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United Voices Support the Farmland Preservation Area

United Voices Support the Farmland Preservation Area

Aerial view of the 10,125 square foot existing clubhouse at Ocala Jockey Club, which sits on the second highest elevation in Florida and features expansive views and spectacular sunsets. Photo: Sotheby’s

On June 21, the Marion County Commission approved Golden Ocala Equestrian Land’s (GOEL) plans for the World Equestrian Center Jockey Club (WEC-JC). Not everyone agrees with their decision, but important and passionate opinions emerged from the community-wide conversation about this matter: the Farmland Preservation Area is a top priority and one of the reasons why many people have chosen Marion County as their home.

While the Commission’s final vote was 3-2 in favor of GOEL’s plans for WEC-JC, their support of the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) was unanimous. With that said, there were different opinions as to what protecting the Farmland Preservation Area means, especially when it comes to compatible and non-compatible uses. Over the past four years, Horse Farms Forever (HFF) has been focused on our mission to inspire the conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats.

We believe that the continuation of the Ocala Jockey Club (OJC) as an equestrian event facility under the stewardship of the Roberts family will do more to protect horse farms in that region of the FPA because it is the right type of development to help keep horse farms, as horse farms. And for the most part, the WEC-JC plans aligned with the current use of the property and the former owner’s plans for the property, which included a boutique hotel, retail village, and upscale residential development. The continued use of clustered home sites allows almost half of the WEC-JC property to be reserved for equestrian activities.

You can read our position statement about the plans for WEC-JC here.

You may or may not agree with our position or the Commission’s vote, but of the two most likely current scenarios for the property detailed below, which one does more to protect horse farms in northwest Marion County?

  • Subdividing the entire 1,029 acres into a 10-acre lots?
    • The spectacular view and open spaces would be gone.
    • The 520-acre equestrian event facility and 4-star cross-country course would be gone.
    • The risk of Family Divisions could potentially triple the number of lots.
    • Hundreds of individual wells and septic systems.
  • Clustering 94 lots of 3-acres or more on 420 acres?
    • A higher density of residential areas allows for large, open common areas for equestrian uses.
    • Water and wastewater treatment facility to protect water quality.
    • The 520 acres for open space and the renovation of an existing equestrian event facility.
    • Developing 89 acres to allow for the continued use of the existing clubhouse, adding a RV park and 9 arenas and grand stands for equestrian events (with 9,000 seats total), commercial/retail space, and polo fields.

And there is a third potential future scenario that is most alarming. When a 1,000-acre parcel of open pasture right next to an interstate exit, 20 minutes south of one of the premier universities in the country, and directly next door to Regional Activity Center and designated Commerce/Employment overlay zones is up for sale, our biggest fear is that it will be targeted for commercial development.

If a high-profile company like Microsoft or Apple had partnered with the University of Florida to propose a technology complex there, the economic pressure on the commissioners from the state and the community could have been overwhelming. Especially as we face another potential economic recession.

Population Growth and Supporting the Equine Industry

Our position took into consideration the exponential population growth in Marion County, which is predicted to increase over the next 20 years with 150,000 new residents. This growth will create tremendous pressure on landowners in the FPA to subdivide horse farms and farmland into smaller and smaller parcels. How do horse farm owners resist the pressure to subdivide their land or sell to a developer? Their businesses depend on showcasing the horses they breed, raise, and train at equestrian event facilities.

What would Marion County be without H.I.T.S. and Live Oak International (both located in the FPA), and the World Equestrian Center, Ocala Breeders Sales Arena, the S.E. Livestock Pavilion, the Florida Horse Park, Majestic Oaks, Barnstaple South, and numerous other horse show facilities on private farms, many in the FPA. Now the WEC-JC will be added to this impressive list of facilities and help serve and sustain the growing equine industry in Marion County.

Setting a Precedent

Opening the door to future commercial development in the FPA is a concern shared by HFF, but the majority of the proposed improvements on the WEC-JC property will be to support equestrian events – horse barns, riding arenas, maintenance barns, and restoring the existing cross-country course. The RV parking and multiple arenas and grand stands, plus the addition of commercial space will support the economic viability of the equestrian events. Also, with the WEC-Rural Land Use (see page 4 of the document), this effectively limits the use of the property to equestrian uses only, so the facility cannot be used for rock concerts.

In addition, any future landowner would have to submit an application to change the Land Use to WEC Rural and an application for a Comprehensive Plan Text Amendment to use the WEC Rural Land Use designation for that specific location. Both the Planning & Zoning Commission and the County Commission would evaluate both applications as presented.

The amount and type of commercial uses are consistent with large equestrian event facilities. For example, the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) covers 1,229 acres and provides space for several tourist attractions and museums, competition facilities, a 5-star cross-country course, 260 RV spaces with a general store and recreational facilities, and office space for more than 30 national and regional equine organizations. KHP also has a 7,400 seat-arena, (Rolex Stadium, main grandstand.)

Let’s look at some of the other issues brought forth, such as the 10-acre lot size requirement for the FPA, the recently adopted HFF Comprehensive Plan Text Amendment, and the existing B-2 Zoning at WEC-JC:

Ten-acre Lots in the Farmland Preservation Area

In the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA), the minimum lot size is 10 acres. While Horse Farms Forever strongly favors maintaining 10-acre or larger parcels within the FPA, there are numerous areas within the FPA where smaller lots exist. For example, there are over 1,000 existing 3-acre lots in the area surrounding the OJC property.

While 10-acre lots are required in the FPA, unless the property is located in a Rural Activity Center (RAC), which allows up to two dwelling units per acre, there is a waiver process in Marion County’s Land Development Code that allows for a Family Division. For example, this waiver enables landowners to divide a single 10-acre lot into 3 smaller lots for the use of immediate family members as their primary residence.

With the Family Division waiver available for landowners, if 10-acre lots were platted on the OJC property, a single 10-acre lot could potentially be further divided into a 4-acre lot, a 3-acre lot and a 3-acre lot, thereby tripling the number of homes. In contrast, the 94 three-acre lots proposed by WEC-JC cannot be further divided, thus ensuring the number of homesites will never be more than 94 lots. In addition, the proposed lots are required to have central water and sewer, which helps protect water quality and spring sheds.

The 94 lots proposed at WEC-JC are consistent with the density allowed on the 1,029-acre property, but instead of being spread out over the entire landscape, they are clustered on 420 acres. This leaves about 520 acres for open space and an equestrian event facility. The OJC property already has 34 existing clustered townhouses, so there is consistency in this planning.

Horse Farms Forever® Comprehensive Plan Text Amendment

The Horse Farms Forever® Amendment, which requires that all Zoning Requests and Special Use Permits be consistent with the goals of the Farmland Preservation Area, became effective on April 30, 2022. The WEC-JC application was submitted before the HFF Amendment became effective, therefore, while all future applications will have to meet this standard, it does not apply to the WEC-JC application.

Nine Arenas with 9,000 Seats TOTAL

The WEC-JC application includes a Development Uses chart with the proposed uses. See page 5 here. There are 9,000 Seats for the: Arena & Event Facilities at WEC with accessory concessionary uses (snack bars, limited retail, etc.) The 9,000 seats will be dispersed at 9 different arenas and several event facilities, and with the WEC Rural Land Use category, the use is limited to equestrian events only. See page 4 and 5 here for the list of proposed arenas at WEC-JC and here for a list of existing arenas at WEC Ocala.

Existing B-2 Zoning at the Jockey Club

It’s important to remember that the WEC-JC has a designated zoning that gives the owner the right to use those property rights. On the WEC-JC property, there is a pre-existing commercial site of 5.84 acres with B-2 Zoning for the clubhouse and surrounding area. B-2 Zoning allows for commercial uses including hotels, nightclubs and RV rentals.

Process and Next Steps

GOEL will submit a Master Plan for approval by the County Commission and a Developer’s Agreement for the water and wastewater treatment plant and the roadway improvements within 6 months. GOEL is responsible for their proportionate share of the roadway improvements.

As part of the state’s review of the WEC-JC application, while there were no objections, several state agencies provided comments and made recommendations including the Division of Historical Resources and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Any potential historic resources or endangered wildlife will be addressed by each respective agency. Also, the addition of a water and the wastewater treatment plant will help protect water quality.

What Makes This Slice of the Farmland Preservation Area Unique?

What makes the OJC’s location in the Farmland Preservation Area unique is threefold:

  1. It is already approved as an equestrian event facility, which includes almost 6 acres zoned B-2 for commercial use and 34 townhouses on clustered residential lots.
  2. It is bordered on 3 sides by existing commercial uses: a teaching veterinary college with dormitory, an active lime rock mine and a 400-lot recreational vehicle park.
  3. It is bordered on the east by overlay zones including a Regional Activity Center and two Future Land Use designations of Employment Center and Commerce District, all slated for high density commercial development.

The 453-acre Irvine/Sunny Oaks Regional Activity Center (RGAC) is adjacent to the Highway 318 interchange on I-75. This interchange includes a Future Land Use Element designation in the Comprehensive Plan that includes an Employment Center, a Commerce District and a Regional Activity Center (RGAC). While this parcel is within the Farmland Preservation Area boundaries, these Future Land Use designations overlay and override the Farmland Preservation Area regulations and restrictions.

As a result of the above designations and classifications, the owner of this I/SO parcel inside the RGAC has a legal right to rezone this parcel from agriculture to an implementing zoning district for the specific Future Land Use designation. This legal right was established in 2012 when the RGAC was created and revised in 2014. While the requested zoning change is to Planned Unit Development, there are other options that would satisfy the legal obligation of the County to rezone the property to an implementing zoning district. Nonetheless, they all allow significant retail, commercial and industrial development.

Regrettably, the fate of the Irvine/Sunny Oaks area was sealed a decade ago by these Future Land Use designations. At that time, Marion County was coming out of a recession and faced with high unemployment.

Finding the Balance

Growth is here in Marion County. With the growth pressures, it’s important to support responsible growth and to find the balance between our urban and rural areas. When there are different opinions on such a divisive issue, a collaborative approach can help find the middle ground and areas that we can agree on, and then, move forward as a community. One of the most significant outcomes of the June 21 meeting is the level of community wide engagement about protecting the Farmland Preservation Area – from the Marion County Commission, to the Ocala Metro Chamber of Economic Partnership, and to environmental groups and landowners.

Every speaker at the June 21 meeting spoke passionately about protecting the FPA. This same strong sentiment was also ranked as the most important issue facing Marion County by over 90 percent of the people who responded, in the recently conducted county-wide Quality of Life Survey, organized by HFF.

Conservation Easements Protect Land from Development

We also hope that landowners who are concerned about future development, will take this opportunity to explore land conservation options to protect their land for future generations. The only way to protect private land from development, in perpetuity, is with a conservation easement. If the previous owners of the OJC had placed a conservation easement on the property, they could have permanently controlled its future development and use.

When a landowner places a conservation easement on their property, they make the decisions about what will happen to their property in the future – not the government or elected officials. We are happy to help facilitate this conversation and provide resources to interested landowners.

In the long term, the community may come to embrace the WEC-JC and see it as positively impacting the FPA and further cementing our brand as Horse Capital of the World®, making Marion County a unique destination unlike any other.

 

HFF will be holding our Third Annual Conservation Summit this fall on Tuesday, November 22 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Arena. The theme will be Transportation. We will release further details as the event nears, and we hope you will mark your calendar and join us as we continue this very important conversation to help protect what we love most about Marion County – the open spaces and beautiful places.

We hope you will join Horse Farms Forever and support our mission.

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 Celebrates Four Years of Big Wins for the Farmland Preservation Area

Horse Farms Forever Celebrates Four Years of Big Wins for the Farmland Preservation Area

Spring Speaker Series at Vintage Farm

On Friday May 20, Horse Farms Forever® (HFF) held our annual Spring Speaker Series at the College of Central Florida’s Vintage Farm. It was an intimate event for our members, guests and other large farm owners to continue the conversation about conservation. We celebrated the organization’s fourth birthday and reflected on the growth and success under the leadership of outgoing Executive Director Sara Powell Fennessy.

“I am so incredibly proud to have played a role in growing Horse Farms Forever into all that it has become,” said Fennessy. “It is hard to believe how far we’ve come in such a short period of time and the mountains we have climbed along the way. My love, dedication, and passion for Horse Farms Forever will live on. I whole-heartedly believe in all that Horse Farms Forever is and will always be its biggest fan and advocate.”

We also welcomed Emily Holmes as our new Executive Director. Emily brings a wealth of experience as the former Events Coordinator and Director of Events at the Florida Horse Park. Holmes is also a freelance organizer of USEA/USEF Horse Trials and FEI Eventing competitions across the country and has her USEF “r” Eventing Technical Delegate’s license. Emily lives in Williston where she operates Five Hound Farm, a sport horse breeding and boarding operation on fifty acres.

“At 12 years old on a vacation from Maine with my aunt, I fell in love with Marion County – the incredible horse farms, the miles of fencing, the wide-open pastures, and the majestic oak trees,” said Holmes. “I welcome the opportunity to work with the dedicated Board of Directors, and everyone involved to preserve the character and culture of the Horse Capital of the World®.”

Importance of the Horse Farms Forever® Amendment

The recent conservation victory for the Farmland Preservation Area was highlighted by HFF Director of Conservation Strategies, Busy Shires.

“We are also here tonight to celebrate a big win for the Farmland Preservation Area,” said Shires. “Horse Farms Forever has amended Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan with a Text Amendment to enhance the definition of Rural Character and add further protections to the Farmland Preservation Area by requiring all applications for Zoning Requests and Special Use Permits be consistent with the character of the Farmland Preservation Area.”


Sara Powell Fennessy, outgoing Executive Director, accepts flowers and a plaque as a thank you. Bernie Little, HFF President of the Board (R); Busy Shires, HFF Director of Conservation Strategies and Emily Holmes, HFF Executive Director (L).

Billy Van Pelt II, Director of Special Program Development and Senior Advisor, American Farmland Trust, Busy Shires, HFF Director of Conservation Strategies, Emily Holmes, HFF Executive Director, and Bernie Little, HFF President of the Board


 Nick de Meric, with his wife, Jacqui and daughter, Alexandra (L) and HFF Executive Director, Emily Holmes on the right.

Billy Van Pelt II, County Commissioner Michelle Stone, and Chester Weber.

photo Sean Dowie

Dawn Vigne, General Manager of Bridlewood Farm George Isaacs, and Chuck Vigne.

photo Sean Dowie

Jimmy and Hannah Goodwin and their son Wills.

photo Sean Dowie

Gorgeous decor courtesy of Lugano Diamonds.

photo Sean Dowie

Co Owner of Grandview Clydesdales, Karen Cobb (L) with Sara Powell Fennessy and Accounts Manager of Seminole Feeds, Charley Ragland (R).

photo Sean Dowie

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, County Commissioner Carl Zalak and his wife, Ann Zalak.

photo Sean Dowie

Hugh and Valerie Dailey, Owners of Showcase Properties, and Jason Reynolds, Executive Director of the Florida Horse Park.

photo Sean Dowie

Added sparkle.

photo Sean Dowie

Michael and Tasha Osbourne and Ann Zalak

photo Sean Dowie

County Commissioner Craig Curry and his wife, Carol.

photo Sean Dowie

Pauline and Gary Hartogh, with Suzanne Cantrell (R).

photo Sean Dowie

White diamond ring and bracelets by Lugano.

photo Sean Dowie

Private Landowners Hold The Key

Billy Van Pelt II, Director of Special Program Development and Senior Advisor at the American Farmland Trust, was our featured speaker for the evening. Van Pelt highlighted the importance of good planning through Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan, but he also emphasized the important role that private landowner’s play in conserving farms to help ensure the future of the equine industry.

Some of the reasons why landowners conserve their land include:

For Farmers & Ranchers

  • Fulfillment of personal conservation goals/peace of mind.
  • Provides capital farmers can reinvest in their operations.
  • Lower land values; creates opportunities for access and affordability.

For Communities

  • Slows the path of development and ensures land is permanently available for agriculture.
  • Protected farmland supports local economies.
  • Protects other important natural resources and maintains rural/agrarian character.

Set A Goal

Van Pelt suggested as a next step, that Marion County consider adopting a goal of conserved acreage in the Farmland Preservation Area. This will give planners a goal to work towards and will also help guide development to appropriate areas within the Urban Growth Boundary.

To close out the gathering, HFF Board Member Nick de Meric of de Meric Stables shared his heartfelt and inspiring tribute titled Reflections of an Ocala Horseman.

Our presenting sponsor, Lugano Diamonds, brought a distinctive glow to the event with a stunning display of diamonds and jewels. We thank them for their continued support of Horse Farms Forever.

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 Talks Turnpike with FDOT

HFF Talks Turnpike with FDOT

We Sat Down with FDOT and Learned Some Things about the Northern Turnpike Extension That You May Not Know

In October 2021, Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise (FTE), part of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), began an Alternative Corridor Evaluation (ACE) study to evaluate the extension of Florida’s Turnpike from its northerly terminus in Wildwood to a logical and appropriate terminus as determined by FDOT.  The Northern Turnpike Extension (NTE) study area includes Citrus, Levy, Marion, and Sumter counties.

Horse Farms Forever® has taken a neutral position on the ACE Study because the four proposed corridors were not located inside the Farmland Preservation Area.

HFF’s policy statement on transportation reads: Any new road projects within the Farmland Preservation Area should use existing rights-of-way. This position aligns with Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan Policy 3.3.1 Elements of Rural Character which states: “Transportation: New transportation corridors intended to be used specifically for the construction of expressways or limited access roadways shall avoid the Farmland Preservation Area.”

In our role as a watchdog of government actions, Horse Farms Forever® staff recently met with members of the NTE project team from FTE to learn more about the process of developing corridors and the parameters used to evaluate corridor alternatives, and ultimately select a route for the proposed NTE.

Phase 1 Is All About Choosing A Corridor

In the next 20 years, Florida’s population is projected to increase by five million people to 26 million residents.(1) With this expected population growth, the transportation systems must also grow to provide a safe and reliable transportation network. To accommodate this growth, FTE is conducting a study to evaluate an extension of Florida’s Turnpike. The ACE process is used to identify, evaluate, and eliminate alternative corridors on qualifying projects. The main goal of the ACE study is to narrow the potential four corridor alternatives down to one corridor.

Phase 2 Will Look At Several Alignments – And Also No Build

The recommended corridor from the ACE study is the basis for Phase 2 of the project, the Project Development and Environment (PD&E) study phase. In this phase, the recommended alternative corridor goes through further detailed evaluation to refine a range of alternatives within the selected corridor. The PD&E study will also evaluate a No-Build option as well as potential Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSM&O) improvements such as ramp signals or work zone traffic management.

“It’s a long process and we are very early in the planning phase. There are five steps from planning to construction and finally operation,” said William Burke, FTE Project Manager (HDR). “We are evaluating all of the corridors against the goals of the project, but also how they impact the environment, traffic, and cost.”

Jennifer Stults, FDOT Planning and Environmental Management Administrator, emphasized that this phase is focused on mapping by using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data and characterized it as an exercise in avoidance to help protect environmentally sensitive areas, natural resources and residential areas.

“At this phase, the corridors are broad to allow us to evaluate the area, but we will narrow the focus and refine the corridors based on information that is processed. This will allow us to accommodate those areas that we want to avoid,” said Stults. She also emphasized that the project team is sensitive to local land use decisions and conservation areas. “We want to be a good partner,” said Stults. “We work closely with our local partners to identify some of the things in process that we would not be aware of yet. This is why our ongoing robust community engagement work is so important. We absolutely want to hear from our stakeholders.”

For example, not only are existing conservation areas avoided, but also the areas that have been identified for conservation as part of a local or state program, or those areas that are part of the optimum boundary of the conservation area. In addition to public conservation lands such as state parks, the team is also mindful of privately-owned land with a conservation easement that has been delineated in the GIS mapping data.

 “There are a lot of different types of conservation land with different types of habitat, and if there is land with a conservation easement here and one without a conservation there, we are going to route around the land with the easement whenever possible,” said Burke. “There could be some exceptions, but generally speaking we would avoid those areas as much as possible.”

Conservation Is Written Into The Statute

The ACE study will identify preliminary environmental impacts and any potential impacts to existing conservation lands will be further evaluated and mitigated in the PD&E study to the greatest extent possible. 

There are two important sections in the enabling Statute to mitigate environmental impacts:

(7) The department shall consider innovative concepts to combine right-of-way acquisition with the acquisition of lands or easements to facilitate environmental mitigation or ecosystem, wildlife habitat, or water quality protection or restoration.

(8)(b) To the greatest extent practicable, roadway alignments, project alignment, and interchange locations shall be designed so that project rights-of-way are not located within conservation lands acquired under the Florida Preservation 2000 Act established in s. 259.101 and the Florida Forever Act established in s. 259.105.

NTE Scope Is Narrower than M-CORES

The NTE and Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program are different projects. The goals of the NTE are to enhance regional connectivity, accommodate increased travel demand, address regional congestion and safety, and improve emergency response. The M-CORES program conversely had a broader statewide goal of implementing regional corridors that were intended to accommodate multiple modes of transportation and multiple types of infrastructure. The M-CORES program was planned to address various issues beyond those typically accommodated in FDOT projects such as broadband, water, and sewer connectivity; energy distribution; trade and logistics; mobility as a service; and availability of a trained workforce skilled in traditional and emerging technologies, among others.

During the 2021 legislative session, Florida Statute 338.2278, repealed M-CORES.  The same legislation authorized study of the NTE. 

Interchange Features Can Be Controlled By Local Governments

The project team will work with local governments to determine the location of proposed interchanges and to determine the features of the interchange, such as a gateway feature or region-specific landscape features. Local governments can also include restrictions in the comprehensive plan to determine development around the interchange. This is one way to reduce urban sprawl.

“In Citrus County, there is an interchange management plan,” said Stults. “Also, along the Turnpike, with limited access, there are areas where minimum development has occurred for decades. That is where the local planning agencies are able to choose what they would like to see happen in their community.”

Project Schedule Is Driven By Public Interest

FTE initiated the planning phase of the Northern Turnpike Extension project in October 2021. The project is currently in early stages of development with the Efficient Transportation Decision Making screening and the ACE underway. Based on the high level of engagement and interest, FDOT is increasing opportunities to engage with local governments, stakeholders, and residents within the study area. The additional engagement efforts and increased public interest are underway and will continue to influence the project schedule. The project website remains an up-to-date and dependable resource for information and opportunities to provide feedback. Public engagement will continue to shape how the Northern Turnpike Extension supports regional and statewide needs as it moves through all phases of the project development process.

 

Source: Northern Turnpike Extension – Florida’s Turnpike (floridasturnpike.com)

NTE End Point Will Be Decided

 One of the main goals of the ACE study is to determine the project limits. Stults also emphasized that public participation is important and will help influence the route of the corridor.

 “The Northern Turnpike Extension will end at a point that is to be determined only after further study is completed and feedback from stakeholders is reviewed. We are still in that gathering process,” said Stults.

Because SB 100 (2021) gave the FDOT the authority to determine the end point for the NTE, it does not have to connect with the Suncoast Parkway. This gave the project team more flexibility when developing the four corridor alternatives.

The two northern corridor alternatives end at different locations along US 19 (98), while the central and the southern corridors end at US 19 (98) or the future location of the Suncoast Parkway. The longest corridor (Alternative Corridor North A) stretches nearly 75 miles across three counties to end at Chiefland. The three other corridors take a more westerly direction and are much shorter.

The legislation requires the FDOT to take into consideration the previous task force reports. These reports may help determine the route.

 (6) Any existing applicable requirements relating to turnpike projects apply to projects undertaken by the Turnpike Enterprise pursuant to this section. The Turnpike Enterprise shall take into consideration the guidance and recommendations of any previous studies or reports relevant to the projects authorized by this section and ss. 339.67 and 339.68, including, but not limited to, the task force reports prepared pursuant to chapter 2019-43, Laws of Florida, and with respect to any extension of the Florida Turnpike from its northerly terminus in Wildwood.

***

Horse Farms Forever® thanks the Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise team for taking the time to discuss the process of selecting corridors and the parameters used to select a route for the proposed Northern Turnpike Extension project. 

 

Public Input Requested

In addition to holding public meetings, the Department engages the public on all its projects and welcomes your feedback.

The project team also strongly encourages residents to submit comments using the online comment form.

 “Just keep an open mind and give us as many detailed comments as you want to submit,” said Stults. “Folks are entitled to their opinion, but the more specific the suggestions are, the more it helps the team fine-tune the route.”

For other project information, please contact:

William Burke, PLA

Project Manager
Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise (HDR)

407-264-3142 | william.burke@dot.state.fl.us

Northern Turnpike Extension Webpage: www.floridasturnpike.com/NTE

 

Suncoast Parkway 2 Under Construction

The Suncoast Parkway 2, or the Suncoast extension, is shown on the study area map for the Northern Turnpike Extension project, but it is a separate road improvement project that is located entirely in Citrus County. Phase 1 of the Suncoast Parkway extension was recently opened to traffic and ends at SR 44. Phases 2 and 3 are in the Design Phase and sections of the road are funded for construction. These sections combine for 13 miles, starting at SR 44 and connecting to US 19.

Here’s a link to a detailed map, information, and schedule. 

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.

 

Farmland Preservation Month Quality of Life Survey Highlights Importance of Farmland Preservation

Farmland Preservation Month Quality of Life Survey Highlights Importance of Farmland Preservation

As published in the Ocala Star Banner on April 16, 2022:

April is Farmland Preservation Month in Marion County. In honor of this important designation by the Marion County Commission, Horse Farms Forever is pleased to present the results of the recently conducted Quality of Life Survey  in Marion County.

The Survey results concluded that residents feel strongly about protecting Marion County’s rural charm and beauty by preserving farmland and natural resources. Population growth, new development, roads, access to emergency services, and countywide internet service were also key issues of concern. The Survey was organized by Horse Farms Forever and supported by five sponsors including the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership (Ocala CEP), College of Central Florida, Ocala Horse Properties, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association (FTBOA), and the Hotel Design Group. The Matrix Group, an independent research firm, conducted the Survey in July 2021.

A representative sampling was mailed to approximately 15,000 residents and over 1,200 households responded. The demographics covered a broad spectrum of zip codes, education levels, and age groups. Nearly 60 percent were urban residents and about half were female.

“This is a great time to understand the community’s perspective to learn how best to plan and manage growth for the benefit of all in the near and distant future,” said Dr. Jennifer Fryns, Associate VP of Career and Professional Programs at the College of Central Florida about the Survey questionnaire.

The questions for the Survey covered a broad range of topics including growth, economic development, education, traffic, housing, tourism, and farmland preservation. Even with the broad range of Survey questions, it may come as no surprise that residents ranked the preservation of land and natural resources as the most important issue facing Marion County. The second most important issue was transportation and traffic, third was population growth, fourth was housing availability and affordability, fifth was economic development, sixth was employment opportunities. Other issues included education, internet access, and homelessness.

Over 90% of the respondents agreed with the statement:

Marion County’s Farmland Preservation Area is home to some of the richest soils and pristine fresh water aquifers in the world and that it is critical to maintain its resources to ensure that the community’s legacy as the Horse Capital of the World® remain for future generations.

In addition, 86% of respondents also supported comprehensive planning at the county level that both protects agricultural lands and enhances urban areas. The Survey is an important step in defining the issues facing Marion County.

Kevin Sheilley

“We can speculate as to what people think. We can talk to our friends and acquaintances, but we likely will only hear what we already know, so it can risk becoming an echo chamber,” said Ocala Metro CEP President Kevin Sheilley about the Survey questionnaire. “A survey gives a chance to get input and feedback from a broad spectrum of our community.”

Over the next 20 years, Marion County’s population is predicted to increase by 150,000 new residents to reach over 500,000 people, according to the US Census Bureau. This rapid growth has brought the topic of the preservation of land and natural resources to the forefront.

Matt Varney

“Ocala is incredibly unique in that it is growing on two different tracks. On one hand, we are adding diverse industry, housing and jobs – classic urban growth. But also, we have one of the largest regional farmland preservation areas in the country and a thriving equine industry dependent on those farms,” said Matt Varney, Broker with Ocala Horse Properties about the Survey questionnaire. “The survey will show the importance of both of these growth directions, and inspire our leaders to plan accordingly.”

The objective of the Survey was to gather information about how residents feel about their overall quality of life and vision for the community’s future. The results also have the potential to guide planning and policy decisions at the county level. Together with our partners and stakeholders, Horse Farms Forever® hopes to inspire positive and lasting change in terms of farmland preservation to help protect the open spaces and beautiful places that make Marion County so special. 

The mission of Horse Farms Forever is 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. Horse Farms Forever is located in Ocala, FL. www.horsefarmsforever.com

The Quality of Life Survey was conducted by The Matrix Group, an independent insights and consulting firm based in Lexington, Kentucky. The QOL Survey was mailed to 15,000 households, which is considered a representative sampling of the estimated 135,000 households in Marion County. 

Questions About Conservation?

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

Always Watching

We work hard to keep you informed, and to represent our members' interests in preserving our horse farms, farmland and the unique character and culture of Marion County's 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area.

Join the herd. Every voice matters.

CR 318/I-75 Interchange Slated for High Density Development –  Includes Sunny Oaks RGAC

CR 318/I-75 Interchange Slated for High Density Development – Includes Sunny Oaks RGAC

On the map, the blue areas have a Future Land Use designation of Employment Center (includes residential and commercial/industrial) and the purple is Commerce District (limited to industrial and commercial uses.) The 453-acre Sunny Oaks Regional Activity Center (RGAC) border is designated by the yellow and black hash marks.

What We’re Watching in Irvine

The Irvine/Sunny Oaks Regional Activity Center is on the March 1, 2022, Marion County Commission agenda to request a change in zoning from Agriculture (A-1) to Planned Unit Development (PUD).

The PUD zoning classification is intended to provide a process for the evaluation of unique individually planned residential, commercial, industrial, and mixed-use developments, which may not otherwise be permitted in the standard zoning classifications established by this Division.

The proposed 453-acre Sunny Oaks PUD is a catalyst project that will forever change the rural and scenic character of the intersection at CR 318 and I-75 in Irvine. The community and local residents are justly concerned about the long-term impacts of the proposed 4 million square feet of commercial and warehouse space on traffic and their quality of life.

Because this project is located within the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA), Horse Farms Forever has recently spent hundreds of hours researching the proposed Sunny Oaks Zoning Request. We consulted with our land use attorney, key stakeholders and land use planners to better understand the complex legal issues and the scope of the previous development agreements and determine if there was a role for HFF. This is a summary of what we found.

Zoning Change

The Irvine/Sunny Oaks RGAC is adjacent to the Highway 318 interchange on I-75.  This interchange includes a Future Land Use Element designation in the Comprehensive Plan that includes an Employment Center, a Commerce District and a Regional Activity Center.  While this parcel is within the Farmland Preservation Area boundaries, these Future Land Use designations overlay and override the Farmland Preservation Area regulations and restrictions.

As a result of the above designations and classifications, the owner of this parcel has a legal right to rezone this parcel from agriculture to an implementing zoning district for the specific Future Land Use designation. This legal right was established in 2012 when the RGAC was created and revised in 2014.

While the requested zoning change is to Planned Unit Development, there are other options that would satisfy the legal obligation of the County to rezone the property to an implementing zoning district. Nonetheless, they all allow significant retail, commercial and industrial development.

The Marion County Growth Services Staff has done an excellent job in their report detailing the very complicated history and facts surrounding this parcel and the zoning change request.  In addition, the Growth Services report contains recommendations of significant conditions.  Most importantly, while the developer has provided a Conceptual Plan for the development, a Master Plan for the Planned Unit Development has not been provided, which is a required critical element in establishing the scope, scale and other details of the project.

Traffic Concerns

Traffic capacity and safety of the intersection at I-75 and CR 318 was also addressed in the staff report. The interchange has not been updated from the original 1964 design and CR 318 is a winding two-lane road with limited visibility on the east side of the interstate. The Growth Service’s staff report states: “Prior to obtaining final PUD Master Plan approval, completion and review of the project’s formal traffic study will be required with the resolution of any level of service and/or design deficiencies identified being addressed consistent with the applicable Land Development Code (LDC) provisions.”

If the Commissioners approve the zoning request to PUD, then a PUD Master Plan of the parcel is required. The Growth Services staff report states: “The final PUD Master Plan, or equivalent shall require review and approval by the Marion County Board of County Commissioners.”

Learn More About Sunny Oaks

A User-Friendly Guide to Zoning Jargon

Future Land Use (FLU) Designation: a classification of a property that explains what types of development can be built on that property in the future.

Future Land Use Map: The future land use map is a community’s visual guide to future planning. The future land use map should bring together most if not all of the elements of the comprehensive plan such as natural resources, economic development, housing and transportation.

Zoning: A method of urban planning in which a municipality or other tier of government divides land into areas called zones, each of which has a set of regulations for new development that differs from other zones.

What is the Difference Between Future Land Use (FLU) and Zoning?
Future Land Use FLU designations indicate the intended use and development density for a particular area, while zoning districts specifically define allowable uses and contain the design and development guidelines for those intended uses.

Planned Unit Development (PUD): A type of flexible zoning device that redefines the land uses allowed within a stated land area. PUDs consist of site plans that promote the creation of open spaces, mixed-use housing and land uses, environmental preservation and sustainability, and development flexibility.

Overlay Zone: A zoning district which is applied over one or more previously established zoning districts, establishing additional or stricter standards and criteria for covered properties in addition to those of the underlying zoning district.

Regional Activity Center (RGAC) in Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan: The purpose of a RGAC is: “To allow for compact, high intensity, high density multi-use development which may include a mix of the following uses: retail, office, housing, cultural, recreational and entertainment facilities, hospitality facilities (hotels and motels), and industrial uses that serve a regional area.”

Always Watching

We work hard to keep you informed, and to represent our members' interests in preserving our horse farms, farmland and the unique character and culture of Marion County's 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area.

Join the herd. Every voice matters.

Questions About Conservation?

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

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