Hunter's Creek community fighting planned Brightline route

A high-speed train could soon be yards from Hunter's Creek homes. 

On Thursday, Brightline proposed a plan to extend its railway connecting Miami to Orlando International Airport (OIA) at a scheduled Central Florida Expressway meeting in Orange County.  In the plan, Brightline hopes to connect two of the largest and most congested markets in the nation. 

The project is already more than half complete with stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. A station at OIA is under construction and another was recently announced and is in development for Disney Springs.  In the $2.7 billion plan, it shows adding tracks along State Road 417 near Hunter's Creek. 

According to an attorney representing the Hunter’s Creek Community Association and Hunter’s Creek Town Center Property Owner Association, it potentially could disrupt the area and drive home prices down.

"That’s pretty crazy," Ramon Garcia said after FOX 35 News told him Brightline’s plan for the connection. 

Garcia said he didn’t know it would be happening in his own backyard. 

"You got me. I’m really surprised to know this now," he added.

Garcia wasn’t the only one surprised. FOX 35 questioned a handful of neighbors along Belthorn and Estella Drive, two separate neighborhoods which straddle State Road 417.  One homeowner, Travis Thomas, says before he moved into the Hunter's Creek area 10 years ago, he worried about the noise the highway would produce, but it ended up not being an issue.

"I love living here," Thomas said. 

Thomas also didn’t seem too worried about the Brightline tracks which could accompany the highway in the coming year. 

"We will see how it works out," he said, adding it would be great for the area. 

But, certain business owners and neighbors do not share the same sentiment. Land Use, Government Law, and Real Estate Lawyer, Mary Doty Solik with Shuffield Lowman Attorneys Advisors sent a letter to Central Florida Expressway (CFX Way) defending the Hunter’s Creek Community Association. 

"Our residents and business owners are expressing concerns about noise safety…and property values. The proposed route through the State Road 417 would impose all of the burdens of a high-speed train on the Hunter's Creek community, with none of the benefits," she wrote in a letter dated May 10, 2021, that was read out loud during the CFX Way meeting. 

In the document, Solik claims Hunter’s Creek is the only residential community to be impacted by the Brightline route along SR 417. It also states prior litigation gave the right to the property owners of Hunter's Creek to seek any damages if the right away was ever acquired for a high-speed rail. The letter says homeowners plan to exercise all rights conferred upon them if the Brightline tracks are installed. 

"We ask that you not allow the community to be ruined by the high-speed train," Solik ended the letter. 

FOX 35 took a closer look at the neighborhoods along the proposed Brightline route. A sound barrier is already under construction but it does not leave a lot of space between homes, the wall, and the already-existing highway on the other side. 

Around 25,000 residents live in the Hunter's Creek area in total.  According to the letter by Solik, more than 5,900 single-family homes and 2,700 apartments would be impacted, along with businesses, schools, parks, and churches.   

"High-speed railroad next to an elementary school?  How crazy is that going to be?" Garcia asked as he was riding his bicycle through the neighborhood on Estella Drive. 

The high-speed train can reach about 125 miles per hour.  Once finished, a trip from Miami to Orlando will take about three hours in total.  

According to Brightline’s plan, the high-speed train would run through Hunter's Creek about one time per hour. On average, it would fly through the community along SR 417 in about six seconds. Whistles and horns are not permitted while traveling through the residential community. 

FOX 35 also discovered Brightline is negotiating with the homeowner’s association in hopes of coming to an understanding. 

"I think they need to fight the good fight," Thomas said, shrugging his shoulders. 

The South Terminal at Orlando International Airport is a part of Brightline’s phase two expansion into Central Florida, including Tampa’s extension. According to Brightline’s website, the project will use around 225 million pounds of American steel, laying 490,000 ties and transporting 2.35 million tons of granite.  About two million spikes and bolts will be hammered and place in the next 36 months.

Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the latest Central Florida news.