ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A controversial plan to expand the Osceola Parkway toll road through Split Oak Forest in Orange County will move forward.
Commissioner Emily Bonilla’s push to rescind December’s vote to approve the proposal wasn’t enough to sway other commissioners to change their minds.
About 60 community members and environmentalists spoke out during the public comments portion of the commissioner’s meeting, but some feel like they weren’t being heard.
“They were completely ignored by the majority of the board. They didn’t even address our concerns,” said Valerie Enderson.
Enderson, the president of the Friends of Split Oak Forest organization, said although the vote was not rescinded, they’re not giving up.
“I will be watching Florida Communities Trust to make sure they follow the Florida administrative code and reject the application. If they don’t, we’ll sue them,” Enderson said.
The Osceola Parkway toll road will extend from State Road 417 at the Orlando International Airport to Split Oak Forest. Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) is the agency heading the project that will impact 160 acres of conservation land.
For some who oppose the project, the issue is not the roadway itself, but the code under which the project was proposed.
The voted proposal was under the Linear Facilities Code, which allows projects to be done on conservation land if it has a minimal impact.
The project could have been proposed under the Land Exchange Code, which means in exchange for the conservation land being used for the new road, the county will be compensated with additional conservation land.
The Land Exchange Code requires a 75% approval from the Board of Commissioners to pass, the Linear Facilities Code does not. In December 2019, the vote to move forward with the proposal passed with only a 71% vote from commissioners.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Bonilla argued that the lack of votes needed to pass the proposal may have been the reason for CFX’s decision to propose the roadway under the Linear Facilities Code.
"We were rushed to vote on this without all of the information... We do not know what we do not know," Bonilla said. "There's been requests for more information, and that process should have been done before we had the vote."
A CFX spokesperson argued against that accusation, saying the board had many opportunities to ask questions and propose a different code, but didn't. Mayor Jerry Demings agrees.
“The Expressway Authority has been very transparent to this point. Many community meetings. There have been modifications of the route that the road will take and this is something we thought is a win-win situation for all parties involved,” Demings said.
The proposal for the toll road extension still has to be submitted, then approved by Florida Communities Trust before moving forward.
Demings said there’s no time frame yet on when Orange County will have the application completed.