Despite fierce opposition from about 150 Villagers, Sumter County Special Master Zachary Broome recommended approval Monday night of three measures that clear the way for The Villages to build apartments on the former site of the Hacienda Hills Country Club and above stores at Lake Sumter Landing.
Only about 75 residents were permitted in the meeting room at Everglades Recreation Center due to COVID-19 requirements. The rest remained outside, where they were able to listen to the meeting.
Broome’s recommendations will be considered next month by the Sumter County Board of Commissioners. The measures include amendments to the Development of Regional Impact plans for Lake Sumter and Hacienda Hills to allow multi-family housing, as well as an amendment to a 2003 development agreement.
The six-hour hearing featured a parade of speakers opposing The Villages’ plans. Those outside the meeting room could be heard cheering speakers against the plan. Inside, the meeting was raucous at times and interrupted with boos and catcalls when Villages representatives spoke.
Speakers included several community residents of more than 20 years who aimed most of the criticism at a plan to build more than 250 apartments on the former country club site along Morse Boulevard.
Representing The Villages Developer, attorney Jo Thacker said a 2018 study found a shortage of apartments in the community.
“There is a need for multi-family housing in Sumter County that would be addressed by this application,” she said.
Besides apartment buildings of up to four stories, a resort pool, sports courts and a walking trail also are planned for the seven-acre Hacienda Hills site, Thacker said.
But residents said the apartments would violate promises by Harold Schwartz, who founded The Villages decades ago.
“If Schwartz was here, he’d have a different idea I think,” said Robert O’Dell. “It’s a single family environment.”
Steve Raker said when he bought his home, Schwartz assured him it would remain a community of single-family homes.
Some residents near the Hacienda Hills site have Premier or Designer homes along the golf course. They said the apartments will cause their property values to plunge.
“The best way to ruin a good neighborhood is to build apartments right down the street,” said Don Camp.
Patsy Oburn said the proposed apartments will have a significant impact on the area’s water supply and that one Florida aquifer is nearly depleted.
“I’d like to know how I will get water and if I will have to share it,” she said.
Chris Briggi said approving the proposed apartments could just be the beginning of more multi-family development.
“It’s going to be a very slippery slope,” he said. “We don’t want large apartment buildings. This is The Villages, not the city.”
Residents also accused county officials of rushing approval of the apartment plans before newly elected commissioners take office in November.
Thacker said the proposed apartments above stores at Lake Sumter Landing would be age-restricted and appropriate for someone who lost a spouse.
“The last thing The Villages wants to do is change the fabric of this wonderful community,” she said.
Several residents said Lake Sumter Landing apartments would aggravate parking problems, especially during the winter.
Bill Myers said the downtown apartment plan doesn’t meet the Developer’s usually high standards.
“This proposal looks rushed,” he said. “It lacks sufficient details about the impact on the square.”
Wayne Davies, who served 14 years on a Massachusetts zoning board, suggested that the proposal be delayed until it receives a more comprehensive review.
Barbara Barnes said apartments are a staple of city life and she moved to The Villages to escape that.
“I’m opposed to apartments or multifamily housing of any kind in established neighborhoods of The Villages,” she said.