MCBOCC plan to talk growth through a series of workshops
File photo: Commissioner Craig Curry [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include clarification from the county on urban growth inside and outside the urban growth boundary.
On May 9, Marion County Board of County Commissioners (MCBOCC) held a workshop to consider growth and development projects. This report is to outline a few of the takeaways in anticipation of more workshops scheduled to drill down on growth and development issues.
The workshop started with good news: our county still has a lot of undeveloped land so there are multiple options for growth.
One of the biggest overarching questions for the meeting was whether or not the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) in Marion County’s comprehensive land plan was where it needed to be.
That boundary helps county officials condense urban development when considering growth decisions and plan for providing essential services like fire, police, utilities and schools to the developments they do approve.
County commissioner Craig Curry indicated the UGB was a good way to “control” growth and preserve Marion County’s open spaces, to which Kevin Sheilley, CEO of Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP), responded that he felt like the commissioners should not seek to control growth but rather to “shape” it.
Curry said he is often met with frustration at public functions about continued development; but, to put that development in context, he shared that land within the urban growth boundary is approximately 125,000 acres, or about 12% of the county. The farmland preservation area is approximately 198,000 acres and combined with the Ocala National Forrest, including lakes, streams and protected areas like that would be another 500,000 acres.
“When I talk to groups, they say ‘you are paving over Marion County.’ The density is concentrated and that is what makes it seem so onerous, I guess. But when you really break down the numbers on the county and look at the urban growth boundary, which we focus on, its 12%,” said Curry.
Shielley of the CEP was at the top of lists for continued growth. Sheilley said the state grows by 900 residents a day and Marion County grows by approximately 190 a week.
Sheilley pointed out that despite the growth, the milage rate has remained flat and credited the commission’s ability to keep it flat and lower than surrounding counties on their joint strategy to increase logistics and manufacturing facilities to the area.
According to Sheilley for every large facility the tax revenue to the county is equal to the tax revenue of at least 400-500 residential single-family homes.
According to the county staff’s presentation, unincorporated Marion County has at least 1,800 acres set aside for logistics and manufacturing warehouses.
Sheilley reported an uptick in warehouses being built on speculation by developers in anticipation of logistics or manufacturing companies looking for facilities already built. He opinioned that having the space already built gave Ocala a competitive edge over the Lakeland area, the county’s biggest competitor for these types of businesses.
Sheilley told the commissioners that there were currently 24 projects totaling 12,868,069 square feet of logistics and manufacturing buildings built or being built on speculation throughout the county. Of the 24, three were leased. At least three of these building projects are located outside of the UGB.
Sheilley maintained that by encouraging the building of these logistics and manufacturing facilities it would help diversify our economy so that Marion County wouldn’t suffer as big a hit on unemployment as it did in the great recission of 2007-2009, were it to happen again.
But with growth, comes increased need for services and the commissioners and staff acknowledged there was great need for improvements and funding for them.
With more logistics centers and new developments comes traffic, and the need for better road systems.
Two things stuck out in the discussion:
The need for long-range road planning to facilitate the county’s long-term growth management plans. More particularly, roads that provided for more ways to travel to and from the city of Ocala from the southwest corridor of Ocala as well as Silver Spring Shores area. It was noted that planning for these roads before adding more development would be ideal because those efforts could minimize impact to existing development that could be in the path.
Secondly, the lack of funding for road improvements. According to the presentation during the workshop, the county’s 2026/2027 road plan has funded $190 million in road projects that resulted in 27 miles of new roads and improvement of eight intersections. However, that plan currently has $347million in unfunded projects.
Additionally, the 2045 long-term transportation plan is partially funded at $517 million, short $924million.
The 2045 long-term transportation plan is overseen by the Ocala Marion County Transportation Planning Organization (TPO)—a federally mandated agency responsible for coordinating transportation projects, including highway, transit, rail, bicycle, pedestrian, aviation and paratransit, throughout the county. The TPO allocates federal transportation funds and works to improve the region’s transportation system by developing a variety of plans and programs.
Commissioner Michelle Stone asked if there was any additional federal funding for roads. County staff indicated there currently is not, but they continually follow up on those opportunities.
Tracy Straub, assistant county administrator of Public Works and Growth Services, told the commissioners that the road construction and improvements are paid for primarily from sales tax and impact fees. Relying on those revenue streams alone would likely mean a slow slog to getting the rest of the road improvements funded.
The commissioners agreed to set another workshop to discuss road planning and funding at a future date.
Marion County Fire Rescue services reported that it was working over capacity and would require 10 new fire stations.
The goal was to have stations within a five-mile drive so that it could provide good service times to residents.
Estimated cost per fire station is $4 million.
County administrator, Mounir Bouyounes, told the commissioners they should budget $1 million in staffing of firefighters and $600,000 for paramedic staffing for each station as a reoccurring budget cost.
Ideally, the county looks to develop at least five acres for each fire station.
The commissioners agreed to set another workshop to discuss how to meet the needs of fire services.
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods did not provide information or attend the workshop. A representative from the sheriff’s office indicated the sheriff was currently waiting for the return of a staffing study so that he would have the information he needed to paint a clearer picture of his budget needs to the commissioners.
The written results of the staffing study are expected in July.
Upcoming workshops on growth planning
On June 8, the commissioners will consider delineating gateway corridors on west state road 40 and US highway 27 from the city limits to the UGB. Under the comprehensive plan, the county can overlay zones and special areas on its map to identify unique spaces which require additional development regulations to maintain and protect. According to the workshop’s agenda, commissioners will explore appropriate signage, fencing and buffers for the corridors.
On June 14, the commissioners will pick up the discussion on the UGB and whether the line needs to be moved or left as it is and what incentives they could give to developing within that UGB.
Some of the incentives mentioned during the May 9 workshop included zoning with increased density, less requirements on developers to provide amenities, reduced buffering requirements between developments, and reduce the open space requirement on new development from 20%.
Straub acknowledged that there had been complaints from the public about increasing density of development.
Commissioners Jeff Gold and Curry expressed reservations about expanding the UGB.
The issue of the UGB is also coming up on the commissioners’ agenda on June 21 as they consider modifying Marion County’s comprehensive land plan to approve urban growth ten miles north of the UGB in farmland preservation area to accommodate World Equestrian developer’s plans for the old Ocala Jockey Club.
For that particular jockey club development, it has been suggested that the 4,000,00 square foot industrial space down the road at Highway 318 and I-75 called Sunny Oaks that was approved recently will provide wastewater services to the new jockey club development. Sunny Oaks industrial park is also outside the UGB and in the Farmland Preservation area.