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Development Via Democracy

For a proposed development area dubbed Innovation Way, it seems fitting that the community is providing input via a test-pilot program that incorporates some of the latest technology in land-use planning.

A 37,000-acre section of southeast Orange County has been earmarked for a high-tech corridor that would stretch from the University of Central Florida to Orlando International Airport and may eventually include research companies, a Veterans Administration hospital and a UCF medical school, says County Commissioner Linda Stewart, whose district includes the area.

Developers are ready to start building housing for new businesses the county hopes to attract there. But earlier this year Stewart asked that plans be put on hold while the county conducted a $350,000 study outlining east Orange County's 20-year vision for the area, including land use, environment, flood plains, wildlife, economic development, transportation and other development issues.

"We just needed to have a complete planning document that establishes some sensible growth practices, and then everybody knows from the get-go what can and can't be done," Stewart says. "This is the time to do it. I just hope more people will become involved because this is almost their last chance to have a say in the east side. Once we put it to paper, we've got to stick by it."

Residents are giving input on the study at three hearings that wrap up this month. As part of the process, they're using handheld electronic keypads to vote for what they like and don't like about plans presented by Ivey Planning Group of Maitland, which conducted the study.

From there, Ivey will work with PlaceMatters, a Denver-based non-profit that incorporates democratic decision-making processes into land planning. With results from the keypad polling, experts using various types of planning tools will convert Ivey's master plan into images that can help viewers visualize how each suggested scenario would affect the land. The tools might include 3-D modeling, global information systems mapping, computer-enhanced images and others.

Drafts of the final plans will be unveiled in the new technological versions this fall at several Orlando events, including the Community Planning Collaborative National Summit in October.

The summit represents the first time PlaceMatters is using a real community project instead of a hypothetical case study in its demonstration of how the tools work together. Because of that, PlaceMatters is covering the cost.

"The ultimate goal," says Ken Snyder, founder and director of planning tools for PlaceMatters, "is to create what you might call a preferred scenario that takes into account what people care about in the area as well as what sort of scenario would provide the best outcomes for the things people care about."