Villages Developer Mark Morse should be ashamed of himself.
In fact, after Thursday night’s annual kumbaya-fest known as an “Evening with the Developer,” he should have problems even looking at himself in the mirror.
Not surprisingly, Morse’s address to the VHA – let’s just call them an overly friendly crowd and leave it at that – centered on the growth in the mega-retirement community, new businesses, freshly grown vegetables – it’s OK to scratch your head on that one – and a huge hotel and spa and healthcare complex that’s being built in Brownwood. And Morse made sure to follow the annual script in his tired-but-PR-heavy presentation – give Villagers all kinds of credit for everything good that’s happening in the community.
We find that part of this year’s presentation disturbing because Morse didn’t seem to have any problem glossing over issues and avoiding the opportunity to help provide solutions to a massive problem a large group of Villagers are being forced to deal with on a daily basis.
We’ll start with the Hacienda Hills Country Club, a worn-out building with a history of health code violations, bad food and lousy service. We can’t even imagine what the kitchen in that rat-trap of a structure looks like, but we’re guessing a trip through it would cause us to eat at home more often.
During Morse’s highly scripted talk, he said work will begin soon on the country club, starting with the opening of a pool bar – let’s not forget that the pool was shut down last February because an inspector found problems with the chlorine and pH levels – and more updates to come that will be spurred by feedback from Villagers.
If Morse truly wanted feedback, he should have attended a packed-house Amenity Authority Committee meeting that took place just hours before his lovefest with the VHA. But since he didn’t bother, we’ll share their message with him – Villagers want a restaurant to go back into the building that closed its doors last month. And this time around, they’d like one that stresses quality and great food instead of one where health inspectors cringe and bringing your own sandwich and utensils ranked high on the list of good ideas.
While we’re talking about the Hacienda Hills Country Club, we find it extremely interesting that Morse failed to tell Villagers that just last month he had offered the controversial building to the ACC. We guess he wasn’t comfortable telling the crowd that he’d like to get several hundred thousand dollars of their hard-earned money for a building that probably should be facing a wrecking ball instead of being talked about as an eatery.
On Friday, longtime Community Development District 3 Supervisor Gail Lazenby made his thoughts on the possible purchase of the Hacienda Hills building well known.
“I don’t want to see the AAC purchasing the property or even accepting that property,” said Lazenby, who has served in elected office for 20 years.
He pointed out that he’s been in The Villages for a long time, and unlike newer residents, he has witnessed the acquisition by the AAC of properties at Silver Lake, Chula Vista and El Santiago – restaurants that were converted into recreation centers at residents’ expense.
We appreciate the fact that Lazenby isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Like many of us who have been here for quite some time, we’ve seen this Developer trick in the past. And since Morse wants feedback from Villagers – of which Lazenby is one – hopefully he’ll get the message loud and clear about his flimflam building.
Finally – and this one really gripes us – we find it extremely disturbing that Morse failed to mention one word about the sinkhole-plagued Village of Calumet Grove and the nightmare the residents along McLawren Terrace and McAlpin Street have been going through since February of last year.
Those residents – ones who wrote large checks for their homes – were told at a recent Community Development District 4 question-and-answer session that Morse and company had no intention of getting involved in the situation that still exists in the neighborhood today.
The message was loud and clear – he doesn’t appear to give a hoot about the 110 homeowners who are 15 months into living with two dilapidated houses that are supposedly being repaired by a company named I Buy Sick Homes and a portion of McLawren Terrace that’s still closed.
Not that Morse seems to care, but those residents have been caught in a Catch 22 for almost 15 months – and they’ve had it. For safety reasons, McLawren Terrace and a damaged stormwater pipe between the two damaged homes couldn’t be fixed until the properties were stabilized. Lawyers got involved, battles over insurance money erupted and extensions for repairs were sought. And the folks at I Buy Sick Homes, the new owner of the two damaged houses, really didn’t seem to be in any great hurry to get the problems resolved and help those 110 property owners move on with the best years of their lives.
As a side note, we remember a day back in April 2014 when a giant sinkhole opened up in the Village of Buttonwood and threatened to destroy two homes. As we recall, The Villages brass pulled out all the stops to get those holes filled in and those residents back in their homes as soon as possible. But that was a different time with a different leader who understood that it’s all about the people, not just how big the stacks of cash can be over at the plush executive offices in Brownwood.
As we said earlier, we believe Mark Morse and his family owe these Villagers a huge apology. They didn’t retire here to put up with nonsense and headaches. And they shouldn’t have to worry about their wallets being robbed every time Morse needs to get an unwanted building off the books.
This year marked the 26th time the Developer has put on his annual show and if you think about it, the message never really changes. That said, here’s hoping that when Morse makes the 27th speech it will come after he’s actually listened to those Villagers who desperately need his ear and support. That way, he and his family can make a difference where it really counts – for a change.