Fruitland Park ponders potential future impact of The Villages

The Fruitland Park City Commission in a workshop Monday evening debated the pros and cons of allowing Florida’s Friendliest Hometown into The Friendly City.

The Villages wants to purchase acreage on County Road 466A across from Burke’s Barbecue restaurant. The acreage would be within Fruitland Park’s boundaries.

“Do you ultimately want the Villages?” Mayor Christopher Bell asked his fellow commissioners. “I would say it is too early to decide. I have to say I have a lot of concerns reading through the developers’ agreement. But I have an open mind.”

Commissioner John Gunter Jr. said it is undeniable that allowing The Villages in would dramatically change Fruitland Park.

“They are going to have 4,000 residents and 90 percent of them vote. So we are going to see them on our boards,” Gunter said. “Fifteen years from now, 20 years from now when the roads start deteriorating and the pipes start to disintegrate what are we going to do? (The Villages) will be in and out in two years.”

But Commissioner Christopher Chesire said this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Fruitland Park and that’s what commissioners should make their focus.

“It’s kind of sad if we are worried about getting voted out of office,” Chesire said.

Some of the specific issues:

• The Fruitland Park Post Office.

“As long as they can use the vanity name ‘The Villages,’  which they have literally spent millions on in advertising. And as long it doesn’t hurt our Post Office which faced closing not too long ago,” Fruitland Park Community Development Director Charlie Rector said. “They have agreed that we want to protect our Post Office, because as you know the Post Office is the community. We are going to protect our Post Office.”

• Micro Racetrack Road.

Fruitland Park Police Chief Terry Isaacs said, “We desperately need a stoplight” at Micro Racetrack Road.

The Villages would update Micro Racetrack Road and put in a stoplight.

• Golf carts.

Fruitland Park requires permits for golf carts. The permit fees for all of the new golf carts could prove lucrative. But how would you enforce the sticker fee? You would have golf carts from all over The Villages in the new Fruitland Park section and you could not enforce the stickers, Chief Isaacs said.

• Building inspections

Again, Fruitland Park would be looking at some lucrative fees.

“If this development is going to take place, they need to play with us. It’s our sandbox,” Fruitland Park’s Rector said. “Keep it in house.”

• Recreation centers for all in Fruitland Park?

Mayor Bell pointed out that The Villages would be building three new recreation centers in Fruitland Park — but only for Villages residents. He said he would like to see something done for the rest of Fruitland Park.

“There will be three brand-new community centers – for only half of our residents,” he said.

• Fire protection

The Villages would provide fire protection service for Villages residents within Fruitland Park. Fruitland Park would provide fire protection service in the rest of Fruitland Park.

“Staff-wise that’s a biggie. We definitely have some jurisdictional problems,” Rector said.

• Deal breakers?

Vice President of Development for The Villages Gary Moyer took the podium near the end of the Fruitland Park meeting.

“We are certainly willing to address the concerns we heard tonight. Having said that, it’s not a one-way street. There are things in our business model we feel strongly about.”

For sure, a deal breaker appears to be a golf cart path along County Road 466A that would allow Fruitland Park residents to travel by golf cart to Publix at Colony Plaza Shopping Center.

“That was the first thing after shaking out hands that they said they weren’t going to do,” Rector said.

In a meeting last week, Rector characterized The Villages as wanting to move “ridiculously fast” on the land deal.

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