Round Lake Road approaching SR-46 from the south, close the coming interchange off the Wekiva Parkway.

1: Growth is Coming to Mount Dora (Fast)

In Honky Tonk Freeway, the 1981 movie filmed in Mount Dora, the fictional small town of Ticlaw tries to get an offramp from a new freeway that’s being built close by. When that fails, they paint the town pink to attract business to the town anyway. The residents of Ticlaw, they wanted growth, and how. The movie bombed in the theaters, and the producers lost a ton of money.

In a strange turn of fate, 35 years later a highway offramp is coming to the real Mount Dora. But the spectre of growth turns many residents who love their historic little town turn pale, not pink.

When it completes in 2020, the Wekiva Parkway expansion will link the 429 toll road (that now ends south of Zellwood) to State Route 419 (that currently stops at I-4). With it, the Orlando beltway will be complete and major traffic from both sides of Orlando will have access to Mount Dora and Tavares, Eustis, Leesburg and beyond.

What that means is that big development is coming to Mount Dora, soon. The question that should matter to everyone is what kind of development, because the outer areas of Mount Dora ten years hence present two potential futures, depending which of two possible courses are taken.

Along one course, there’s Clermont, with huge subdivisions in every direction and a population comprised mainly of retirees — or people commuting into Orlando and to the attractions, like Disney and Universal, for work. It’s an area struggling to keep up demand for water resources and services from an outsized residential tax base.

Mount Dora will get there by default, if it simply allows change to change Mount Dora.

In the other course, something akin to Lake Mary will occupy the city’s eastern border, with a thriving and diverse economic center in the midst of high-density residential growth. It’s called the Innovation District (also commonly called the employment center and the Wolf Branch Innovation District).

Lots of factors affect which way we’ll go. Landowners looking to sell have to be convinced to wait for a better deal after the road construction and infrastructure are done and businesses start to line up. The City of Mount Dora and Lake County governments have to stay on plan with each other. An all-out marketing effort will be needed to lure commercial interests.

In 1981 movie “Honky Tonk Freeway” a water-skiing elephant named Bubbles helped draw business to town.

But most importantly, the city of Mount Dora must continue to follow a carefully crafted and well-managed plan for the next 20 years — with a skin thick enough to deal with the incredible challenges of growth that will present daily aggravations throughout the area for some time to come.

It’s essential that citizens understand why and how this course has been planned, and hold its leaders accountable for following it.

And finally, and most essentially, this: How to ensure that the city’s historic character is maintained and even improved while all this savage growth is underway at its limit? Will downtown Mount Dora lose its appeal, or will it have the resources to thrive?

Put all this together and then remember it’s all happening now. Construction projects to widen US-441 and SR-46 ahead of the expansion, plus relocation of city utilities, starts in 2016.

We asked a number of city and county officials, including candidates for council seats, to help us gain a perspective on the Innovation District plan. Two candidates running against incumbents have continued to decline comment for Mount Dora Citizen reporting: District 1 candidate Laurie Tillett, on the grounds that an occasional contributor to the Citizen serves also as her opponent Ryan Donovan’s campaign treasurer; and Mayoral candidate Nick Girone, who this time said that since the Citizen is only one of five local Mount Dora blogs, he felt it unfair to comment in one and not the others.

The decisions that city and county leaders make in the next several years are crucial. They are a ballot-box issue for the November elections and must help guide the focus of the council’s work to come.

— David Cohea (djcohea@gmail.com)

Originally published at www.mountdoracitizen.com on October 9, 2015.

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