Several south Sumter County residents opposed annexation of nearly 10,000 acres at a meeting Monday of the Wildwood City Commission.
Commissioners approved the annexation after hearing concerns that development of the property by The Villages would deplete the state’s fresh water supply.
The annexation, which includes an area known as Stuart Ranch, extends Wildwood’s southern city limits to the edge of Center Hill, which is about seven miles east of Bushnell.
Although development could be years away, The Villages Land Co. is authorized to build 14,455 homes, 1.8 million square feet of commercial/office space and 110,000 square feet of office/government space south of County Road 470 under an agreement with Wildwood.
More than 2,500 people opposing the annexation signed petitions circulated by a group called Save Rural Sumter.
“Continued expansion of The Villages will cause our water supply to be compromised,” Lourdes Toro-Rosas told commissioners. “When drought occurs, what will the result be? Water will no longer be flowing to homes.”
She said commissioners have a duty to protect existing residents from the hazards of too much development.
Resident Bill Pownall said the area, which includes cropland, pasture, wildlife habitat and storm water recharge areas, was targeted for preservation by the state before funds were cut by Gov. Rick Scott.
He said more development will deplete the Florida aquifer, an underground river that supplies most of the state’s fresh water.
“It’s all about the aquifer,” he said. “What’s going to happen when we add the rest of these homes?”
City Manager Jason McHugh said more city review will occur before the land is developed.
“What we’re talking about is just bringing the land into the city limits of Wildwood,” he said.
McHugh also said The Villages is a better steward of water than other developers. Villagers use an average of 80 gallons of water daily compared to about 250 gallons used by residents of other developments, he said.
The former owners of the property approached Wildwood about annexation several years ago, but the city limits had not reached a point where it could be done.
Mayor Ed Wolf said if The Villages doesn’t develop the property, another owner likely would.
If the state wants to preserve the area, then it should acquire the land, he said.