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From Gilbert’s Hardware to Dollar General: Rural Activity Centers in the FPA

From Gilbert’s Hardware to Dollar General: Rural Activity Centers in the FPA

The Flemington Store, at the corner of W Hwy 318 and N Hwy 329, in the heart of the Farmland Preservation Area. There is now a Dollar General across the street.

Family Dollar Store to be built in the FPA

Soon there will be a new Family Dollar store in Orange Lake at the intersection of W Hwy 318 and US Hwy 441. While this intersection is one of the gateways to the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA), it is located in one of the 10 Rural Activity Centers (RAC) that are designated for this exact type of business. The property already has the correct land use/zoning and is being built by BP 5440 Micanopy, LLC and the Contineo Group. 

Marion County’s comprehensive plan allows for limited commercial and residential development in designated Rural Activity Centers (RAC) (Policy 2.1.21) The new Family Dollar store is a perfect example of what the RACs were designed for – to allow small mixed use commercial islands within the rural areas to help residents and businesses meet some of their daily needs and to reduce trips to the urban areas.

At the intersection OF CR 318 and 441 IN Orange Lake, all four corners have the RAC land use and it encompasses about 57 acres. In 2021, the rural community of Flemington grew with a new Dollar General store, which is located in the Flemington RAC. All four corners of the intersection of W Hwy 318 and N Hwy 329 are included in the RAC. The new Dollar General is located across the street from the old Flemington Store, which has been a part of the community for over 50 years. The new store is a little bit of a stark contrast with the old store and its white clapboard siding and rusty metal roof.

Marion County’s comprehensive plan does not include design guidelines for the 10 RACs to help protect the rural character of the FPA, but there are design guidelines for the area around the Florida Horse Park as part of the CR 475A Visual Enhancement Gateway Development Overlay. The design guidelines cover signs and include additional buffering and landscaping as well as the optional addition of a three-board fence.

While the design elements are not required for the new Family Dollar, if the company included them, it would be a symbolic statement to the community that Family Dollar supports protecting the character and culture that horses and horse farms create in the FPA.

Groceries, Gas, Baling Twine… 

Marion County’s rural area is vast. Just the Farmland Preservation Area is 193,000 acres. The RAC future land use designation allows for mixed use nodes of residential and commercial uses, including agricultural-related commercial uses. These commercial islands within the rural areas are beneficial because they help residents and businesses meet some of their daily needs and also reduce trips to the urban areas.

Some of the additional commercial uses allowed in RACs include hardware stores like Gilbert’s Hardware at the intersection of Hwy 225A and CR 326, gas stations, post offices, and grocery stores. In the Blitchton area, on US 27 near H.I.T.S. and many of the sport horse farms, there are 3 feed stores and 2 restaurants – Berrettini Feed Specialists, Larsen Hay and United Hay for horses and The Beach and Yum Yum Kitchen for riders and trainers – important services conveniently-located for hard working equestrians.

In addition to the commercial development, the RAC allows for higher density residential development. In the RAC, up to two dwelling units per acre are permitted. Even in the FPA, the residential density can be up to two dwelling units per acre inside the RAC.  Outside of the RAC, to help protect the rural character of the FPA, the zoning is one dwelling unit per 10 acres.

The development standards for RACs – the distance from the intersection, the allowed uses, the set backs and the building heights – are the same no matter where they are located, even if the RAC is located inside the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA).

For commercial uses, the floor area ratio is 35% – that means that the buildings can only occupy 35% of each parcel.

For properties that are not located in the RAC and are zoned Agriculture (A-1), landowners are permitted to set up a roadside stand to sell hay or vegetables that are grown on the same property.

The RAC Pack

There are 10 RACs dispersed throughout the FPA that average about 54 acres each. When you combine the acreage, that is about 540 acres. However, the size of any RAC can be expanded to a maximum of 96 acres, if it meets the criteria:

  • No greater than ¼ mile or 1,320 feet from the center of the intersection;
  • 85% developed; and
  • at least 5 miles from another RAC.

These 10 RACs all have a Future Land Use designation of RAC, but for some parcels, the Zoning is not RAC.

Marion County has two RAC classifications: a land use designation and a zoning classification. The Future Land Use (FLU) designation is a generalized classification and sets the development densities. The Zoning specifies which exact uses are allowed versus prohibited on that parcel. This is important to distinguish because a parcel could be designated with a FLU RAC, but have a Zoning of A-1 for agricultural use instead of commercial use. In order for the FLU RAC parcel to be used for commercial purposes, the Zoning would have to be changed. There are some “grandfathered in” exceptions for historically-zoned commercial properties with RAC Land Use that are treated as if they also have RAC Zoning.

HFF Text Amendment: A Chance to Change

If a parcel in a RAC does not have the correct zoning, then the zoning has to be changed in order for potential applicants to build a commercial or residential building. Through this zoning change process, there is an opportunity to submit public comments to the Planning & Zoning Commission and to the Board of County Commissioners because the Horse Farms Forever® Amendment enhances the definition of Rural Character and further requires that all applications for Zoning Requests and Special Use Permits “be consistent with and preserve, protect and support and enhance the rural, equestrian, and farmland character of the Farmland Preservation Area.”

As part of Horse Farms Forever’s role in protecting the character and culture of the Farmland Preservation Area, we are actively monitoring all applications that are submitted for consideration.  Watch our posts and blogs for updates and opportunities to make comment as RAC’s come up for zoning changes. Please join us as a member and support our efforts to uphold Marion County’s rural lifestyle and brand as the Horse Capital of the World®.

Click on each of the RAC’s below to see a detailed map provided courtesy of Marion County’s Interactive Map:

The maps were created using Marion County’s online map. The maps show the the size and location of parcels designated with a FLU of RAC in each of the 10 areas within the FPA. The online map viewer is not intended to be a legal document but rather for reference. We thank the County for providing this helpful resource.

1. N Hwy 329/W Hwy 318 - Flemington

Click on the image to see full size.

2. NW 193rd Street/N US Hwy 441 - Orange Lake

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3. W Hwy 318/N US Hwy 441

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4. W Hwy 316/NW Hwy 225 - Fairfield

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5. W Hwy 329/NW Gainesville Road - Lowell

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6. CR 326/NW Hwy 225A - Gilbert's Hardware

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7. W Hwy 326/US 27 Blitchton

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8. NW Hwy 464B/US 27 - Fellowship

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9. FL 40/NW 110th Avenue

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10. FL 40/SW 140th Avenue

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Commercial uses on World Equestrian Center (“WEC”) designated lands in the Rural Area

For land located in the Rural Area that is also part of the World Equestrian Center (WEC) Planned Unit Development, there is a different land use classification called World Equestrian Center (WEC). (Policy 2.1.28.) The WEC designation allows for commercial uses, recreational uses, residential uses, recreational vehicle parks (“RVP”) and mixed uses. Any commercial uses on World Equestrian Center (“WEC”) designated lands in the Rural Area (i.e., outside the Urban Growth Boundary) are limited to equestrian-related uses associated with the World Equestrian Center.

Examples of equestrian-related uses include polo fields, equestrian arenas, equestrian instruction facilities, veterinary clinics, farriers (non-mobile), stables and barns, and feed stores and tack shops. Any and all accessory uses to equestrian-related uses are ancillary and incidental to such equestrian related use and are located on the same lot or parcel as the principal equestrian-related use. The maximum density for residential uses within the WEC Rural Area is (1) dwelling unit per ten (10) gross acres.

Busy Shires

What About Zoning?

The Zoning regulations are found in the Land Development Code, which is a separate document with specific guidelines to implement the Goals, Objectives, and Policies of the Comprehensive Plan.

Zoning regulates development through land use classifications and specifies the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. The Land Development Code was adopted through a series of ordinances by the County Commission, which means that the regulations cannot be changed or waived, except by a further vote of the County Commission.

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.

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.

 

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.

Busy Shires

What About Zoning?

The Zoning regulations are found in the Land Development Code, which is a separate document with specific guidelines to implement the Goals, Objectives, and Policies of the Comprehensive Plan.

Zoning regulates development through land use classifications and specifies the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. The Land Development Code was adopted through a series of ordinances by the County Commission, which means that the regulations cannot be changed or waived, except by a further vote of the County Commission.

Marion County Five-Year Strategic Plan Takes Farmland Preservation Into Account

Marion County Five-Year Strategic Plan Takes Farmland Preservation Into Account

Marion County In The Binoculars

Every five years, the Marion County Commission adopts a five-year Strategic Plan to help guide growth and development. The draft Marion County Administrative Strategic Plan 2022 – 2026: Empowering Marion for Success, was presented to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at a workshop held on July 7, 2021. The purpose of the workshop was to present the draft plan to the County Commission and receive their input on staff’s recommendations.

The Strategic Plan is organized into five Elements:

  1. Organizational Experience
  2. Resources and Facilities
  3. Planning and Future Growth
  4. Public Infrastructure
  5. Public Safety

Every County department developed recommendations, action steps, and potential funding sources. This plan takes a comprehensive approach to planning for growth to help ensure that the County is able to keep up with the demand in services and provide good customer service overall.  The plan’s Executive Summary states:

“As with the previous five-year plan, this plan will be the road map for our operations as we continue to deliver services to our citizens and visitors at the highest possible level.”

The good news is that the Strategic Plan includes several recommendations to protect the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) and to help retain Marion County’s unique rural character. It makes several recommendations to:

“focus on our outdoor assets and natural resources to preserve their quality so they continue to define their character and play a major role in attracting visitors and guests to Marion County and represent a positive economic impact.”

Strategic Plan Major issues:

  • Staffing shortage in some County departments
  • The availability of affordable workforce housing and apartments for rent
  • Multiple road widening and expansion projects
  • Lack of public infrastructure, libraries, and recreational opportunities in some areas of the county
  • Aging infrastructure and buildings
  • Urban sprawl

Strategic Plan Goals:

  • Providing incentives for infill and multi-family housing developments
  • Directing growth to vested developments
  • Expanding roads and trail networks
  • Providing expanded recreational opportunities
  • Developing user friendly information about parks to increase outdoor tourism
  • Preserving natural resources
  • Protecting water quantity and quality
  • Providing a safe community

Spotlight On Element 3: Planning and Future Growth

Mounir Bouyounes, Marion County Administrator, introduced the Strategic Plan and emphasized the amount of work done on the Planning and Future Growth Element.

“There are a lot of new ideas and information being presented to you. It’s not new, but these are ideas that we are bringing to the forefront and see where we take it from here,” said Bouyounes.

Angel Roussel, Assistant County Administrator, Public and Environmental Services Director, led the team for the Planning and Future Growth Element. The report included input from several stakeholders to understand the County’s strengths and weaknesses. The Planning and Future Growth Committee met with multiple County departments and stakeholders in the community and some of their suggestions were incorporated into the report.

Roussel emphasized that new growth and development should be focused within the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) and in strategic areas including the FL Cross Roads Commerce Park, SR 200, World Equestrian Center (WEC) and the NW 49th Street Interchange area.

“This will help us stay out of the Farmland Preservation Area and focus on infill,” said Roussel. “It’s all a balancing act.”

Development Pressure On The FPA Boundary

There are several recommendations to help protect the Farmland Preservation Area in the Strategic Plan but several new roads proposed as “vision projects” near the southeast corner of the FPA boundary near the intersection of CR 225A and US Hwy 27 will increase development pressure in that area. Vision Projects are not yet approved or funded. The pink lines on the map above show the locations of these Vision Project roads, all located outside the Farmland Preservation Area. The green and yellow lines show approved project roads.

A new road is proposed to connect SW/NW 80/70th Avenue to SW 60th Avenue and also provide access north to US 27.

Another new road is proposed that will run parallel to I-75 on the east side of I-75 that will connect to CR 326. This new road is an extension of NW 39th Avenue Road, which is where the distribution centers for Amazon, Chewy’s, Auto Zone, and Fed Ex are located.

In addition to the two new roads, NW 44th Avenue, an existing road which runs parallel to I-75 from US 27 to CR 326 on the west side of the interstate, was recommended to be four-laned from NW 63rd Street to CR 326. The south end of NW 44th Avenue is already four-laned. In order to maintain the level of service for the road due to the increase in residential, industrial and warehouse development, four-laning the rest of NW 44th Avenue is necessary.

If approved, these would be in addition to the already approved extension of NW 49th Street – a road that will connect CR 225A to the new I-75 interchange. About half of the road, Section 3A, is funded for construction in fiscal year 2020/2021. The second half of the road is funded for construction for fiscal year 2022/2023. See our blog about the SW/NW 80/70th Avenue road-widening project for background: https://www.horsefarmsforever.com/update-sw-nw-80th-70th-avenue-road-widening-and-northern-turnpike-extension/

Farmland On The Forefront

The recommendations to help protect the Farmland Preservation Area include:

  • Create an FPA inventory for Analysis: Analyze the designated FPA and create an inventory of the existing farmland including location, acreage, zoning, physical land use and any other designation.
  • Family Division Analysis: Research and review the family divisions that have occurred in the past and analyze the effectiveness by determining if said family divisions remain within the family ownership.
  • Opportunity Zones & Farmland Preservation Overlap Analysis: Analyze the validity of this designation and make recommendations to explore the efficacy of retaining the FPA within an Opportunity Zone.
  • Protect the rural character of the Farmland Preservation Area by Creating additional Buffering:  By providing buffer alternatives, future development will have a predictable specification, which will ease new development while preserving the rural character of this resource.
  • Review and Modify the Transfer of Development Rights Program: Review the Transfer Development Rights program and propose changes if needed to ensure maximum effectiveness of the program.

Builders Make a Case For Higher Density

At the end of the meeting, there was an opportunity for public comments. Florida House of Representatives Stan McClain attended the meeting, but he was representing the building Industry instead of the legislative agenda.

“We are 4,000 units short. Even if we built 4,000 houses tomorrow, we would be behind the next day,” said McClain. He said the building industry understands the water and sewer issues and suggested that the BOCC consider higher density due to the increased property values. “With land values now, the lots in Silver Springs Shores were $8,000, but now that same lot is $25,000. You are going to have to look at density and putting water and sewer in,” he said. “When you talk about sprawl, sprawl happens when you do ¼ acre lots everywhere, so you have to find places where we can get the densities right and approve them. That’s just the way it is, otherwise we will continue to sprawl.”

Commissioner Kathy Bryant added some final comments about the future of Marion County:

“Growth is here and it’s happening and we are not stopping growth and I don’t think there is anyone sitting on this Board that has the intention of stopping growth. But I will say for me, I think a lot about it. When I drive down the turnpike and I’ve got to Orlando and you just see the fields of houses – the rooftop after rooftop after rooftop. I don’t want our County to look like that. I’m sorry and I know that there is some development that will look like that, but it doesn’t mean we can’t still  make it a nice place to live. In 20 or 30 years, what kind of legacy are we leaving?”

Protect Against Urban Sprawl

Things are moving fast in Marion County. Horse Farms Forever is a farmland watch dog, attending countless hours of hearings and meetings. When action is required, we are there at the table. Join us to stay informed and ready to respond when public comments are needed. Together we can protect and preserve our open spaces and beautiful places for future generations.

Dig Deeper

Link to the Marion County Administrative Strategic Plan 2022 – 2026: Empowering Marion for Success

VIDEO of the July 7, 2021 BOCC WORKSHOP:
The Planning and Future Growth Element starts at 1:04.52 in the video link.

Busy Shires

What About Zoning?

The Zoning regulations are found in the Land Development Code, which is a separate document with specific guidelines to implement the Goals, Objectives, and Policies of the Comprehensive Plan.

Zoning regulates development through land use classifications and specifies the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. The Land Development Code was adopted through a series of ordinances by the County Commission, which means that the regulations cannot be changed or waived, except by a further vote of the County Commission.

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.

Future Growth is Here: Map of 36,000 Permitted Residential Units Presented at Budget Planning Workshop

Future Growth is Here: Map of 36,000 Permitted Residential Units Presented at Budget Planning Workshop

In this map, available at: https://marioncountyfl.maps.arcgis.com/apps/mapviewer/index.html?webmap=2dd674d3c3ae4a579e6f64f113873e90, the County projects show as balloons and the City of Ocala as pushpins. Pending permits are yellow and permitted are green. The light green shaded area is the FPA. The bright pink dotted line designates the Urban Growth Boundary. If you go to the map link, a list shows the name of each development project with the date of the approval of the project and number of units for each project. (Click on the Layers tab.)

Staying On Top Of Growth

The Marion County Commission held a Strategic Planning workshop on February 2 to kick-off the annual budgeting process. County staff presented updates on the Financial Projection, Animal Services and Fleet Facilities plan, Health Self-Insurance plan, and a Classification and Compensation Study.

In addition, a map and a list of the residential development projects approved within the last five years in the County and in the City of Ocala, was presented by Tracy Straub, Assistant County Administrator of Public Works and Growth Services.

Straub’s presentation on the County and City development projects was a follow up report on last year’s budget discussions.

“During last year’s budget discussions, and reinforced as we worked on the 5-year Strategic Plan elements of growth, infrastructure and public safety, staff has to consider what is needed to stay on top of the growth,” wrote Straub in an email. “And what we need to consider in our budget requests (more staff, different software, corridor studies by consultants, more fire and sheriff services, etc.). “

Visualize 36,000 Units

The combined list of residential development projects includes: 18,520 planned units that are in the development approved/pending site plan approval stage and 17,646 that are pending building construction stage, for a combined total in Marion County and the City of Ocala of 36,166 residential units.

Infill Growth Planning

The map at the top of this page shows that the majority of the developments are within the Urban Growth Boundary.

There are two approved developments within the Farmland Preservation Area. One was approved in 2015 for 40 houses in the proposed Eagles Creek development off West Hwy 318 near the Levy County line. The second development is located near Orange Lake and is adjacent to the Grand Lake RV resort. Six hundred RV lots are permitted.

Upcoming Further Discussion

The presentation about the number of approved developments was for information purposes only, so no action was taken. The County Commission will hold a workshop within 90 days to further discuss the issue. All departments will attend the workshop so that the entire staff has a complete understanding of the infrastructure issues. The City of Ocala and the municipalities within Marion County, as well as the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership (Ocala CEP) will also be invited to make a presentation at the workshop. The goal is to coordinate and plan on a countywide basis for the necessary infrastructure.

“With everything that has been approved, we need to make sure that we have the proper infrastructure and be able to plan ahead,” said County Commissioner Kathy Bryant. “How to fund law enforcement, EMS, and transportation. This is not in 20 years; it’s in the next five years. We are going to be facing some big issues and if we don’t wrap our arms around it now, it’s going to get away from us.”

Growth Is Here

Marion County is now one of the top 25 fastest growing metro areas. Approximately 150 families a week move here. The population is projected to increase by 150,000 new residents to over 500,000 people in about 20 years. Business is also booming. Over the past 8 years, nearly 10,000 new jobs have been created. This rapid growth is stretching the County’s ability to provide services.

To address the infrastructure needs, every five years, the County adopts a 5-Year Strategic Plan, the Administrative Strategic Plan 2022 – 2026: Empowering Marion for Success, was adopted by the Commission and this plan will guide infrastructure projects for the next five years. In Part 2 of this blog series, we address the Planning and Future Growth Element of the Plan specifically.

Link to the February 2, 2022 Strategic Planning Workshop Agenda and staff reports:

https://marionfl.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=A&ID=906712&GUID=083026CB-DFAC-4203-851E-C076A4A5C771

Protect Against Urban Sprawl

Things are moving fast in Marion County. Horse Farms Forever is a farmland watch dog, attending countless hours of hearings and meetings. When action is required, we are there at the table. Join us to stay informed and ready to respond when public comments are needed. Together we can protect and preserve our open spaces and beautiful places for future generations.

Busy Shires

What About Zoning?

The Zoning regulations are found in the Land Development Code, which is a separate document with specific guidelines to implement the Goals, Objectives, and Policies of the Comprehensive Plan.

Zoning regulates development through land use classifications and specifies the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. The Land Development Code was adopted through a series of ordinances by the County Commission, which means that the regulations cannot be changed or waived, except by a further vote of the County Commission.

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

Zoning 101 – Distinguishing Between a Regional Activity Center and a Rural Activity Center

This overview of the Sunny Oaks Regional Activity Center at the intersection of I75 and CR 318 shows zones for an Employment Center, a Commerce District, and a Preservation Area. 

What’s the difference between a Regional Activity Center (RGAC) and a Rural Activity Center (RAC)?

Regional

The “RG” in RGAC stands for Regional. Areas with this zoning emphasize high-density uses and activities. According to the Marion County Comprehensive Plan, Objective 10.3, the Regional Activity Center (RGAC) Overlay 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.”

There are two RGACs in Marion County:

  1. Marion Oaks/McGinley on 1,290 acres, which is surrounded by the Marion Oaks Subdivision on the south side of Hwy 484; and
  2. Irvine/Sunny Oaks on 453 acres, which is located on the southeastern corner of the intersection at I-75 and CR 318.

Rural

The “R” in RAC stands for Rural. Areas with this zoning are nodes of commerce, surrounded by rural land, where rural residents can meet every day needs by accessing groceries, feed stores, restaurants and small stores. There are ten Rural Activity Centers (RACs) in Marion County. We covered them extensively in this blog: https://www.horsefarmsforever.com/from-gilberts-hardware-to-dollar-general-rural-activity-centers-in-the-fpa/

The Sunny Oaks RGAC

The Sunny Oaks Planned Unit Development (PUD) is a Regional Activity Center (RGAC) with a developer’s agreement in place. It allows for residential, industrial, and commercial uses.

The Sunny Oaks PUD is labeled as Map 14b1 in the County’s comprehensive plan:

While the property is designated in the comprehensive plan as a RGAC, it must be rezoned from A-1 (General Agriculture) to PUD (Planned Unit Development). This item will be presented on February 7 at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. The zoning change is more of a formality rather than a land use change. 

 

Learn More About Sunny Oaks

 

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.

Busy Shires

What About Zoning?

The Zoning regulations are found in the Land Development Code, which is a separate document with specific guidelines to implement the Goals, Objectives, and Policies of the Comprehensive Plan.

Zoning regulates development through land use classifications and specifies the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. The Land Development Code was adopted through a series of ordinances by the County Commission, which means that the regulations cannot be changed or waived, except by a further vote of the County Commission.