to have her share the latest on road construction in the County at our Conservation Summit in November. In her presentation, she shared timelines and details for the major projects coming to fruition around the County, particularly those that will help alleviate congestion and pinch-points on I-75 and those impacting horse farms and the equine industry.

Straub focused on the area known as the Ocala Triangle, which includes SR 200 and SW 60th and SW 80th Avenues. She also gave an update on the projects at the CR 318 and I-75 intersection in the Sunny Oaks/Irvine area.

Concentrated Growth

Over the past five years, Marion County has experienced rapid growth of industrial, commercial and residential development. As a result, there are 42 road improvement projects in the County. One indicator of growth is the number of building permits issued over the past 12 years.

 “In the last couple of years, we have been with issuing around 5,000 certificates of occupancy for residential building permits,” said Straub. “In 2019, we were only half that number and when you go back as far as 2010, which, of course we were sitting in the economic recession, there were only a couple hundred single-family residential permits issued,” said Straub.

While the growth is unrelenting, it’s important to understand that Marion County’s land uses funnel development into a concentrated area. Straub reminded us that forty-nine percent of the County is made up of the Ocala National Forest, other conservation lands, and rivers, springs, and lakes. About nineteen percent of it is the Farmland Preservation Area where development is limited. Another twenty-one percent is rural land or designated as low-density land use. The Urban Growth Area only encompasses about eleven percent of the County. The County is home to abundant natural resources, including two-hundred miles of trails for hiking and biking, and equestrian use, more than 150 miles of streams and rivers, three first magnitude springs, five second magnitude springs, twenty-plus third magnitude springs, and countless other springs, Straub said.

 “We continue to thrive as a natural gem, and we recognize that as we watch our growth and development occur,” she said. “But through it all, of course, we do have a road network.”

The Structure of the Infrastructure

Marion County maintains approximately 2,500 centerline miles of road. About half of the roads are subdivision roads and another half are the major road network. In addition, there are many roads that the County does not maintain. These roads are maintained by another agency such as FDOT, or another municipality. There are also private subdivisions and dirt roads in the Ocala National Forest that were never accepted into the county maintenance system. In addition to the road system, there drainage retention areas, right of ways, 92,000 traffic signs and 131 traffic signals.

To build and design roads, the County partners with the Ocala Marion Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) Board, which is the policy-making body responsible for the overall guidance of the transportation planning process in Marion County. The TPO Board is comprised of twelve voting members including the City of Ocala Mayor and four members of the City Council; all five Marion County Commissioners; and one representative each from the Belleview City Commission and the Dunnellon City Council. The Florida Department of Transportation District 5 Secretary is a member of the TPO Board as a non-voting member.

Planning and building roads is a lengthy and time-consuming process that takes 15 to 20 years.

The TPO develops a 25-year planning document, the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) that outlines the vision for transportation in Marion County. The LRTP considers all modes of transportation, including roadways, transit, bicycles, pedestrians, freight and aviation. The LRTP plan includes approximately $4 Billion worth of programming anticipated between 2020 and 2045, which is funded by several agencies, including Marion County, all of the cities and FDOT. However, there are an additional $750 million of unfunded needs also identified.

In addition to the 25-year plan, there is a five-year plan, the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) serves as the short-range transportation planning document for Ocala/Marion County.

“In our current five-year plan there are $186 Million worth of projects funded in the five-year projection,” said Straub.

Road improvement projects are categorized into different types. The capacity projects, which are funded at $131 million, are focused on adding lanes, signalized improvements, and turn lanes. New capacity roads have a grass median, bike lanes on both sides, a sidewalk on one side, and a multi-use trail on the other side.

“This is a lot of funding for Marion County and I want to pause and to reflect on that because that has a lot to do with the sales tax initiative and our penny sales tax,” she said. “Your TIP does not include sales tax revenues beyond the collections in December 31, 2024 so it’s important to know that we have a lot of money available to us to try to catch up from where we weren’t able to produce projects during the economic downturn, but we don’t budget beyond what we know we’ve been given.”

Photos of Tracy Straub, Rob Desino and Linda Bammann by Sean Dowie Photography. Remaining graphics provided by Marion County.

Question from Rob Desino of Ocala Horse Properties

QUESTION:

The Secretary talked about the new I-75 interchange at 49th Street and the timing of that work. The County plans to extend 49th Street to the west to connect with NW 70th Avenue, also known as 225A.

  • How long do you project it will be before we can drive on the new NW 49th Street?
  • And, will NW 60th Avenue, the road by the airport, be extended to the north to connect with the new NW 49th Street?

ANSWER:

Straub stated that portions of the section of NW 49th Street, west from the interstate to CR 225A, is currently in design and it is planned to be a four-lane road, but it will first be will be built as a two-lane road. Next year, the County is prepared to start constructing about a mile section of the road from 44th Avenue going west just past the rear entrance of Ocala Preserve, located on US 27.

The County does not have all the right away secured moving further west to 225A, but the process for the right of way acquisition will begin next year. Straub predicted that it would take about three years for the road to reach CR 225A.

NW 60th Avenue, also known as Airport Road, ends at US Hwy 27. The County reserved the right of away on the west side of the Ocala Preserve subdivision, but the County does not have a road planned. However, the County does recognize that extending NW 60th Avenue north to NW 49th Street make for a good potential connector and that’s why they reserved the right of way, Straub stated.

Question from Linda Bammann of Laughing Horse Farm

QUESTION:

There are 2 large projects approved on Highway 318, the Sunny Oaks development and the WEC Jockey Club.

The Board of County Commission’s procedure for approving both these projects has been challenged. How long do you project it will be before these challenges will be resolved?  Days, months or years?

ANSWER:

For the Sunny Oaks project, the judges need to review the challenge that was filed. The County has not been asked to provide a response to that challenge yet.

For the WEC Jockey Club, which is a different type of challenge, an administrative hearing date has been set for early next year and the County will participate in the hearing.

The length of time before the challenges are resolved could be months or it could take longer.

 “We know we’re into months,” she said. “Neither project is able to move forward with construction without having both of these items buttoned up, so while we will continue to work with them through the permitting process. We would not be able to issue any permits until they’ve resolved both of those challenges that are out there.”

SPECIFIC ROAD PROJECTS

 

SE Emerald Road to be Extended:

 

SE Emerald Road already exists inside Silver Spring Shores and CR 464 is the only major corridor that runs through that community. SE Emerald Road is already over capacity. The County is extending Emerald Road further to the west to connect with SE 92nd Loop, which is a four-lane road that goes from the Baseline area and to the Belleview area.

 

Marion Oaks Manor to be Extended with Flyover I-75:

 

 

Marion Oaks Manor will be four-laned and will be extended east to a flyover over I-75 to allow traffic to travel to the east side of the County.

 

County Road 484 to be Four-Laned to SR 200:

 

 

Part of CR 484 is four lanes from I-75 to just past the Florida Crossroads Commerce Park. The Dollar Tree distribution facility recently built a facility there and several other facilities also plan to build in the Commerce Park, so there is a need to four-lane CR 484 to SR 200.

 

SW 49th Avenue Goals:

 

  • North -South Connector
  • Relief to I-75
  • Relief to CR 484
  • Relief to SR 200

 

A portion of SW 49 exists in the south end of the County. The road will be extended to connect to the Marion Oaks Manor flyover road and go through the Commerce Park and through the greenway pass at the Cross Florida Greenway. The county has completed the four-lane segment from SW 95th Street (near Liberty Middle School) north to SW 66th Street. Another road segment will connect to SW 42nd Street near the backside of the Heath Brook Mall. The City of Ocala will continue 42nd Street north.

 

 

SW 80th/70th Avenue Corridor:

 

 

This road improvement project is an 11-mile north and south corridor that starts north of SR 200 and ends at about one-half mile north of US Hwy 27 on CR 225A. The road will be four-laned in multiple phases. The intersections at US Hwy 27 and SR 40 will be improved with turn lanes. In addition, two existing east-west roads, SW 38th Street near the new Calesa Township subdivision, and SW 80th Street, will also be widened to four lanes. SW 80th Street touches SW 80th Avenue and SR 200.

 

 

Northwest 49th/35th Street Corridor: New Four Lane East-West Connector:

 

 

This is a proposed four-lane road that will stretch from CR 225A from just north of US Hwy 27 west through the new I-75 interchange at NW 49th Street to the 489 Commerce Park on the east side of the interstate, then become NW 35th Street and continue east to end near Baseline Road and SR 40 area in Silver Springs. This road will relieve traffic on SR 40 and CR 326.

The new interchange at NW 49th Street has been a 15-to-20-year project in the works for Marion County, said Straub. Construction was initially planned for the 2040s, but due to the urgent need to provide relief to I-75, Marion County worked with DOT and became a funding partner. The new interchange is projected to begin construction in early 2025 and the total cost is nearly $80 million.

 

 

“This is been a great partnership with FDOT and we’re very proud of it,” she said. “We think that this is extremely important for our community. This interchange has been envisioned for quite a while.”

 

CR 318 and I-75:

 

The County does not have any active road improvement projects at this intersection. However, two large developments, Sunny Oaks and the WEC Jockey Club, were recently approved at the land use level. The County has not received any additional submittals beyond the request to change the land-use and zoning to allow for future development.

Straub stated that the County conducted a planning level study to determine the cost of the traffic improvements as if both projects had moved forward with a one-hundred percent build-out. The study determined that the cost was about $61 million, but due to proportionate share, the developers would be responsible for ninety-eight percent of the road improvement costs.

 

 

“All of these projects still need that detailed study for the traffic,” she said. “However, we don’t know that those projects will come in at the same time, so one project could come in before the other and then the impacts would shift and the timing of those improvement needs would shift.”

For example, with a full build out, CR 318 would need to be widened from two lanes to four lanes and also improvements to the intersection at CR 225A and CR 318 would be required.

Watch the entire Summit presentation online:

Questions About Conservation?

Contact Busy Shires, our Director of Conservation Strategies, by email or by phone 386-853-4437.

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

DarkHorse joins Horse Farms Forever® as a Founder Member

DarkHorse joins Horse Farms Forever® as a Founder Member

Laura competes Idara at the Grand Prix level. She is a 9 year-old mare formerly competed by Martin Fuchs. Here she is competing at the World Equestrian Center. 

Laura Connolly recently bought a new farm in Ocala and moved her private show jumping barn from Wellington to Ocala for the winter season. In the summer, she trains and competes out of one of the most beautiful barns in the Northeast, her DarkHorse Farm in Ridgefield, Connecticut. She joined Horse Farms Forever® (HFF) as a Founder Member as suggested by Matt Varney, a Realtor with Ocala Horse Properties.

 

Grand Prix Show Jumper

Connolly is a successful Grand Prix show jumper and has competed for many years in Europe and in the United States at top venues located up and down the east coast and throughout the Midwest, including Wellington, WEC, HITS, Old Salem Farm, Tryon, KY Horse Park, Traverse City, and many more. She currently owns 10 horses, including the talented gelding Rahmannshof Upgrade, who is competed by European Champion and FEI world #1, Martin Fuchs of Switzerland.

“When I think of Ocala, I think of horse country. Horse Farms Forever’s mission to preserve that character speaks straight to my heart and passion. I couldn’t be prouder to support this incredible organization and their purpose,” said Connolly to HFF.

Pony Paradise

In addition to her show jumping career, she is an attorney, as well as a business owner. Connolly’s love of horses, and the process of designing and building her dream barn in Connecticut, led her to develop Stables-4-Sport, a partnership with Alan Megerdichian of Sequoia Contracting Company, the builder of her farm. Together, they create very unique and special homes for horses.

Connolly’s gorgeous all-white New England style horse barn is one of Sequoia’s top featured building projects. The farm is nestled in the idyllic Connecticut countryside and the barn looks and feels more like a bright and airy New England cottage than a barn for horses. Stables-4-Sport, the partnership between DarkHorse and Sequoia Contracting, is focused on building and renovating horse farms tailored to modern day sport horse operations. Megerdichian brings over 30 years of building and designing to the table and Connolly’s knowledge as an equestrian and show jumper in both the United Stated and in Europe, as well as her deep understanding of the industry, offers valuable insight.

“We are focusing on renovating and building farms with all of the modern-day amenities the sport horse industry is begging for,” stated Connolly in a Stable Style article. “The sport horse industry has changed so dramatically over the years, and we are focused on creating leading edge equine facilities that keep up with the ever-expanding demands and desires of both the horses and the humans active in the sport.”

The Stable Style article showcases some of the unique features such as individual lights in each stall, which is convenient for evening checks on one horse, without disturbing the rest of the horses in the barn.

The unique features in her horse barn are just one way Connolly strives to make her horses more comfortable. She is always looking for new ways to improve the sport horse industry, which has recently led her to founding SportHorse Tech, a new endeavor focused on developing leading edge high-tech equestrian equipment.

 

At Home in the Barn

Connolly’s new businesses are helping her to fulfill her dream as a young girl to spend all day in the barn, as she spent countless hours in the barn. First at the next-door neighbor’s horse farm, and then at the barn that her parents built at their farm in Michigan so that she would spend more time at home – well, at least she was at home in the barn!

“My mom or dad would have to come and drag me out of there every evening kicking and screaming. I think my parents quickly realized they wouldn’t see very much of me unless they moved the horses to our property! So, when I was about eight years old, they built a small six stall barn and a ring on our farm, which is where I grew up riding,” stated Connolly in an article on Fei.org.

Connolly is excited about the possibilities in Ocala with the opening of the new World Equestrian Center and to work with horse farm owners to help make their vision and dream for their horse barn come true.

Horse Farms Forever welcomes DarkHorse and Laura Connolly to their winter home – in the barn!

DarkHorse recently moved its winter quarters from Wellington to Ocala.

Laura Connolly with two of her Grand Prix horses. (L to R) Sil and VDL Nuit de Pomme (aka Buddy). 

DarkHorse in Ridgefield, CT – the farm that inspired Connolly’s new businesses, Stables4Sport and SportHorse Tech.

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

Horse Farms Forever Welcomes Long Creek Farms as a New Founder

Horse Farms Forever Welcomes Long Creek Farms as a New Founder

The Mitchells skiing in Aspen. Kent has gone for the last 60 years!

Long Creek Farms Owners Kent and Rona Mitchell have a long family history of supporting land conservation, and by joining Horse Farms Forever® (HFF) as Founding Members, they are continuing this tradition. As Founding Members, they are also Gold Sponsors of the 2022 Conservation Summit.

“Joining Horse Farms Forever is one way for Kent and I to continue the traditions of conservation set forth by my parents in southeastern PA where they have always supported various land conservancies, as well as Kent’s father who was a large proponent of sustainable development in Texas,” stated Rona in an email to HFF.

Ocala and California

Long Creek Farms recently moved their show horses and equestrian operation in Florida from Wellington to Ocala. They made the move in 2021 to be closer to the World Equestrian Center (WEC) during the winter season. The farm is just 15 minutes from WEC on 70 acres of rolling hills in the Farmland Preservation Area.

In the summer, their farm in California’s Santa Ynez Valley provides relief for the horses from the hot, humid Florida summer. This region is known for its warm, dry summers, and world-class wineries.

The California farm was originally purchased for the show horses, but Kent was inspired by spending time in wine country, so in 2018, the Mitchell’s founded Long Creek Wines with the help of renowned winemaker Steve Clifton. All the grapes are locally harvested in the Santa Ynez Valley and produced with winemaker, Steve Clifton, in his Santa Ynez winery. 

With the addition of the wine company, Long Creek Farms has expanded their agricultural business, but remain dedicated to supporting the equestrian community through land preservation, facility improvement, and casual accessible schooling opportunities.

Conservation Commitment

“We believe that the Ocala area of Marion County is ripe for both residential and commercial overdevelopment, and once the farmland is lost, it is forever gone for future generations. The goals of HFF provide a balanced mix of protection and limited development, encouraging all landowners to secure the original “feel” of Ocala while allowing growth that promotes continued stewardship of the land,” stated Rona in an email to HFF.

Let’s raise a glass to welcome Long Creek Farms as Founding Members of Horse Farms Forever. Cheers!

 

 

Long Creek Wines was founded in 2018.

Although not a rider himself, Kent is very supportive of “the herd”.  Pictured here with Conquest

Spending New Year’s Eve in California with local riders. Left to right: Michelle Emmermann, Kira Plymire, Rona, Caitlin Davison.

When not on the farm, Kent and Rona enjoy sailing; they keep small racing boats in CA and FL and a 60’ cruising sailboat in Fiji  cool  

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

HFF Welcomes Kimberly Van Kampen As A New Founding Member

HFF Welcomes Kimberly Van Kampen As A New Founding Member

Kimberly Van Kampen  Photo source

Marion County is growing by leaps and bounds, but with the opening of the World Equestrian Center (WEC), the horse sport industry is also growing. Most notably, the discipline of dressage has grown with the arrival of several top-level dressage riders and farms.

 

From Wellington to Ocala

In 2019, Kimberly Van Kampen moved her Hampton Green Farms from Wellington to Ocala. The move to Marion County was inspired by the opening of WEC; so much so, that in 2021 Hampton Green Farms and Discover Dressage became Founding Partners of WEC.

Her generous support of dressage will help grow the sport in Marion County, and it will also help protect horse farms. In 2019, Van Kampen joined Horse Farms Forever® as a Charter Member. This year, she became a Founder Member of HFF and we appreciate her continued support!

Van Kampen’s move to Marion County is big news for the dressage world, as she is one of the founders of the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington and a member of Wellington Equestrian Partners. But after 20 years, she decided to move her investments to Ocala because of WEC.

“The new World Equestrian Center has to be seen to be believed,” said Van Kampen in a Euro Dressage article. “There is no other equestrian show facility like it, in both philosophy and facilities. Both Hampton Green Farms and Discover Dressage, in their own rights, focus their efforts on young horses and youth riders in order to create a solid foundation for future success. We are honored to partner with World Equestrian Center to see dressage grow in this amazing place!”

Dressage For Kids

Van Kampen is one of the most respected breeders of P.R.E. (Spanish) horses in the world and is the past president of the US P.R.E. Association. She is also one of the largest supporters of youth dressage, supporting Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids program and the Emerging Dressage Athlete Program through the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). Van Kampen’s sponsored rider Sophia Schults, had two big wins at the 2022 FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC). Schults and Conocido HGF, owned by Hampton Green Farms, won an Individual Bronze Medal (Freestyle) and were also part of the NAYC Team Gold Medal.

Van Kampen reflected on her move to Ocala on her Hampton Green Farms website:

“But now, my life is Ocala. Ocala—it even sounds like the beautiful place it is. Rolling pastures and grand oak trees that used to be the playground of the Seminole, and which are now home to thousands of acres of young Thoroughbreds. A genteel Southern aesthetic prevails here: rural and old vs. urban and new (per much of coastal Florida); here more native, more authentic, more raw, definitely outside the bubble. County after county of horse and cattle farms, historic cracker architecture and land grant neighborhoods. The stunning new World Equestrian Center and the ambitious generosity of its owners don’t change the landscape, only accentuate it.”

Horse Farms Forever® welcomes Van Kampen and her medal winning team to Ocala!

Kimberly Van Kampen, a daughter of the late American financier Robert Van Kampen, at the covered arena her family’s foundation funded at the Global Dressage Festival. With her is Thomas Baur, sports director for dressage at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Kimberly Van Kampen is a well-known name within the dressage community. As the owner of Olympic stallion Grandioso, as well as Hampton Green Farm, Van Kampen is a top supporter of the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival.

Van Kampen (far right), and the young dressage students she supports: Sarah Roda, Sophia Shults and Kerrigan Gulch, with Vaquero HGF. Photo – Dressage Today.

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

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