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Seminole County mulls strengthening natural land protections

Seminole County's Board of County Commissioners will begin discussions to strengthen protections of its natural lands, as Central Florida's governments, developers and citizens clash over building on environmentally sensitive areas.

The board plans to hold a July 13 work session on the matter, which will not result in a vote, Seminole County documents show.

The county's Natural Lands Program preserves roughly 6,629 acres from development, which is about 3% of the county's total land. The program, started in 1990, aims to "preserve and manage natural areas within Seminole County to enhance or promote bio-diversity, corridors, water resources, environmental education and passive resource based recreation for existing and future generations."

Past efforts to strengthen the program do not affect the board of commissioners' ability to dispose of these properties, according to Seminole County documents. Therefore, county commissioners will explore three options to beef up protections of these natural lands.

These new protections may make it harder for developers to build in certain parts of Seminole County, experts say. However, it would behoove commissioners to approach these discussions with a balanced approach to protect and respect the private property rights of landowners, said Lee Steinhauer, government affairs director and legal counsel for the Greater Orlando Builders Association and the Apartment Association of Greater Orlando. In addition, the county should ensure that it's not unduly restrictive of future development.

These considerations are important because charter amendments can be difficult to change after they're passed, Steinhauer said. "Some level of flexibility to account for unforeseen future circumstances and needs is important and should be considered as the commission explores the various options."

In general, Central Florida counties have been mulling ways to make it harder to develop environmentally sensitive lands.