About two years after the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) abandoned the proposed Coastal Connector, as documented in a letter sent to the Marion County Commission, it has re-emerged as the West Ocala Beltway.
But this time, instead of a proposal by FDOT, John Rudnianyn, a large landowner in Marion County has proposed the road. Mr. Rudnianyn is presenting the maps of a proposed beltway to elected officials and their staff, community leaders and other stakeholders in hopes that they will support the new road.
The proposed road follows a similar route as the Coastal Connector, and almost one-half of the road is located in the Farmland Preservation Area (the Rudnianyn maps misrepresent the actual boundary of the Farmland Preservation Area). The proposed beltway is located west of the World Equestrian Center and On Top of the World, and it cuts through the Cross Florida Greenway and the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve, which has one of the largest scrub jay habitats in Florida.
The Florida scrub-jay is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is also protected as a Threatened species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.
Seven new interchanges are proposed at: CR 484, SW 80th Street, SR 40/CR 328, Hwy 27, CR 225A (one of the Golden Corridors), I-75 and Hwy 441.
If the road gains traction with community leaders, it could go to the FDOT in Tallahassee for further consideration, but that is unlikely as the Marion County Commission and the Florida Legislature both approved language to protect the Farmland Preservation Area from new roads.
Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan (adopted June 2019) Policy 3.3.1 Elements of Rural Character states: “1. Transportation: New transportation corridors intended to be used specifically for the construction of expressways or limited access roadways shall avoid the Farmland Preservation Area…”
Florida Senate Bill 7068 passed in 2019 states that multi-use corridors will provide for: “Protection of primary springs protection zones and farmland preservation areas designated within local comprehensive plans adopted under chapter 163.”
While there is a need for improvements to the transportation system, this is not the right approach. Any expansion of the transportation system within the Farmland Preservation Area should use existing rights-of-way. The West Ocala Beltway will cause detrimental impacts to the Farmland Preservation Area and Florida’s unique wildlife habitat.
When the Coastal Connector was unveiled at the Ocala Hilton in May 2018, Marion County citizens sprang into action. Over this one galvanizing issue, the City of Ocala, the Marion County Commission and a large percentage of citizens and landowners joined forces to oppose the proposed routes of the Coastal Connector.
After several months of meetings and much dismay, FDOT mailed a letter to the County Commission stating that the proposed routes had been “abandoned.” Residents and elected official declared victory.
After all the effort, why has a private citizen proposed a similar road through parts of the iconic Farmland Preservation Area?
After the County and the Sate both declared the Marion County Farmland Preservation Area off-limits, why has a private citizen proposed a beltway road through the heart of it?
See related article about the M-Cores Northern Turnpike Connector Task Force (which may include southern Marion County.) HERE
There is a meeting in Ocala on March 25th to take public comments about the proposed road.
Northern Turnpike Corridor Task Force Meeting
March 25, 2020
10:00 am – 4:00 pm (public comment is at 4:00 PM)
3600 SW 36th Avenue
Ocala, FL 34474 United States
Busy Shires Byerly
Director of Conservation Strategies
For there to be horses and a horse industry, there must be farmland available for horse farms. The Marion County Commission recognized this truth and created the Farmland Preservation Area in northwest Marion County.
The developers are knocking loudly on the doors of government seeking exemptions to build inside the Farmland Preservation Area. The developers want to pave it; we want to save it!
There’s an old saying, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, then you are on the menu.” For far too long, the Farmland Protection Area has been on the developer menu.
It will take a unified effort to ensure that horse farms and the Farmland Preservation Area are forever a part of Marion County’s future.