In 1980 Florida State Statute Chapter 190 became the legislative authority for creating Community Development Districts allowing developers a financing mechanism for continual growth without a burden being placed on local government. Under Chapter 190, from 1992 to present, The Villages of Lake Sumter, Inc (VLSI) has been rapidly expanding The Villages, Florida, an advertised age fifty-five plus retirement community.
During this 28-year building period, and its continuing rapid expansion, many have sought the answer to when the “build out” would end, or at least a moratorium called on construction, owing to concerns associated with overcrowding, including but not limited to, inadequate infrastructure, increase need for landfills, congested highways and multi-modal pathways, crowded restaurants and public squares, empty store shelves, a shortage in labor market, a strain on the medical community, and other environmental and logistical pressure affecting this community and surrounding area that compromise quality of life. Further, another financial reality exists. Based on the latest demographics, baby boomers whom far exceed that of Generation X in numbers, have experts predicting that continued home building is going to lead to a housing bust in just a few short years. However, the over-riding question county residents should be demanding an answer to, is whether Florida’s Chapter 190 actually ever intended to allow an unelected developer to create and maintain a potential monopoly and being allowed to passed it on in perpetuity?
Chapter 190 contains a residential age requirement wherein 80 percent of its population has to be age 55+ while the remaining 20 percent may be below this age but, not 19 years old or younger.
The Villages of Lake-Sumter, Inc. (VLSI) Marketing Department and its affiliated companies, operating under Chapter 190 and marketing its product as an age 55+ retirement community made and makes a number of material representations such as Deed Compliance, Covenants and Architectural requirements. VLSI also made and makes material representation as to an Amenity Agreement, in exchange for the purchase of a home, referred to as “buying The Villages Lifestyle”. It is unknown if the continued expansion of The Villages interferes or seriously impedes the ability of VLSI to effectively maintain the age requirements, or if it delivers on these material representations? Also, unknown, is whether anyone has maintained an accurate accounting of these vitally important legal statistical requirements and material representations, or if in fact they are actually enforceable, and if so, being enforced? Irrespective, VLSI has failed to ever release a published public accounting of these vital and legal statistics. Of equal importance and left open for serious legal consideration is whether the act of renting a home or a room in a home legally qualifies as “buying The Villages Lifestyle”?
The Villages Lake-Sumter, Inc. (VLSI) and its affiliated companies citing the authority of Chapter 190, own or have financial influence over most of The Villages commercial property, and thus appoint the “Board of Supervisors”, the governing body of The Villages which retains all voting rights. VLSI and their Board of Supervisors, in turn, appoints a District Manager who is responsible for the Community Development Districts day to day business activities. By its practices, and through Chapter 190, policy, contractual agreements of adhesion, political appointees, and its other centers of influence, control of The Villages and county appears to remain in the hands of VLSI. To capture the mood of county residents is to ascribe the sobriquet, “The Villages-opoly.”
To further complicate and confuse the concern for potential monopolistic practices under Chapter 190, VLSI in 2004 created “One Sumter” which places all five Sumter county commissioners under its’ roof. One Sumter’s polices, practices and activities, at minimum, create “an appearance of conflicts of interest.”Adding support concerning this potential monopolistic narrative, is the fact that VLSI political influence does not end at the county lines. Given VLSI is a large political donor its political influence in the past has reached out to both the White House and the Florida governor’s mansion. Further, VLSI has a near monopoly on all The Village’s news outlets (print, audio, optics) and also funds the Villages Homeowners Association all of which seem to remain silent or suppress criticisms of VLSI’s actions but, promote its propaganda rendering fair and balanced reporting moot.
Sumter County residents continue to express outrage with a recent property tax increase of 25 percent. The ubiquitous “Everyone knows” meaning the big secret isn’t a secret at all has application here. Residents immediately pondered a potential quid pro quo, wherein the five county commissioners (One Sumter) who owe their positions of authority to VLSI, and perhaps prime business opportunities, provided VLSI an” unusual gift” of a transportation impact fee of only $901 for each new home it builds while normally an individual builder pays a hefty $2,600. Ostensibly, residents ponder whether the county commissioners unloaded VLSI’s financial responsibility to ambitiously expand its building opportunities onto all Sumter County taxpayers in the form of a 25% property tax increase. This situation mirrors others wherein VLSI sells or transfers assets to the District (residents). This begs two questions (1) How are the VLSI’s potential liabilities be passed along to residents? (2) And why aren’t governing voting rights transferred to residents as assets are purchased by the Districts?
Ostensibly, given the extent of VLSI’s influence and substantial involvement, both politically and financially in supporting certain political candidates in this community and surrounding area, has created over the years, open discussion pertaining to the process. Ostensibly voters ask, whom do these public servants represent and do they speak for all taxpayers? And, while the perception of favored political candidates by VLSI may not be true, if true, does this situation equate to being taxed without true representation?
It is reasonable and understandable that Chapter 190 was created, in part, to generate new taxes for local and state coffers. However, do new taxes along with potential campaign donation justify state and local politicians ignoring the potential monopolistic tendencies created by Chapter 190 existence? I believe they do not. So has the state of Florida permitted a potential monopolistic undertaking to go unchecked or unchallenged? Recall, that VLSI’s activities had not escaped the attention of the federal government as the Department of Treasury under its filings of Notices of Proposed Issues dated January 20, 2009, as respects The Villages Bond Issue of March 31, 2003 undertook an evaluation of VLSI’s practices.
As previously stated, the over-riding question is the legislative intent in enacting Chapter 190 which would necessitate the State of Florida to undertake a review to clarify the following questions as respect Chapter 190. (1) Chapter 190 cites a” financing mechanism” only as an instrument, for continual growth without a burden being placed on local government. What exactly does that mean? (2) What is the legitimate scope of authority and control extended to any developer of residential properties under Chapter 190? (3) What are the allowable time limits that are appropriate before any developer of residential properties must legally cede its control to independent and interested parties under Chapter 190? (4) Define, as it pertains to the nature of financial and commercial activities, by any developer of residential properties, the legal differences between permitted business practices and exploitation of a community under Chapter 190?
I do not desire to misjudge VLSI or to besmirch its name nor intend my words to devolve into synonyms of bad or evil. VLSI perceived dealings are outlined in this letter solely because it is the only experience the majority of residents in Lake, Sumter and Marion counties have had with residential building under the legislative authority of Chapter 190.
So as to ensure clarity, the sole purpose of this letter refers back to the aforementioned four fact questions pertaining to Florida’s State Statute Chapter 190, requiring both an official and legal interpretation as to the legislators intended and expected end product in enacting this piece of legislation as it applies to any developer of residential properties?
One effective manner in which voters can receive satisfaction and answers to any of these questions is to elect county and state leaders, absent any appearance of conflicts of interest, who they believe will, in fact, fairly represent all county and state taxpayers, and who will be heard to address these concerns in the halls of the State Capitol.
Dennis Petrucelli is a resident of the Village of Bonnybrook.