Record-setting Villages crowd shows up to fight development in their backyards

About 100 people, mostly Villagers, attended a meeting Tuesday of the Wildwood Planning and Zoning Board to protest a city plan to rezone the former helipad property along Powell Road to commercial.

Development Services Director Melanie Peavy said it was the most people to ever attend a planning board meeting.

But the crowd failed to persuade Special Magistrate W. Grant Watson to oppose the land designation change.

The former helipad site backs up to The Villages.

The property is a narrow 18-acre site on the east side of Powell Road north of County Road 44A. It was the site of an emergency services helipad until adjacent Villages homes were built several years ago.

“Based on everything that has been presented to me, I recommend approval,” Watson said, after listening to two hours of arguments against the change from Villages neighbors. The city commission probably will transmit the plan for state approval and then take it up for final action in late February.

Peavy said the city wanted to rezone the property so it can be sold for development. She said nearby land has been developed as commercial, including Shooter’s World, which opened south of the property.

No one has made an offer for the land but developers have expressed interest over the years, Peavy said.

The property originally was part of Millennium Park across the road but was separated from the rest of the park by the realignment of Powell Road nearly a decade ago.

“We feel the development of neighborhood-style commercial is appropriate in the area,” Peavy said, adding that the city has a need for more commercial land because of the massive residential expansion of The Villages.

Residents strongly disagreed with Peavy.

“We’re giving up the essence of a beautiful piece of property for short-term gain,” said Villager Bill Walton. “Everyone in this room would like to see the land stay the same as it is and unchanged.”

Resident Linda Sowell said she wants to make sure live oaks and wildlife, such as owls and other birds, are protected.

“We need to stop this from being the commercial that it could be,” said Nancy Coronado.

Residents had questions about whether commercial development would cause light pollution, more traffic and other problems. Watson said it was too early to determine because a site plan has not been proposed.

“We’re trying to nip it in the bud,” responded another area resident. “Let’s stop it here.”