Sumter County commissioner tells rural residents that growth is inevitable

Nearly 75 Sumterville residents clashed with a sand pit operator and a wood-chip mulch producer in contentious zoning cases at a three-hour meeting Tuesday night of the Sumter County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners sided with residents in refusing to grant the pit operator permission to use an alternative road to haul sand. But they granted a special use permit for the mulch producer to set up a production plant.

Sumterville, a community southeast of The Villages along U.S. 301, is a mix of homes, ranches and industrial facilities – land uses that are not always compatible.

Carl Stephens, the sand pit operator, sought permission to use SE 14th Place for his trucks instead of County Road 526, which is specified in his permit.

Leesburg civil engineer David Springstead said Stephens has an easement across private land to access CR 526, but the property owner blocked the access and dug up the land. He said Stephens has filed a lawsuit against the property owner.

For more than a year, sand pit trucks have violated the permit and used 14th Place and the county has filed a code enforcement action against Stephens.

“They spook my horses,” said resident Frank Ennist, of the sand trucks. “I have to take my horses and move them to a different area.”

Ennist said 14th Place, a dirt road, “is like going through a land mine.” Stephens has agreed to improve the road once a year.

Teresa Chancey said many area residents have livestock.

“We are just country people,” she said.

Commissioner Doug Gilpin

Commissioner Doug Gilpin said he opposed allowing Stephens to use 14th Place because he violated the permit.

“This situation is unacceptable,” he said. “I think there are misrepresentations and violations of the permit from the beginning.”

Springstead asked commissioners to grant permission to use 14th Place temporarily until Stephens wins his lawsuit, but commissioners voted to deny it.

More residents objected to the proposed wood-chip mulch operation on 40 acres along U.S. 301.

Ocala attorney Fred Roberts, who represented the company, Zeager Bros. Inc., of Pennsylvania, said the process involves green wood that is ground into mulch for school playgrounds and other uses.

“One of the main reasons they selected this site is traffic accessibility,” Roberts said, adding that the facility would employ 10 to 30 people.

Potential noise from the grinding machine was the main objection of area residents.

Casey Jones said he lives within 500 feet of the property and that the noise will be 160 decibels at the machine.

“I think this company can pick a better location,” he said.

Charles Patterson said the wood-chip operation will make his property worthless, while William Mitchell, whose mother, Birdie, lives close to the proposed facility, said the company’s plans “don’t pass my smell test.”

Former Wildwood Police Chief Ed Reeser, who also lives in the area, said the company won’t add much to the county’s tax base or a lot of employees.

“We’re all trying to achieve growth,” he said. “But there is a time and place for that.”

Dr. Kimberly Ireland said she would like to build an office building in the area, but won’t proceed if the wood-chip company moves in.

Roberts said the facility will not be built on the edge of the 173-acre property so homes will be farther away, reducing the noise. He said the noise also can be buffered by landscaping to meet the county standard of 60 decibels.

Despite the resident opposition, Gilpin said he saw no legal reason to deny the permit.

“There’s no question this is a wonderful neighborhood,” he said. “There’s no question we are going to experience growth in Sumter County.”

Commissioners approved the permit in a unanimous vote.

They also voted to rezone 2.8 acres in the Saint Catherine area along U.S. 301 south of Bushnell to neighborhood commercial so a Dollar General store can be built. Neighbors argued that building the store could aggravate flooding problems in the area.