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The Villages
Sunday, April 18, 2021

Overflow crowd shouts down plan for apartments at Spanish Springs

An overflow crowd showed up Monday night to protest apartments planned at Spanish Springs Town Square in The Villages.

The Lady Lake Planning and Zoning Board played host to the large crowd, which was there demanding answers about apartments being considered at the town square. The application from The Villages of Lake Sumter Inc. indicated the request was being fueled by a lack of demand for commercial space on the second floor of buildings in Spanish Springs Town Square, that would include Katie Belle’s which closed earlier this year. The Villages blamed the Coronavirus for the shuttering of the famed Villagers-only club.

However, Villages Vice President Marty Dzuro contradicted that argument when speaking before the Planning and Zoning Board.

He conceded that other than Katie Belle’s there are “no vacancies” on the second floor of buildings at Spanish Springs.

Darrin Taylor of Tallahassee consulting firm Carlton Fields, left, and Marty Dzuro, at podium, make the case for apartments before the Lady Lake Planning and Zoning Board.

“Katie Belle’s closed during the virus and it won’t reopen. It’s vacant there, so that is the first place we would try the apartments,” Dzuro said.

He said The Villages made the decision to pursue apartments due to requests it was receiving and based on the “success” of The Lofts at Brownwood.

He said there are four buildings at Spanish Springs being considered for second floor apartments. They include The Villages Daily Sun offices over Margarita Republic and over Demshar’s/Dunkin Donuts as well as space at La Reina Building, which houses MVP Athletic Club. The fourth building is the Van Patten Building, home of the now-closed Katie Belle’s.

Dzuro revealed The Villages will seek a similar approval from the Sumter County Commission for “multi-family” housing at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square.

Darrin Taylor of Tallahassee consulting firm Carlton Fields, representing The Villages, said nothing would be “taken away” from residents and the apartments would simply be an “addition.”

Speakers lined up at the podium to express their opposition to apartments.

For starters, they pointed to businesses closing in Spanish Springs, including TooJay’s Deli and Demshar’s restaurant. Residents questioned whether The Villages had done anything to provide support for those businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

They also pointed to the fact that music has been shut down at the square since March due to Coronavirus. Some wondered if the music would ever return.

Villager Pat Murphy said she came to The Villages because it was considered Disneyland for adults.

“I am very disappointed in The Villages. The promises are broken. What we came here for, isn’t here anymore,” she said.

Villager Glenn Mead said the attraction of The Villages was that it was a planned community.

“You could see where everything was. You knew how was it was going to work,” Mead said.

He said allowing “multi-family” housing in the square would be the equivalent of the camel’s nose under the tent.

“What will they do next?” he asked.

Others said they feared The Villages would “sneak in” language that would be detrimental to the desires of residents.

“If this is so complicated we can’t understand it, do you all know what you’d be voting on?” Patsy Oburn of The Villages asked the members of the Planning and Zoning Board.

Villagers ask questions about planned apartments during Monday’s Lady Lake Planning and Zoning Board. They were pointing at images projected on the screen.

“My point is that there are questions that people sitting here don’t have answers. And we are not stupid people,” Oburn said

Planning and Zoning member Nora Choquette made a motion that the request for “multi-family” housing apartments be denied.

Fellow members William Sigurdson and Regis LeCler agreed. They were the only three of the five Planning and Zoning Board members present at the meeting.

Lady Lake Commissioner Paul Hannan, right, talks to Marty Dzuro of The Villages on Monday night about apartments planned at Spanish Springs Town Square.

The board serves in an advisory capacity to the Lady Lake Commission. The commission is not bound by the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Board.

Residents take down four-story apartment building as collateral damage

Caught up in the anti-apartment furor at the meeting were the Lady Lake Apartments, a project not connected to The Villages. The Benchmark Group of New York is seeking a variance to allow a four-story apartment building, part of a complex to be built behind Sam’s Club.

Residents took out their frustration on the Benchmark apartment project.

“I don’t feel like we are valued. We don’t want a fourth story,” said Erin Kellett of The Historic Side of The Villages.

Others agreed.

“I don’t want buildings higher than three stories. Are you listening to us?” asked Jerry Lowe of Lady Lake.

Regis LeClerc

Planning and Zoning Board member LeClerc was listening.

He recommended denial of the variance that would have allowed the fourth floor.

The Planning and Zoning Board voted 3-0 against the fourth-story for the apartment building.

The Benchmark Group has a stellar relationship with the commission. The company could still persuade the commission to allow the fourth floor.

In 2018, the Benchmark Group of New York acquired the 44-acre parcel of land where the apartments will be located. Benchmark is also the developer of Villages Crossroads, Lady Lake Crossings and most recently Lady Lake Commons. Benchmark also developed the Lady Lake Sam’s Club Shopping Center and Texas Roadhouse.

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