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Osceola Parkway preferred route to cut through southern end of Split Oak Forest

Public workshop set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Lake Nona Middle School.

The new preferred route for an eastward extension of the Osceola Parkway would push it through the southern end of the Split Oak Forest preserve, an alternative that has greatly reduced the impact to the park from a previous proposal yet is still expected to bring strong opposition from many supporters of that preserve.

The new proposed Osceola Parkway extension route, which also includes a connector road from Osceola Parkway through the Lake Nona medical city development further to the west, was unveiled as the preferred alternative Monday morning when the contractor RS&H submitted its Osceola Parkway Extension Project Development and Environmental Study Re-evaluation to the Central Florida Expressway Authority’s Project Advisory Group.

A public workshop unveiling the study and its recommendations is set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Lake Nona Middle School.

The extension, in various planning phases for 15 years, is the first step in plans to connect the Osceola Parkway to the rapidly developing region of northeast Osceola County and southeast Orange County, where tens of thousands of acres now are under development, and far more is envisioned in coming decades. From there, the highway is projected to connect to a planned new loop road around Kissimmee and St. Cloud, and to push all the way through to Brevard County, connecting the Orlando-Kissimmee area with the Space Coast.

But to get there, Osceola Parkway must first get through a tight corridor where development already is underway, and where some of the region’s most beloved nature preserves are located.

The originally approved alignment was dropped, leaving the eastern route alternatives of the one called the “Split Oak Minimization,” running through the southern end, and the Split Oak Avoidance,” running even further south.

“Based on the analysis of the social, cultural, physical, environmental, and economic considerations, the currently preferred alternative is a combination of the Lake Nona alternative for the west and the Split Oak Minimization alternative to the east,” Dan Kristoff of RS&H said Monday.

The immediate extension proposal, through the southern end of Split Oak, is an alternative to the originally approved plan that would have pushed the highway right through the middle of the park. It is also being preferred over the other option, which would have avoided the park entirely but would have to go through some existing neighborhoods to the south, costing another $100 million to develop.

After a period of review and public comment the proposed route would go to the CFX board for approval. Because it would traverse the Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area, a conservation preserve, the project also would require both the Orange and Osceola County Commissions to apply to the Florida Communities Trust to approve the encroachment of the 1,689-acre conservation area, protected by covenants that would allow a road only if both counties request it. The proposal would displace about 60 acres and also cut off about 100 acres from the rest of the park.

In exchange for approval of that route, one of the nearby developers, Tavistock Development Co., has offered to donate another 1,550 acres of conservation land as buffer and wildlife corridor to a complex of nature preserves and parks there that include Split Oak Forest and others, notably Eagle Roost, Moss Park, and Isle of Pine.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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