A render of the Lake Nona development. Photograph: KPMG
On a weekday afternoon, the still largely empty Lake Nona development is silent. Signs planted by the road proclaim it is where the grass is greener. At the visitors centre, a pair of well-dressed women chat over coffee. A sales agent hands out glossy brochures with aspirational verbs embossed on its cover: DISCOVER. EVOLVE. INNOVATE.
Still under construction, Lake Nonadescribes itself as a city of the future with super-fast internet connections, one of the top private [golf] clubs in the world and homes ranging from luxury apartments to sprawling estates. Less than an hours drive from the ranch, it offers a potential hint of whats to come.
The damage is done
Until this happened [the ranch] was a quiet neighbour, said Jenny Welch, 54, a registered nurse and environmental activist who lived in the area for decades before leaving earlier this year. When I first moved here in 1980, I thought it was great because it would never be developed. This is such environmentally important land. Its a wildlife corridor. There are wetlands.
Major concerns about the Deseret North Ranch plan have included how much water it will consume, the impact of proposed new roads and the amount of land set aside for conservation.
Veaudry, the Orlando landscape architect, said environmental groups tried to engage with the Deseret plans from the beginning by raising concerns but also suggesting enhanced measures to protect local ecosystems.
But, she said, what was ultimately approved was pretty much the nail in the coffin for decades-long efforts to establish a north-south ecological corridor to allow wildlife and ecosystems to flow across the state. It would put literally a city right in the middle of it, she said.
The new city envisaged for this land wont be constructed overnight. While the overall plan for the area has been approved, more approvals will be needed on specific details. This has not reassured critics.
Florida environmentalist Charles Pattison has arguedthat the long time frame only makes it harder to monitor the project. People involved in this today will not be around to see [it] through to completion, as many new administrative and elected officials will come and go over that time, he said.
The main guidelines, the amount of conservation, how wide the buffers have to be, all of that is already approved and set, said Veaudry. As far as I understand it, the damage is done. Locals know what happened. The Mormon church is the largest landowner here. And they have enormous resources.
The second half of Claire Provosts exploration of Mormon city planning will appear tomorrow. Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here