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J.P and Pilar Rivera love having breakfast on their patio. It’s quiet, save for the caw of a crow or one of the many other kinds of birds that live in the patch of woods behind their home in Brighton Estates along Lake Hayes Road.
J.P. said he and many of his neighbors in the Lake Hayes area in unincorporated Seminole County are concerned that their quiet lifestyle is being threatened as a 91-home development is being proposed on several 5-acre lots within the neighborhood.
The applicant, DLC Paddock Way, wants to rezone 35 acres at the end of Lake Hayes Road from agriculture to planned development. The project is expected to come before the Seminole County Planning and Zoning Board on Wednesday, Nov. 2.
J.P. Rivera said that one of his main concerns is for preserving as much of the natural lands in the area as possible.
“We are only nine homes,” he said, talking about the Brighton Estates community. “They want to build 10 times that amount. “We’d rather they not build but if they’re going to build, we want to make sure that they don’t destroy our ecosystem and our homes.”
Several large landowners in the area have refused to sell to the developer. Erin and Brannon Rue bought 5 acres off of Lake Hayes Road in 2016.
“We have four boys and four dogs, and we chose this house because it was 5 acres on a dirt road,” she said.
When Brighton Estates’ 9 homes were built on 5 acres nearby, Erin said their property was swamped with displaced wildlife but that they came to terms with the small development. She said developers offered 5-acre lot owners more than $1 million for their land.
“What they’re proposing will completely destroy why we bought this house, which was to have peace and quiet where our kids could run around,” she said. “They’re going to put 91 homes around my house.”
Lake Hayes Road is an unlit, narrow road with no striping. A deep ditch runs along the side of the road.
Huge chunks of the road’s edge eroded when Hurricane Ian dumped around 20 inches of water on the area in 24 hours. The road has since been repaired but Daniel Barrett, who lives in Brighton Estates, said he worries that additional traffic on the road will create unsafe conditions.
“The developer would need to do the entire road with curbing, lights, stripes and a safety railing along the ditch,” he said.
Barrett said that the volume of traffic this proposed development would add should warrant the construction of an additional road into the area.
“We understand that there’s going to be growth but we want it to be done correctly,” he said.
The proposed project has already gone through Seminole County’s Development Review Committee. DRC Member Bill White said Lake Hayes Road meets the county’s standards for the project’s size.
J.P. Rivera said he’s concerned that building more impervious surfaces behind his home will make his land more prone to flooding. He said he did not have flooding during Hurricane Ian but he worries that he might not be so lucky if the land around him is changed.
County flags environmental issues
During a Seminole County Development Review Committee hearing in July, the county’s Natural Resource Office determined four acres on the Paddock Way site to be “rare upland habitat” and said it should be conserved.
The developer’s consultant, Bio-Tech Consulting, Inc., appealed the DRC’s determination on July 25, writing that because the area has been surrounded by development since 1987 it cannot be maintained as a rare upland habitat and therefore does not meet the necessary standards. Among other wildlife found on the property, there were gopher tortoises, a threatened species. The consultant recommended relocating the tortoises.
In an Aug. 12 letter to the Development Review Committee, Seminole’s Natural Resource Officer Sarah Harttung wrote that “Pristine habitat no longer exists. If we used only that standard to determine what ecosystems are worthy of protection, we would have nothing left.”
She continued that upland forests are rare in the Econlockhatchee River Basin and that “although the parcel is small, it contributes to local landscape diversity.”
In the end, the DRC determined that the area did not need to be conserved because, White said, there is no way to adequately maintain the habitat because of the existing surrounding development. For instance, prescribed burns would be needed to maintain the habitat and that cannot safely be done with houses nearby.
“It was not about whether or not it was considered pristine, it was whether or not it could be maintained,” White said.
He likened it to a vehicle that keeps breaking down but the parts it needs are unavailable, leaving it inoperable.
The Paddock Way developer has not responded to OCN’s requests for comment.
J.P. Rivera said the developer hosted a Zoom meeting to field residents’ questions over the summer and about 40 residents attended.
He said he expects a large crowd of concerned neighbors at the Planning and Zoning meeting next week, which is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2. Learn more.