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ORLANDO-In what has been hailed as the textbook example of a classic urban village, the birth of Horizon West is under way after an eight-year pregnancy.

Bridgewater Development Co. of Raleigh, NC and Toronto-based Black Amber Development Co. are preparing separate lakeside sites for the first two villages in the futuristic 38,000-acre, joint public-private mixed-use development, just north of Walt Disney World’s 30,000-acre empire in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

The first of 493 planned homes won’t be ready for occupancy until late 2002. Bridgewater is putting up the 217-home Bridgewater Village at CenterBridge. Black Amber is developing the 276-home Lakeside Village at Lake Sawyer. Black Amber has another project awaiting Orange County approval at nearby Lake Burden.

Horizon West will be home to a projected permanent population of 25,000 living in a dozen villages.

County planners tell GlobeSt.com the entire Horizon West community, with an undetermined amount of commercial, retail and multifamily product, will take 30 years to build out at an estimated hard construction cost of $5 billion.

“It could be more but it isn’t going to be less,” a planner tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

The first villages are being built at Fiquette Road and State Road 535 which leads directly to Disney’s front door. It isn’t a coincidence that Disney is a major equity partner in Horizon West, area brokers tells GlobeSt.com.

“Disney has long needed shelter for the bulk of its 30,000 workers, particularly those on an hourly wage scale who live miles from the park, some of them commuting more than 75 miles a day,” a planner with a private environmental firm participating in a limited portion of Horizon West development strategy, tells GlobeSt.com. “What better vehicle than to have a build-to-suit community housing those workers, almost in your own back yard.”

Horizon West is being jointly developed by Orange County and Horizon West Inc., a consortium of private landowners in west Orange County that includes Disney.

In an overview of the project, James A. Sellen, a founding partner of engineering/planning consultants Miller Sellen Conner & Walsh and the chief architect of Horizon West, calls the venture “a new paradigm in urban planning.”

The project was created when Orange County commissioners approved the Village Land Use classification, a new planning tool in Central Florida development circles.

“The legacy of Horizon West will be its dedication to human scale,” Sellen predicts. “Villages will be constructed as completed and integrated neighborhoods, containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities.”

Each neighborhood in a village will be designed so that housing units are within walking distance of neighborhood schools, Sellen says. No homes can be built until each developer donates land to the county for schools, parks and roads.

Sellen says the challenge for his planning team was to create “an orderly transition from rural to urban land uses, recognizing environmental sensitivity and high-growth demand.”

Horizon West’s 38,000 acres are former citrus groves where choice orange and grapefruit trees bloomed for 90 years until back-to-back freezes in 1985-86 wiped out a large portion of Central Florida’s citrus inventory.

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