By Dan Harkins
ORANGE CITY - The 40-year plan for a community development agency to transform the core corridor of U.S. 17/92 is nearly finished.
What the plan needs now, said City Manager Jamie Croteau, is input from county planners, the city's planning commission and final approval from a newly seated Volusia County Council sometime around the end of the year. Some current county council members have expressed reluctance to add to the county's already long list of 16 CRAs, which use about $7 million in ad valorem property taxes every year to redevelop some of the county's hardest hit commercial corridors.
City leaders remain hopeful, however, they got in just as that window is closing.
"In 40 years, I'll be 80," joked Orange City Councilman Anthony Pupello, just after the city's planning consultant Ginger Corless presented the council with the draft plan. "So there are going to be many people participating in this that are not in this room, and many in this room will not see the benefit, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be moving forward."
Councilman Bill Crippen said Mr. Pupello is lucky to get to see the changes.
"You would be only 80," he said, "but I would be 103. I don't anticipate being up here at 103."
Mayor Tom Laputka interjected: "That'll be the new middle age by then."
All laughed, then Mr. Crippen continued, "I'd like to think I was part and parcel of the movement that created what we will ultimately have."
That movement has 13 parts, all explained by Ms. Corless over more than an hour-long presentation. Each is tied to a shortcoming identified in the blight study, or finding of necessity, approved by the council in April.
"We must address those blight factors we found in the finding," she told the council, "... it's going to be critical to Volusia County how we do that."
The facets are general in nature, she said - none tied to any specific projects. They are:
.Improve and beautify transportation amenities, from sidewalks and crosswalks to bike trails and bus stops.
.Fund, finance and deliver infrastructure improvements. About 50 percent of all structures in the proposed U.S. 17/92 CRA, from State Road 472 on the north and Enterprise Road on the south, still operate on septic systems, Ms. Corless noted.
.Create a more positive identity. This could mean a grant program for businesses to improve their facades to landscaping of the city's 11 medians, she said, "So people understand what you're trying to achieve." The city already plans to beautify five of those gateway medians in the coming year - CRA or not.
.Continue improvements to public spaces in the CRA, such as the redevelopment of long-neglected Mill Lake Park, which could help recreate a sense of a downtown area.
.Create modern building codes that are enforced and create a sense of place.
.Create an attractive and safe corridor along 17/92, from streetscaping to facade improvement programs.
.Ensure that measures are in place to promote the downtown core to establish a reason for people to come there.
.Bring a more diverse mix of retail offerings to the city's formerly bustling downtown area surrounding Graves Avenue.
.Use land acquisition programs to piece together smaller parcels to create larger more development-ready lots.
.Establish more public-private partnerships.
.Establish design standards for the city's industrial parks off 17/92.
.Revitalize residential offerings within the commercial corridor to repopulate the downtown core.
.Tap into funding opportunities beyond the CRA, such as matching grants, to stretch the agency's capabilities once revenue starts trickling in.
All of these components will work together, Ms. Corless said, to stimulate interest in the area again.
"When a developer sees the public ... has reinvested in their community," she said, "that too spurs reinvestment. 'If you're doing it, then I'm more willing to spend my money here, too.'"
She estimated a CRA won't start seeing ad valorem revenue for about seven to 10 years, when about $500,000 should be available, but over 40 years, the agency has the potential to make use of as much as $65.5 million in extra property taxes and matching funds to satisfy many of the plan's objectives.
That figure turned the future bright for most city leaders.
"We don't want to be a metropolis here," said Councilman Michael Wright, "but it wasn't too long ago that Orlando was a small town. It wasn't a long time ago that Altamonte Springs was a small town. And it hasn't been long that Lake Mary even existed."