Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge, with its Panther Lake and Crooked Cat golf courses, predates Horizon West. But now, because the sprawling complex abuts the development, it’s become an extraordinary amenity for golf-loving residents.



By Randy Noles

They’re having a heat wave way out west. No, we don’t mean the western United States, nor do we mean sweltering temperature. We mean west Orange County — and the heat can be measured not on a thermometer but in new-home starts.

The New-Urbanist (or New-Suburbanist) Horizon West master-planned community remains the hottest growth area in Central Florida and one of the busiest master-planned communities in the country.

There had been fewer than 20 active neighborhoods underway in 2014. But by 2018 there were more than 60, with more on the way.

Today, about 55 percent of new-home construction permits being issued are for homes being built in the county’s southwest sector, including 25,000-acre Horizon West. 

Plus, commercial and retail projects to serve all those new residents — 50,000 is the latest population estimate — are now opening or are soon to open.

So, in terms of sheer activity and energy, it’s unquestionably sizzling in Horizon West these days — and smudge pots that used to protect rolling aces of citrus groves can now be found only in museums. Nearly 15,000 single-family homes and five apartment complexes have been built, with more than 4,600 homesites under development. 

In Florida, only The Villages, the massive retirement community located mostly in Sumter County, is growing faster than Horizon West, which is generally defined as bordered on the east by S.R. 535, the north by Tilden Road, the south by Walt Disney World and west by the Orange County/Lake County line.

And it’s a charmingly cohesive place despite its size, and despite the sometimes-confusing fact that residents may have Winter Garden, Windermere or Orlando addresses. There are Horizon West networking groups, book clubs, sports leagues and business groups. The Horizon West Alliance, a volunteer advocacy group of residents, is always finding new ways to create connectivity

Although Horizon West’s individual components will be intimate and walkable, the overall scope is eye-popping. The area will ultimately be home to more than 100,000 people, which is more than three times the size of Winter Park.


Remarkably, the concept behind this history-making project was dreamed up in 1992 by a cadre of property owners — many of them growers — who regularly met for breakfast at a local diner. Over coffee and eggs, they pondered what might be done with tens of thousands of acres that hadn’t been practical for agricultural use since a ruinous Christmas Day freeze in 1989.

Why not sell it to developers, like so many other growers had done? In this case, it wasn’t quite so simple. The county’s land-use plan called for the vast tracts upon which groves had once flourished to remain rural.

Under the plan, which placed a large swath of southwest Orange County outside the urban service area, housing would be limited to one unit for every 5 or 10 acres. Property now unsuitable for citrus would be unsuitable for subdivisions, too.

Without water and sewer lines, the county’s theory went, developers would be forced to find land within the urban service area’s boundaries, thereby minimizing sprawl.

In fact, developers simply leapfrogged the rural expanses of southwest Orange and began building thousands of new homes in Lake County to the west and Osceola County to the south. Many buyers of those homes worked in Orange County.

Further vexing to the property owners — dozens of them, who cumulatively held more than 38,000 acres — was the fact that their land abutted Walt Disney World to the south. With more than 52,000 jobs, Disney was, and remains, the largest single-site employer in the U.S. 

Clearly, keeping southwest Orange rural didn’t make sense. Still, the property owners knew that to get the designation changed, they’d have to propose something more comprehensive, more carefully thought out and more cutting edge than anything county officials had seen before.

Not-for-profit Horizon West Inc. was formed in 1993 with the mission of putting a development plan forward. The organization hired the land-planning firm of Miller, Sellen, Connor and Walsh (now VBH MillerSellen) to craft an approach that regulators would buy into.


Company President Jim Sellen, who was Orange County’s planning director in the late 1970s, knew that county officials would never agree to extend the urban service area for piecemeal projects. 

He also knew that the county had been pushing growth east, not west, because of the University of Central Florida and the Central Florida Research Park as well as Orlando International Airport.

However, Sellen agreed that saddling the decimated groves with a rural designation was counterproductive under the circumstances. The land was adjacent to major employers and it was high and dry, ideal for building. Plus, far from discouraging sprawl, the situation was making it worse.

“I encouraged the landowners to think beyond their individual parcels and present something unified,” said Sellen in an interview last year with Homebuyer: Central Florida Edition.

In devising a master plan for Horizon West, Sellen and his colleagues drew in part upon the pioneering work of Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), whose 1898 publication, To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, described self-sufficient communities linked by road and rail. Those “garden cities” would surround a larger, central city. 

But the planners also looked at current trends in New Urbanism, Disney’s Celebration development being a prime local example. In addition, they studied well-established communities such as Winter Park, which remained a model for smart planning a century after its founding.

Said Sellen in 2016: “What we came up with was so simple that it was powerful.”


Horizon West, as it was originally envisioned, would contain six to eight Howard-style villages consisting of two to four neighborhoods. Schools and community parks would be within walking distance — a half-mile or less — of the homes, and the size of each neighborhood would be pegged to the capacity of its school. 

Each village would have its own Village Center with such essentials as a grocery store and a drug store. A major mixed-use Town Center encompassing homes, shops, offices and public areas would serve all the villages.

Bicycle and pedestrian paths would line every street and connect Village Centers and neighborhoods to one another. Thousands of acres of green space would be preserved. 

Then-commissioner Bob Freeman, whose district encompassed southwest Orange, pushed hard for the project, in part because he knew that the prospect of large-scale development would expedite extension of S.R. 429. (Today the limited-access toll road, formally known as the Daniel Webster Western Beltway, runs from U.S. Highway 441 in Apopka south through Horizon West to I-4 south of Disney.)

Then-commission Chairwoman Linda Chapin was also supportive, and even pressed the county to pitch in money and staff time to help finalize the presentation. Dozens of community meetings were also held to get feedback.

The next task was to convince the state Department of Community Affairs, which had the authority to approve or reject changes to local land-use plans. (The agency is now called the Division of Community Development and is part of the Department of Economic Opportunity.) 

Charles Gauthier, then the DCA’s director of community planning, was initially skeptical — but changed his mind after seeing what Sellen and company had cooked up.

“Our thought was, ‘Boy, now’s the time to get out ahead of this,’” Gauthier said in a 1998 interview with the Orlando Sentinel. “In 20 years of experience, this was the most sophisticated planning I’d seen.”

To facilitate the project, the state and the county adopted an innovative, two-tiered approach that allowed Horizon West to bypass the cumbersome Development of Regional Impact review process. 

The Optional Sector Planning Program, a pilot to accommodate Horizon West and four other demonstration projects throughout the state, called for the creation of a conceptual buildout plan for the entire area. 

Once the larger-scale sector plans were vetted and approved, they’d be augmented by more targeted specific area plans for the individual villages and the Town Center.

Orange County approved the conceptual plan, entitled A Village Land Use Classification and Horizon West Study Report, in July 1995. In the years that followed, specific area plans have been submitted and approved as new phases have gotten underway.


The appeal of Horizon West is further enhanced by two major amenities immediately to the northeast and the southwest.

In 2010 ground was broken on what was then called the Horizon West SportsPlex, which is off Tiny Road and abuts the development to the north and the northeast. Today the 220-acre site is called Horizon West Regional Park.

The park, about one-third the size of Central Park in New York City, is mostly raw land. But it will eventually encompass natural areas, botanical gardens, sports fields, performance venues and an array of other amenities. At press time, the county was accepting bids for a master planner.

“The vision we cast for this park will impact generations to come,” writes Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey, whose district encompasses Horizon West, in a recent edition of Horizon West Happenings, the community’s new magazine. 

Abutting Horizon West to the south is the Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge, which was opened in the 1990s and has now enabled the development to offer world-class golf as an amenity without having to build a golf course.

Orange County National consists of two 18-hole courses — the Panther Lake and Crooked Cat courses — as well as a 9-hole course, a 42-acre practice facility, a 22-acre lighted putting green, an on-property lodge and a beautifully appointed clubhouse with a restaurant and meeting/event facilities.


Southwest Orange County has two premier hospitals, Health Central Hospital and Dr. Phillips Hospital, both operated by Orlando Health, as well as urgent-care centers operated by Health Central and Florida Hospital. 

Orlando Health has just opened an emergency room and medical pavilion on a 74-acre campus near S.R. 429 and New Independence Parkway. Soon to open is a six-story, 214,000-square-foot hospital with 103 inpatient beds as well as an on-site laboratory and outpatient imaging services. 

Adventist Health, which operates eight Florida Hospital campuses across Central Florida, opened its ninth campus in early 2016 across from Winter Garden Village, between Daniels Road and State Road 535. 

The 97,000-square-foot hospital features a state-of-the-art emergency department staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Other highlights include imaging equipment, lab facilities and an outpatient surgical center as well as rehabilitation and sports medicine services.

And the hospital broke ground early last year on a 72,000-square-foot medical office building next to its year-old hospital. “This building will allow us to further gather physicians of various specialties in one central location and offer even more outpatient services right here in West Orange,” said Amanda Maggard, campus CEO, in a news release.

In addition to an expanding healthcare scene, educational opportunities are more abundant than ever in southwest Orange. The area is home to highly rated public and private elementary and secondary schools as well as Valencia College’s bustling 180-acre West Campus. Valencia owns a parcel in the Horizon West Town Center for future expansion.

Although Horizon West is served by many public schools, perhaps none was more needed than a new high school. Windermere High School, with 2,776 students, opened last year at S.R. 535 and Ficquette Road.

The 350,000-square-foot high school relieved crowding at West Orange High School, which had 4,100 students on a campus designed for just 3,000. Another high school is planned on Seidel Road, but the schedule for opening it hasn’t been announced.

Independence Elementary, on New Independence Parkway, opened in August 2015, while Sunset Park and Bay Lake elementary schools opened last year in the Lakeside Village area. Two more elementary schools are planned for 2019.

In addition, a middle school is slated to open in 2019, also in the Lakeside Village area, followed by another middle school in 2023.


Southwest Orange County has always been both rural and urban. It’s wealthy and middle-class. It’s defined by internationally known attractions and picture-postcard small towns. It’s forward looking and steeped in history. 

And, of course, it’s dotted by shimmering lakes — more than 200 of them — along with pristine natural areas where wildlife still thrives.

Today southwest Orange County is also a regional shopping and dining mecca. For example, Central Florida’s famed “Restaurant Row” stretches along Sand Lake Road near the upscale Mall at Millenia, with its world-class department stores — Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus — and premium boutiques.

Southwest Orange County is also home to much of Walt Disney World, including the Magic Kingdom, Downtown Disney and Epcot as well as Disney’s resort properties and its four championship golf courses. 

Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando are also in southwest Orange as are major shopping destinations such as the Winter Garden Village at Fowler Groves and West Oaks Mall. 

The sector encompasses three incorporated areas, Winter Garden, Windermere and Oakland. Windermere proper is nestled on an isthmus between several lakes on the beautiful Butler Chain, which includes lakes Butler, Tibet, Down, Sheen, Louise and Chase as well as Pocket Lake, Lake Blanche, Wauseon Bay, Lake Isleworth and Little Fish Lake.

Few areas of Central Florida are more beautiful and unspoiled than the parks and preservation areas found in southwest Orange County. The Tibet Butler Preserve, for example, contains more than four miles of interpretive hiking trails and elevated boardwalks radiating from the Vera Carter Environmental Center, which features wildlife exhibits and hosts a special environmental studies series for fifth graders. 

The Oakland Nature Preserve encompasses 128 acres of natural shoreline on Lake Apopka, Florida’s third-largest lake. The boardwalk to Lake Apopka is the centerpiece, offering dramatic views along the lakeshore. 

The preserve’s Green Trail is a loop off the boardwalk through a shady oak hammock, where you might see antelope or emus on an adjacent wildlife preserve. And its Uplands Trail is a network of short pathways through the sandhills that connect to the West Orange Trail.


Also key to the area’s appeal is its convenient transportation network. In addition to S.R. 429, which opened in 2005, interchanges and local roads have been completed to make getting in and out of Horizon West a breeze. 

The New Independence Parkway interchange (Exit 15) was created when New Independence Parkway was extended from S.R. 429 east for nearly a mile to Schoolhouse Pond Road, which leads to the community of Independence. 

A four-lane road, Hamlin Groves Trail, parallels S.R. 429. It originates at New Independence Parkway and runs south to Summerlake Park Boulevard, which leads to the community of Summerlake.

These roads jump-started development of Hamlin, a major component of the 3,700-acre Horizon West Town Center, by creating easily accessible tracts for big-box commercial development. 

Now underway is a 1.5-mile extension of Hamlin Groves Trail north and then east, where it will wrap around the Orange County SportsPlex and connect to Tiny Road near the entrance to the community of Orchard Hills. It is expected to be complete in the second half of 2018.

The extension will help accommodate traffic that new commercial development around the interchange — including a Walmart Supercenter and a Publix — will generate. 

Nearing completion is Shoreside Way, which originates in the southwest quadrant of the interchange and runs east about a half-mile to Hamlin’s waterfront lifestyle center.

About two miles to the south on S.R. 429, another interchange was opened at Schofield Road (Exit 13). That interchange, which marks the southern boundary of the Horizon West Town Center, is about six miles north of Western Way, which leads to the Magic Kingdom and Disney World. 

But the biggest transportation news impacting Horizon West is the announcement of Wellness Way, a western extension of New Independence Parkway through a vast undeveloped tract between the Horizon West Town Center and U.S. Highway 27 in Lake County. 

Boyd Development, the company behind Hamlin, is building the 5.5-mile-long road. The company doesn’t own the land flanking the road, which will take three years and at least $15 million to build. 

But the road’s completion will enable other developers to potentially build at least 16,000 homes. That’s a lot of new customers for businesses in and around Hamlin — and an easy way for them to get there.

In short, Horizon West, in addition to being a self-contained community rich with its own amenities, has the added advantage of a location squarely in the center of Central Florida’s most dynamic and exciting region.





Village of Bridgewater
Keene’s Crossing Elementary (Opened in 2009)
Independence Elementary (Opened in 2015)

Lakeside Village
Bay Lake Elementary (Opened in 2016)
Sunset Park Elementary (Opened in 2007)


Village of Bridgewater
Bridgewater Middle School (Opened in 2007)


Village of Bridgewater
Windermere High School (Opened in 2017)




Horizon West’s master plan organizes each village around a village center and its larger neighborhoods around an elementary school. Here are the villages:

Lakeside Village: (5,202 acres, established in 1997): A variety of retail and restaurants can be found in Lakeside Village, located in the eastern part of Horizon West. The village includes the communities of Lakes of Windermere, Oasis Cove, Windermere Trails and Mabel Bridge.

Village of Bridgewater (4,223 acres, established in 1999): At the heart of the Village of Bridgewater, located in the northeast section of Horizon West, is Summerport Village, with an array of retail centers and restaurants. It encompasses the neighborhoods of Summerport, Independence and Summerlake.

Town Center (3,624 acres, established in 2004): The heart of the Town Center, located in the west section of Horizon West, is Hamlin and its burgeoning Lakeside District. Eventually, the total Town Center will have nearly 2 million square feet of mixed-use commercial space.

Village F (2,551 acres, established in 2006): Although homes are underway, commercial development has not yet begun. Village F, located in the southeast section of Horizon West, will be home to a new high school and a village center developed by Compass Rose Corp. (a subsidiary of Walt Disney World Resort). A 75-bed assisted-living facility has been proposed.

Village H - Hickory Nut (2,975 acres, established in 2006): Village H, located in the southwest section of Horizon West, will be home to a future elementary school and middle school and encompasses the neighborhoods of Waterleigh and Story Grove. There’ll also be a village center, but specific plans haven’t been announced.

•  Village I - Southern Tip (2,129 acres, established in 2008): Village I is still wide-open spaces, but will eventually be developed. No specific plans have been announced, however.