In a surprising setback, the Orange County Board of Zoning Adjustment voted against the Orlando Union Rescue Mission’s planned move to a new site off Old Winter Garden Road. The 5-2 decision came after residents pushed back against the Orlando Union Rescue Mission’s (OURM) plan to relocate in their community. Today’s vote is a major stumbling block in a process that was triggered by OURM’s recent $3 million sale of their downtown property to the Orlando Magic.
In addition to the public comments, the Board of Zoning Adjustment was provided more than 150 petitions from concerned residents who do not want the OURM moving into their area. Residents made it clear they will continue collecting more petitions and signaled the grassroots work has only just begun. The board also recommended the possibility of OURM finding a new location based on the overwhelming response from the community.
“The residents in this community are sick and tired of being the dumping ground for everything that depicts negativity in the black community,” said Cynthia Harris, one resident who spoke out at today’s meeting and also collected more than 50 petitions herself. “Everyone is sympathetic to the mission of the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, and most of us have volunteered with them or in support of related causes, however no one has considered moving the facility to Union Park or College Park.”
Residents voice concerns about the project taking advantage of the elderly and children in the surrounding area of the planned move as well as the likelihood of the increase in social demands, mental illness and crime. A nursing home and day care facilities are in the immediate area, who are the most vulnerable if problems in the area escalate. There is also a liquor store just down the road, which could become problematic for those with addiction problems who may be drawn to the area.
Other concerns involve a lack of communication with residents. This may be one reason why the community push back today may come as a surprise to many, including the Union Rescue Mission. Some are worried that the OURM move could cause current conditions to worsen while bringing in new problems from outside the community. Many believe current residents struggling in the area will not qualify to receive service from OURM’s new location, causing additional problems and more strain on limited resources.
Residents are also concerned with the question of responsibility for the area. Requests and invitations to Orlando City Commissioner Regina Hill and Orange County Commissioner Victoria Siplin have yet to be answered, leaving residents wondering who will be there for them and take action should worse problems arise in the future.
“Both sides are dropping the ball, and the City and County need to both step up,” Cynthia Harris added.
This whole situation started when the City of Orlando agreed to a land deal with the Orlando Magic, selling 7.82 acres of land the city owns which houses the Orlando Police Department Headquarters, a City parking garage, and neighbors the OURM, one of Orlando’s oldest and largest homeless service providers. City residents lost money and value of previous investments, but the Union Rescue Mission was also a target of the Magic’s redevelopment. No one wanted to build an entertainment complex around a homeless shelter.
The Orlando Magic first asked the Union Rescue Mission to move in August 2013 so the Magic could build the proposed new entertainment complex outside of the Amway Center. Once the City deal went through, it was only a matter of time. In November 2014, WFTV reported the Orlando Magic agreed to a $3 million deal to move the homeless shelter for the new entertainment complex. While the deal provided OURM with the money they needed to build a new facility on land they own off Old Winter Garden Road, the local residents had other ideas about the proposal.
Similar to how the Orlando Magic did not want to remain neighbors with the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, residents are pushing back and have no plans to back down either. Concerned members of the community plan to reach out to more local residents and small business owners in the area this month and intend to bring more petitions to County Commissioners later this month.
This is just the beginning phase of the process and despite the recommendation from the Board of Zoning Adjustment, the issue will still likely go before the County Commission for approval on March 24th. The Board of County Commissioners does not have to follow the recommendation of the Board of Zoning Adjustment. Both sides will likely be busy in the coming weeks trying to educate and organize the community.