Recently, I have started attending local government meetings. I feel that some things in Orlando could be better – for example, I can’t walk to a bookstore from my apartment and my rent is very high – so I started making public comments, telling my commissioner what I thought.
I stand up and say a few words, usually to the effect that if there were more and denser housing in my area, my rent might not be as high. Sometimes I mention that if there were more people in my area, we could support the local bookstore or board game store. I give my 60 seconds of comments and then I sit and listen to the others comment.
And there’s a recurring theme that I’ve heard in these comments, the general concern: “There is no plan.” I’ve heard people say this about traffic and lot size restrictions and population density and green space distribution. “There is no plan,” they say, “to accommodate the massive influx of people moving to Orange County or to bring down soaring house prices.
Now I know that technically there is a comprehensive development plan. But the current plan was written over 30 years ago with a very different county in mind. And our zoning codes were created over half a century ago! How the plan manages growth doesn’t explain how much things have changed; this does not meet the needs of today’s Orange County.
Here’s the thing, we could have one that does. In fact, there is a new plan in development: Vision 2050.
I won’t claim to be an expert on everything he does – he’s almost 600 pages long. But I met with the people who made the plan, I talked with the people who communicated the plan. I volunteered along with people who believe in this plan. I’ve read chapters and heard presentations on it. And from everything I’ve learned about it, I’m all for it.
Vision 2050 promotes smart city center growth, not endless sprawl. Increasing density adds more housing to the market and lowers rents.
Vision 2050 expands the use of mixed-use zoning—think buildings with businesses on the ground floor and apartments or condominiums above. Increasing the flexibility of such buildings allows for the creation of walkable neighborhoods with attractive local businesses. Areas where you can get to everything you need without having to get stuck in traffic on I-4.
Vision 2050 allows for the construction of additional residential units and multi-family buildings, a concept called “missing average” housing. Creating space for more affluent housing lowers costs for everyone and gives more people the opportunity to become homeowners.
Vision 2050 is not perfect. Nobody I know thinks it’s perfect. But it moves us forward. Helps. This gives developers and legislators a guiding principle to work with. It gives residents like me something to point to and hope for when we get frustrated by the lack of walking distance or cost of living. This brings Orange County closer to the future I want to see, where anyone who needs housing can get it, where people who don’t want to (or can’t) drive shouldn’t, where local businesses can thrive in vibrant markets bordering beautiful natural spaces. Where growth serves everyone without destroying the environment.
Now we just need our commissioners to approve it.
And, fortunately, on Tuesday, July 25, there will be a vote on Vision 2050. Residents may give public comments at the Orange County Administration Building at 201 S. Rosalind Ave. downtown. And I will be there, give my public comments and tell my commissioner that I support Vision 2050.
Mike Bustillos has lived in Central Florida all his life and is an alumnus of UCF; teacher, musician and programmer; and a member of Orlando YIMBY, a non-profit organization that advocates for abundance of housing and good urbanism.