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Coming soon near by.
Biggest-ever subdivision to be built in Lake
April 30, 2014 BY Lauren Ritchie.
The single largest development ever proposed for Lake County has begun to slither through the back channels of government. Now is the time for residents to pay attention.
The project, dubbed Villa City, is planned for about 2,500 acres quietly assembled a dozen years ago by Saudi Arabian investors, including members of the royal family. The land in south Lake is northwest of State Road 19, east of State Road 33 and directly south of Florida's Turnpike. It sprawls on both sides of U.S. Highway 27.
When complete, Villa City would have nearly 5,600 homes with a projected population of 12,275 inside the city of Groveland, which has 9,100 residents now.
The Villa City proposal is to begin with the construction of 1,076 homes plus an 18-hole golf course starting in 18 months. More of than half of the homes will be 55-plus, which means the builders won't have to pay impact fees.
The site includes several large lakes and more than 500 acres of wetlands. There are protected scrub jays and gopher tortoises on the property for which the developer will have to create a plan that suits wildlife regulators. The design for the development includes 850 acres of undeveloped land, including four wildlife corridors ranging in size from 90 acres to 250 acres.
Documents from the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, where Villa City currently is being reviewed, is to develop in four phases, ending in 2035 with 1,610 single-family homes, 900 multi-family apartments, 3,054 homes for seniors, 204,000 square feet of office space, 245,000 square feet for a shopping center and 60,000 square feet of industrial park.
So far, the owners of the property have submitted a preliminary plan to the planning council and have had a conference with officials there. By the end of this week, a summary of the plan is expected to be posted on the planning council's website, where members of the public will have their first chance to comment.
Fred Milch, the project review coordinator, said visited he the property as part of the review of the plan.
"It's a beautiful site, but it's been farmed for a long time that there is not much environmental left on it," he said.
Milch said he suggested that the developers plan for Villa City to be more self-sufficient — he'd like to see a grocery store that could be accessed by bike trails and sidewalks.
"Make it more like a town you could see anywhere and walk to things, not get the car," he said.
That's the current planner-thought on how to build cities — and this one, indeed, would be a city that is 25 percent bigger than Groveland is now. But, is it good for Groveland — or any city — to have a series of isolated subdivisions behind gates that each has its own everything?
At the moment, Groveland doesn't care. That town has wanted desperately to grow over a period of years. This is the city that doubled the size of one of its sewer plants for $10 million, figuring that growth would come. It didn't. City residents were left paying for a 40-year loan of $6 million costing $13 million after interest.
Now, Groveland is trying to re-create itself into a "destination city," said Redmond Jones, who arrived in January as city manager.
But growth isn't the simple answer to meet that goal. Consider The Villages' uneasy marriage with Lady Lake, which once contemplated deannexation because its residents were so different. Or Kings Ridge, the tail that wags the dog named Clermont. Cities that approve development so massive that it that will bring more citizens than they currently have must expect the culture and personality of the town to change. It won't be that quaint little place where folks gather at the feed store.
"That's a challenge for any community that's growing," Jones said. "But in addition to getting houses and shopping and adding other amenities to the quality of life, cultural expansion is part of it.
"I think it's something to embrace. I can imagine some might be alarmed by that. But I think it adds to the richness of the community.
The Villa City development ought to be a signal to county commissioners and School Board members that growth is heating up again. Do they really want to go into it and be overwhelmed as they were a decade ago? Can't we learn anything from history?
There are lot of angles to consider — what about water, for example? Should Central Florida thoughtlessly keep approving subdivisions with water-gobbling golf courses?
On Friday, we'll take a look at the growth hiding in the wings and how Lake County is — again — oblivious about the future.
Lauren invites you to send her a friend request on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/laurenonlake.
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