Important Community News

Agua Viva attempting to rezone land again, this time for up to 450 apartments units.

Concilio Mision Christiana Fuente De Agua Viva owns the mostly vacant 55-acre lot on Heritage Place's northern border. In early August 2023, Orange County mailed a "Land Use Plan Rezoning" meeting notice to residents who lived within 800 feet of the lot. Of the thousands of households in the neighboring communities that would be affected by the proposal, only 633 were sent notices of the meeting. The notice details a developer's request to rezone the entire Agua Viva lot from religious to allow for the construction of up to 450 multi-family dwelling units, with additional waiver requests for a reduction in setback requirements, increase in allowable building height, and reduction in building separation. Translation: The developer wants Orange County to change the current rules so they can build more units that will be closer to John Young Pkwy and more visible, in buildings that are taller and spaced closer together.

A Brief History of the Lot
The lot has been zoned for religious use since 1999. A modular steel building on the upper east corner of the parcel houses Inglesia Fuenta Deagua Viva Church. The property appraiser's website lists no original sales information for the lot, and no physical owner address (only a PO box). The sales information for the lot and the ones adjacent to it are confidential and not visible to the public. The owner(s) have received tax exemptions of about 95% as a result of the religious designation. In 2023, for example, the tax bill for the sprawling lot was only $3,256.82 out of $78,755.42. Twenty-four years of exemptions have saved the owner and cost the county well over $1 million. During that period, no efforts were made to erect a permanent church structure. On the contrary, Agua Viva has a history of using their land holdings for profit, not religious activity...

- In 2005, they sold a portion of their land to Strategic Land Acquisitions LLC, a Boca Raton-based development company, for over $1.7 million. Strategic Land Acquisitions added 60 condominium units to the existing community of 50+ condos and 108 single-family homes. All share a single entrance - Crystal Creek Blvd.

- In 2008, Agua Viva attempted to rezone their land for commercial use. According to the June 2008 issue of Heritage Place Phase 1's newsletter, the church sought commerical zoning of 33 acres of parcel 20-24-29-2980-00-010 for possible development of a shopping center, offices, and a hotel. The request and proposal ultimately failed.

- Around the same time they erected a "communications" tower on a portion of their lot and put a flag on it. Typically, landowners are paid by the companies that rent it for their antennas.

What happened at the meeting:
Listen to the audio here.

8/16/23, 6:00 pm, Waterbridge Elementary cafeteria. Attendance consisted of a few dozen residents, the developer, their attorney, Orange County's case planner (Sapho Vatel), assistants to the commissioners for districts 1 & 4 (neither commissioner attended personally), a representative from Parks & Recreation, and a representative from Environmental Protection. The church/lot owners did not attend.

The attorney laid out the developer’s plan via slides. A company called Madison Capital plans to purchase the land from Concilio Mision Cristiana Fuente De Agua Viva. Their initial proposal entails the demolition of the modular metal church to add 370 units in seven apartment buildings, four stories in height each, plus additional garage buildings on 18 of the acres. There will be two entrances, one at the existing Crystal Creek Blvd intersection, and a new "primary" entrance a few hundred feet south of that, strategically located directly across John Young Pkwy from Uracus St. They admitted that this could be converted to a new intersection with another traffic light, adding 3-5 minutes to the daily commutes of tens of thousands of vehicles.

If their plan is approved, the developer would "give" a south-eastern corner of the lot to Orange County Parks and Recreation to act as a trailhead for the Shingle Creek Trail (the undefined green rectangle on the right side of the image above). No details were given about what would be done to the western half of the massive lot.

Many residents came forward to give statements and ask questions. All passionately pled for the county to reject this bid and had valid objections: traffic, crime, inadequate infrastructure, and overloaded schools. In response to the recurring traffic concern, the attorney claimed that a traffic study was being done, but when asked who was conducting it, no clear answer was given. When asked if Orange County would have to pay for the new intersection, he replied "Typically, no". The meeting ran well over the allotted one-hour time and attendees were advised to leave or be locked in by school staff.

The takeaway is that the "gift" of land for the county is a crucial piece of this proposal, here's why...
The Shingle Creek Trail is a multi-use recreational trail collaboration between Orange County, Osceola County, the city of Orlando, and the city of Kissimmee. When complete, it will stretch 32 miles and connect to central Florida's other trail networks. Orange County's 9-mile portion of the Shingle Creek Trail entered the planning stages in 2015. In the time it took Orange County to create the plans for its segment, the cities of Orlando and Kissimmee finished their trail segments. A paved length of Orange County's segment of the trail runs along the east border of the Agua Viva lot and Heritage Place. This remains unconnected to the rest of the trail due to planning problems, cost increases, lack of funding, and delays with the proposed route through Hunters Creek. This proposal doesn't have benefit for the community because: There are no apartment complexes along JYP from Central Florida Pkwy south to the 417, nor is there any land zoned for such, transient housing was never the intention for this area. The schools here cannot accommodate any more students, to the point that Heritage Place's children were almost re-assigned to a new high school 25 minutes away. The church's lot abuts environmentally sensitive Shingle Creek conservation land, and nothing was said about the displacement of wildlife, nor the impact of thousands of new residents and hundreds of cars to this relatively small area. But, from the county's perspective, Orange County's portion of the Shingle Creek Trail project -which is severely delayed, underfunded, poorly planned, and over budget - will get something it needs. After the meeting, the Parks & Recreation rep spoke to some of the attendees about the need for land that the county could use for a trailhead. This reveals several things:

- The Parks & Rec rep was there to persuade residents of the benefit of this piece of land for the trail - an indication that this meeting was not the first time the county was apprised of these plans and he was there to soothe objections they knew would be forthcoming.

- His presence, coupled with the absence of both commissioners, indicates the developer is giving the county something they need in exchange for accepting their plans to rezone land that was never intended for such use. The fact that the county is getting something is, in itself, a red flag.

- After over a decade of planning, Orange County failed to acquire or budget for a trailhead - a sign that Parks and Recreation is not a priority for county leaders. While community projects languish, Mayor Demmings recently urged commissioners to approve spending $900 million to expand the mostly vacant Convention Center and another $800 million to upgrade Camping World Stadium. A tiny fraction of that amount could buy the entire Agua Viva lot for use by Parks and Recreation to create something that the entire community could use and be proud of.

What You Can Do...

- Email your county officials. Our commissioner is Nicole Wilson (District 1), but all the commissioners will preside over the decision to approve or deny this proposal. Send emails to mayor@ocfl.net, district1@ocfl.net, district2@ocfl.net, district3@ocfl.net, district4@ocfl.net, district5@ocfl.net, district6@ocfl.net, sapho.vatel@ocfl.net. Reference the case number in the subject of your email, for example, "Reject LUP-22-12-378 Agua Viva rezoning".

- Attend the next public meeting. The August 16th meeting was the first of three. The next meeting will be before the Planning and Zoning Commission, and the final meeting will be with the Board of County Commissioners. The date for these has not yet been determined. Stay tuned to our NextDoor.com page for announcements.

- Talk to your neighbors. Encourage them to write emails and attend the next meetings. Without a strong community objection, the County will grant the developer's requests.