School Board Initiates Legal Moves in School Site Battle with Orange County
November 14, 2013 | WMFE - The Orange County School Board is preparing for a legal battle with county commissioners over a proposed new high school near Windermere.
The commission last week voted down the school board’s request to build along the inside edge of an area zoned a “rural settlement.” Now, the school board is preparing court papers announcing an intent to sue the Orange County Commission.
School Board Chair Bill Sublette has said the State Road 535 location is the best available for the high school west Orange County needs in order to relieve overcrowding at existing campuses.
After commissioners voted 6-to-1 last week against granting an exception to build in the "rural settlement" zone, Sublette pointed out that the school board already owns the 60-acre site in question, and the majority of students that would attend live within a two mile radius of it.
Additionally, he said, "it’s located on a major thoroughfare without access issues, without traffic issues; it’s located adjacent to already-permitted commercial development; it impacts the fewest number of homeowners.”
Sublette said the county has already allowed a private school and a commercial strip mall to build inside the “rural settlement,” and, at most, 30 homeowners would be impacted by the proposed public school. He said some other sites under consideration for the 2,500-student relief high school would impact hundreds.
A group of affected homeowners have attended commission meetings to voice their opposition to building the school on the proposed site.
Some county commissioners have suggested that the school board should have pursued a different approach to the campus's construction, such as applying for its parcel of land to be removed from the "rural settlement" zone. Some have suggested an alternative site, which Sublette said is too far away from the students it would be designed to serve and it would require millions of tax dollars to puchase and build support infrastructure.
The first step in the school board's appeal of the decision is a meeting between county officials and Orange County School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins. There are several attempts at mediation that are built into the process before the matter would reach a three-judge panel.
Sublette said he would rather work out a compromise plan with the county - perhaps for a smaller school, with restricted use of high-powered lights for nighttime sporting events - than proceed to court.