Sierra Club Blasts University of Central Florida for Stadium Plans

UCF's sudden drive to build an on-campus stadium has opened the door for a wider challenge to the school's controversial growth plan.

Jan. 11—UCF's sudden drive to build an on-campus stadium has opened the door for a wider challenge to the school's

controversial growth plan.

In a legal petition delivered to the school on Monday, the Central Florida Sierra Club and a nearby resident challenged UCF's

development blueprint. They outlined a host of concerns, from inadequate on-campus housing plans to calls for more road and

flooding studies. It also seizes on a failure by UCF to make any mention of a new stadium in its long-range plans.

UCF's master plan, approved in November, "is incomplete and deficient on its face for omitting any reference to or data on

the University's recently disclosed plans to construct an on-campus football stadium," read one of petition's first


It's unclear whether the challenge will derail UCF's hope to play in a campus stadium as early as 2006, but the last formal

challenge to its growth blueprint took more than a year to settle. It's also uncertain if a protest to that blueprint would

have even emerged without the last-minute stadium issue.

Even before news of the stadium, the Central Florida Sierra Club was considering challenging the blueprint, club official

Marge Holt said. "But the stadium is more of a reason to do it. There's a whole host of issues that will be triggered by that


Lighting, noise, traffic and flooding issues are just a few of them, said nearby resident Susan Eberle, a longtime critic of

the UCF plan.

According to school officials, the stadium was left out of its growth plan because, until recently, it was a financial

impossibility. A 2002 cost estimate of a concrete-based stadium pegged it at more than $100 million.

Weeks before the master plan was approved Nov. 30, UCF officials learned of the option of building a more affordable

prefabricated steel stadium for roughly $40 million — less than half the previously projected cost.

It wasn't until school officials met with a stadium construction company in early December — after the master plan was

approved — that it became a truly viable option, President John Hitt said recently.

UCF has played 26 years at the Florida Citrus Bowl downtown. News that UCF may abandon the 69-year-old stadium triggered

speculation that Mayor Buddy Dyer may have a difficult fight to secure as much as $150 million to renovate it.

Hitt plans to ask trustees to approve exploration of the campus stadium idea at their Jan. 18 meeting.

It's unclear if adding a stadium on campus would trigger a new round of public master-plan hearings. School officials are

determining that now.

When trustees approved the master plan Nov. 30 — before the 45,000-seat stadium was announced — nearby residents and

environmentalists objected to what they said was the plan's lack of permanent protection for sensitive campus habitat and

what they deemed as inadequate flood plain and traffic studies.

Among other concerns, critics also objected to a golf course planned for campus and a public-input process that they said

failed to allow for timely feedback on the planning document.

UCF officials and local supporters said the school went beyond what state law called for in allowing public input.

William F. Merck, UCF's lead master plan official, said many issues raised by Eberle and the Sierra Club — such as a

permanent protection status for the campus arboretum and the golf course — were settled in the school's favor during the

last master-plan process.

The Sierra Club and Eberle challenged UCF in its last master-plan process, pressing similar flooding, traffic and housing


Florida Cabinet members finally settled the dispute with an agreement both sides signed off on last April.

Merck and UCF attorney Scott Cole said school officials still need to pour over the specific challenges to determine which

ones are worth taking to a state mediator, the next step in the formal process.

As to whether that could slow down UCF's optimistic goal of kicking a field goal through its own stadium goal posts in 2006,

Merck said, "We would hope not."

Nearby Oviedo resident and UCF graduate Kevin Reis said the Sierra Club and Eberle speak for only a vocal minority, and many

neighbors are pleased by UCF's growth plans, including a new stadium.

"I'm very happy with what's going on," said the1977 graduate. "I'm walking on cloud nine" at the prospect of a stadium.

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