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East Orange County residents protest two housing developments near the the Econlockhatchee River

Image: Hold the Line, orlandoweekly.com
Image: Hold the Line, orlandoweekly.com

Jay Zembower remembers a time when he and his friends could ride their horses from Seminole County down the Econlockhatchee River and through the wilderness to Deseret Ranches. White-tailed deer, alligators, wild turkeys, gopher tortoises, sandhill cranes and black bears roamed through areas of pine flatlands, oak hammocks and lush foliage.

It would be pretty hard to do that now, and as these pockets of wild green diminish, some residents feel local boundaries between rural and urban communities are going down as well.

Next week, the Orange County Board of Commissioners will make decisions on the futures of The Grow and Sustany, two properties that combined would put about 4,000 homes on almost 2,000 acres in an environmentally sensitive area just off Colonial Road near Lake Pickett and the Econ River.

While some residents, like Zembower, have come out in favor of The Grow, which plans to include a farm, community gardens, trails and a park, other residents have fiercely opposed both projects.

Emily Bonilla, founder of the group East of the Econ, says she moved here with her husband to raise their two sons among the goats and the chickens, away from the high-rises of the city. Now, she's fighting against developments she says will add urban sprawl and traffic to the already congested roads.

"We work hard and we choose to live out here," she says. "I feel like it's being taken away beyond our control, and we didn't do anything to deserve this."