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Split Oak forum draws officials supporting Orange County ballot initiative

The Committee supporting Amendment 2 is rallying political support.

A campaign committee set up to promote approval for Orange County’s Charter Amendment 2 on the Nov. 3 ballot has enlisted several prominent elected officials to speak in favor of the charter proposal and preserving the Split Oak Forest.

Among those who will be joining the Committee To Save Split Oak forum on Facebook Live at 6 p.m. Tuesday night state are Sen. Linda Stewart, Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Anna V. Eskamani, Orange County Commissioner Maribel Gomez Cordero, and former Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke.

Stewart, Smith, Eskamani, and Gomez Cordero are Democrats. Clarke is a Republican. All are from Orlando.

More officials reportedly were planning to participate, including U.S. Rep. Darren Soto. Then Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced he would be coming to Kissimmee for a Hispanic Heritage Month event Tuesday night, drawing some away from the Split Oak event.

The Facebook Live effort is the second virtual town hall organized by the Committee To Save Split Oak, which was organized in late July to campaign for Orange County’s Amendment 2. If Orange County voters adopt the amendment, it would essentially prevent a highway extension through a corner of the nature preserve.

The committee, chaired by former Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District Chair Eric Rollings, has raised about $10,000 and spent about $4,500 through Nov. 4, according to county campaign finance reports.

No Orange County Amendment 2 opposition campaign committee has emerged yet. However, one is likely, as the stakes are high in the Orange County battle between environmental and development interests in southeastern Orange and northwestern Osceola counties.

Osceola County sued Orange County seeking to negate the election should voters approve Amendment 2.

The issue involves plans for an eastward extension of the Osceola Parkway, a tolled highway owned and operated by the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

CFX wants to extend it eastward into a region where developers have major developments either under way or on the books. But the road’s projected route would either have to run through existing housing developments, or through a corner of the 1,689-acre the Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Conservation Area.

The road also is planned to become, eventually, a major highway to Brevard County, a next major step in merging the Orlando-Kissimmee market with the Space Coast to the east. Osceola Parkway also is planned to one day connect with a proposed loop highway coming from I-4 around the south sides of Kissimmee and St. Cloud.

Developers have offered to provide 1,550 acres of additional natural areas to expand the Split Oak Forest in exchange for extending the highway.

CFX chose the nature preserve route, and both Osceola and Orange counties signed off on that plan late last year. The backlash led to the Amendment 2 proposal, forbidding Orange County from allowing any developments that would degrade the park.

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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