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The Villages

Villagers send strong anti-apartment message ahead of Sumter County hearing

Villagers are sending a strong anti-apartment message ahead of a Sumter County zoning hearing that could clear the way for multi-family housing at numerous locations in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.

The Sumter County Planning and Zoning Special Master meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21 at Everglades Recreation Center, down in the Village of Fenney.

The Villages Operating Co. is seeking a change that would allow apartments at locations including the former Hacienda Hills Country Club site, Lake Sumter Landing Market Square and Brownwood Paddock Square.

The Villages is arguing that “community need” is part of the reason that it wants to build apartments, according to documents on file with Sumter County.

“The need for additional housing alternatives in Sumter County is supported by the current development and planned development of a number of multi-family residential projects. An assessment of the multi-family rental market in Sumter County conducted in 2018 by the Sumter County Economic Development Office indicated significant unmet demand for multi-family rental housing,” according to the document from The Villages.

The once proud Hacienda Hills Country Club came down in July.

Residents vehemently disagree with that assessment.

Judith Conley purchased her home on Hacienda Hills Championship Golf Course in 1997. The attraction of the home on Cabella Circle was enhanced because it was close to Spanish Springs Town Square, which was starting to blossom 23 years ago. Spanish Springs Town Square’s fortunes took a significant hit with the closure of Katie Belle’s and the shutdown last week of two restaurants. Residents shouted down a plan for apartments at Spanish Springs during Monday’s meeting of the Lady Lake Planning & Zoning Board.

Conley said she would not have purchased the home if she had any inkling of what was to come.

“This would drastically deteriorate the culture and lifestyle of the community. Property values will be negatively affected,” said Conley’s neighbor, Bert Nowak. He and his wife Linda also live on Cabella Circle in a home they purchased in 2010.

Paul and Joann Whobrey bought their home on the Hacienda Hills golf course in 1996. They fear a drop in their home’s value and are mourning the loss of the priority pool and restaurant at the now-demolished country club.

They said the new generation of the Morse family, who reportedly refer to themselves as Generation 4 or “G4,” are “changing the definition of The Villages from the way Harold and Gary saw it.” They were referring to Villages founder Harold Schwartz and his son, Gary Morse.

The Whobreys, like so many others in the Hacienda Hills area, are concerned about an increase in traffic on North Morse Boulevard, a roadway already plagued with golf cart fatalities and bicycle crashes, due to intermingling with heavier vehicles.

Buried within the documents submitted to the county is The Villages’ admission that the section of North Morse Boulevard has been given an “F” rating by the Sumter County Commission. The Villages claims the nearly 300-unit apartment complex planned for the Hacienda Hills site would not increase traffic.

Baloney, said Brenda Warren, whose home backs up to the championship golf course.

“The increase in population as a result of (The Villages’) plans would detrimentally affect the quality of life in the surrounding community. There would be crowded conditions, a need for more parking in the already limited area, and an unsafe increase in traffic on Morse Boulevard,” she said.

Eleanor Eisele, who with her husband Richard bought her home at Hacienda Hills in 1997, summed it up succinctly.

“This is not what we were promised,” she said.

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