Residents near Universal's new theme park share epic concerns

Several residents express fear of increase in property taxes, traffic

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – From fears of an influx of traffic to worries about an increase in property values, several residents of neighborhoods surrounding Universal Studio's land for its new Epic theme park shared concerns with the Orange County Board of County Commissioners Tuesday morning. 

The residents, many wearing red and joined together by the union Unite Here, represented neighborhoods surrounding the land, including Tangelo Park, Williamsburg and Oak Ridge. 

"We are going to get pushed out of our homes by rising rents and home prices," said Aura Inman, from Williamsburg. "People are struggling to get good jobs even though we are completely surrounded by the industry."

Many in the group were particularly upset with Orange County agreeing to a memorandum of understanding with Universal Studios to provide $125 million to expand Kirkman Road. 

"Universal is asking Orange County to give them $125 million, what are we getting out of it?" Inman asked. "The road isn't designed to solve our problems."

Robert Reed has built his life in Tangelo Park for 49 years. He believes in his lower-income neighborhood, Universal's Epic Theme Park will bring epic gentrification. 

"Gentrification. That is what's going to happen to our neighborhood," Reed said. "Our taxes will go up, people won't be able to afford their houses, so you will have people coming in with higher income and eventually you will see them torn down." 

For Chris Spenzer, his concern is the lack of promises that residents nearby the theme park will get jobs there. 

"We have Universal where I can throw a stone to it, they are saying there are 16,000 jobs coming, who are those jobs going to? Are we going to get 40 hours a week on those jobs?" Spenzer asked. 

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the county will have to be careful to avoid getting into a labor war, when it is a union's job to deal with the corporation. 

"If they want to unionize workers, they should do that with Universal Studios," Demings said. "I would be careful not to have Orange County enter into labor negotiations on behalf of any union." 

As for the other concerns, Demings said he's listening. 

"Those are fears that may not be well-founded at this time," Demings said. "The plan for us, as part of the partnership to expand the roadways in and around the Tangelo Park area, is really one that will help relieve the traffic congestion out there." 

Demings believes this dialogue will continue as he says there will be more public hearings on the land use at and around the new theme park toward the end of the year. 

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