They’ve been in their home for 36 years. Osceola County may force them out

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Dave Cramp knew he’d grow old in northwest Osceola County the moment he laid eyes on his little slice of paradise.


Tucked behind miles of sandy roads, trees, ferns and only a few neighbors within earshot, Cramp’s five acres bring visitors back in time to a place of “old Florida” that’s quickly vanishing from the region. Trees grow next to the foundation of his house instead of in perfect little rows. His yard resembles the forest floor, attracting animals pushed away from the endless grass growing in subdivisions.

Except for the occasional hum of an airplane or machine in the distance, his days are filled with the sounds of chirping birds, rustling leaves and the occasional four-legged visitor crunching through the bushes and checking out his collection of classic cars.

“We have everything coming through here,” he said, with a slight smile on his face. “Deer, bobcat, panther — you can’t get that anyplace else.”

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His smile disappears as he considers the future of his property. For 36 years, it has sat unchanged and unbothered by the outside world.

Now, there’s a one-in-two chance the county government will force him to leave.

Change comes knocking

For decades, Cramp and other residents in his community knew the expansive property next door was slated for development.

Known as the Reunion property, one developer, then another requested permission to build homes overlooking expansive golf course views. Some of the homes in the now-under-construction community are listed for as much as $7 million.

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Traffic was always going to be an issue with a major increase to the area’s population, and the original developer struck an agreement with the county in the early 2000′s: they would extend Sinclair Road through their property to give residents access to I-4 and SR-429, then known as the “Western Beltway” on maps. After the road’s completion, it would be conveyed to Osceola County as a public road on Reunion land.

Fast forward to 2021. According to residents, relationships between the Reunion developer and the county hit some bumps and a new arrangement was made. The county would build Sinclair Road and the developer would pay for studies to build the road, as well as a portion of the actual construction cost.

Nearby, Cramp and his neighbors, including Renee Ruiz, received letters in the mail from an attorney.

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“It was right before Thanksgiving,” Ruiz recalled. said, “[The letter] said, look, your home may be taken for eminent domain.”

Seemingly without warning, the county had decided to put neighboring properties into play to build the road instead.

Osceola County planners are now considering two different paths for Sinclair Road that parallel each other. One path, known as the “blue route,” due to the color on planning documents, would traverse mostly Reunion land, as had been the agreement from the beginning.

Due to new practices in road design, the route would clip the corners of three or four non-Reunion properties, including about an acre of Cramp’s land.

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Cramp, Ruiz and other property owners are OK with this, saying the road would be beneficial to the area despite their loss of land and it coming so close to their homes. This was the plan that was in place since the turn of the century and one they’ve long come to realize would happen one day.

The option they’re afraid of is known as the “yellow route.” It would avoid Reunion property altogether, plowing through a dozen neighboring properties and destroying three or four existing homes, including both Ruiz’s and Cramp’s.

“For me to have to get up and put everything in some kind of a trailer and go find something else… would be terrifically traumatic,” he said, growing emotional. “My wife has some memory issues, and it would be traumatic for her, too.”

Ruiz, who has lived on her property for about one year, painted their situation as a “David versus Goliath” battle. While she considers the decision before the county to be a no-brainer – building on undeveloped land or tearing down existing properties – she knew there was more at play.

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“I guess they figured, take a few rural homes versus multimillion dollar properties,” she said, alluding to rumors the developer wanted to use the extra space to plot out additional mansions. “These people that are just wanting to be private and have their own nature against a big developer, the county and potentially all the money that could be derived from [the extra homes].”

Planning alternate paths for a road is a standard practice in government-led projects, if nothing more than to give elected leaders the illusion of a choice. Osceola County officials said in this case, the government wasn’t leaning one way or the other, at least publicly.

Before they pick the final route to propose to commissioners, they’ll weigh multiple factors, including public comments collected during a presentation Tuesday night, the cost of the road and future development and tax revenue opportunities.

While the neighbor-friendly blue route is estimated to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars less than the yellow route because no homes would be bulldozed, officials might find the prospect of trading a few lower-value, lower-density homes for tax-generating luxury properties enticing, as Ruiz indicated.

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That part of the equation was not discussed by government officials during the public meet-and-greet.

“We develop new standards and the alignment hadn’t been looked at in several years,” Osceola County Assistant Manager Tawny Olorie said, reassuringly. “We wanted to look at it again.”

Olorie emphasized the weight environmental and social impacts, like eminent domain, played in the decision-making process. Just as important, she said, was feedback from the community.

Cramp’s and Ruiz’s development, Happy Trails, successfully rallied many of its residents to turn up Tuesday and make it clear which option the community preferred.

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While the schedule is flexible, planners are expected to consider all the feedback and send their preferred alternative to the Board of County Commissioners in September, with a vote by the end of the year.

Residents know that’s when their fates could be sealed, and said they’ve been bombarding their local commissioner with messages begging her to ensure the yellow route would be a known non-starter.

“There’s no amount of money that I care about having that would replace this house,” Cramp said.

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