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The Villages
Sunday, April 18, 2021

Are apartments really needed in The Villages?

To the Editor:

Over the past several weeks I have been researching the reported need for rental apartments (multi-family housing) in The Villages specifically at the former site of the Hacienda Hills Country Club, as well as in second floor space in buildings at Spanish Springs and Lake Sumter Landing town centers. The proposal to build apartments would require a zoning change in both Lady Lake (Spanish Springs) and Sumter County (Hacienda Hills and Sumter Landing).
At a zoning meeting on Sept. 21, Orlando attorney, Jo Thacker representing The Villages, cited a 2018 Sumter County Multifamily Market Analysis as support for the need to develop apartments in Spanish Springs and Lake Sumter Landing. Additionally, Marty Dzuro, VP with The Villages, mentioned the same study in an interview for the Oct. 1 edition of the Daily Sun.  A copy of this study can be obtained by going to https://www.villages-news.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Sumter-County-Multifamily-Analysis-Final-Version-06202018_201902141130044385.pdf.
So, what does this study show?
Quoting excerpts from the study “With growing manufacturing, distribution, and agriculture industries in the county, there is an opportunity for additional multifamily development in the market to capture the demand for market-rate housing for workers.  While the addition of commercial and retail space in The Villages® community will create demand for additional service jobs, these positions are lower paying and typically do not support higher-end residential units.  The market is meeting the senior-living properties segment based on the number of existing and planned senior living properties in and adjacent to The Villages® community.  There is a definite need to provide affordable, multi-family housing options to workers who support services and activities in The Villages.  However, the study cites “The market is meeting the senior-living properties segment based on the number of existing and planned senior living properties in and adjacent to The Villages® community.” In this case senior-living properties are those that offer some sort of resident support such as emergency call response, house cleaning and meals to name a few. Examples of this type of senior living housing are Freedom Pointe and Sumter Senior Living.  This type of senior living could be considered the step before Assisted Living and with the additional support provided is also quite a bit more expensive.
What is being proposed by The Villages Developer is market rent apartments. A prime example of this are The Lofts at Brownwood. The Lofts are 1, 2, and 3-bedroom apartments for rent with a one-year lease.  The Lofts does not offer resident support as do other senior living options described above but does have amenities of a swimming pool and recreation center. This market rate type of housing is what The Villages is proposing to build at Hacienda Hills and second floor space in Spanish Springs and Lake Sumter Landing. Mr. Dzuro said in his interview that people have been asking for apartments in Spanish Springs.  He stated, in support of the need for apartments, that 80 percent of The Lofts residents were already residents of The Villages having sold their single-family home to move into an apartment.  While that sounds impressive what is the current number of apartments occupied at The Lofts?
The first residents were able to move in July 2020. At that time two buildings in Phase I were approved for occupancy.  Phase II (one building) should be ready for occupancy the end of October and Phase III (two buildings) by the end of this year. Currently Phase I is leased to less than 50 percent and Phase II has been pre-leased to even less.  Phase III has not been opened to pre-lease at this time even though residents should be moving in less than 90 days from now. Pre-leasing apartments prior to completion is an industry standard with most property management companies beginning pre-lease activities at least 90 days prior to completion and many starting as far out as six months. The current occupancy performance trend of The Lofts does not appear to support the need for more apartments within The Villages.
Renting an apartment at The Lofts is similar to renting an apartment outside of The Villages.  There is the monthly rent for the apartment plus added fees.  For example:
Pet Fee and Monthly Pet Rent – $300 one-time non-refundable fee per animal (2 animals max) plus $25 per month per pet for pet rent;
Parking or Garage – there is a limited number of garages and not every apartment comes with a garage.  Each resident receives one (1) designated parking spot in the open parking lot.  If you need a parking space for a golf cart too that will be an additional $50 per month.  If you wish to rent a garage (and not every garage will fit a car and golf cart) the cost is $150 – $250 per month;
Storage Room – a storage space may be rented for $50 – $150 per month depending on size to store items not used often and that won’t fit in a garage (if you rent one).  There is no storage space in the apartments other than the bedroom closets;
Amenity Fee – is $162 per month and entitles residents of The Lofts to use any Villages amenities same as other residents;
Cable and Internet Fee – service is provided by Spectrum and the monthly fee is $60;
Trash Fee – is assessed at $11 per month.  A trash chute is provided on each floor.
The smallest one-bedroom apartment with 783 square feet that rents for $1,700 could end up costing between $2,058 and $2,383 per month once the added fees are included.
Why haven’t more Lofts apartments been rented so far?  Could it be the rent with additional fees is the same or in some cases more than buying a small villa even with carrying a mortgage?  Do potential renters not see a value in renting a much smaller space even with the promise of “no maintenance worry free living”? The pandemic has probably had some impact and the fact that the seasonal residents (snowbirds) are just now coming back so time will tell if the pace of leasing increases over the next few months.  Leases are for a one year minimum so will seasonal residents be willing to pay rent for an entire year when they will only use it for a portion of the year?  Apartments cannot be sub-let so that leaves out the option of seasonal residents renting out the apartment when they are not using it.
For The Villages’ Developer to move forward with building more apartments our elected government officials would have to approve a zoning change. If the zoning is changed to “Multi-family Residential Units” The Villages Developer would be free to build whatever they choose with no further approval from government officials and without input from current residents. Would this proposed zoning change for the former Hacienda Hills country club possibly set a precedence should other country clubs (Orange Blossom, Mallory Hill, e.g.) having similar financial woes as Hacienda Hills face the same fate of demolition by the Developer?
Would it be wise for the government officials, before granting the requested zoning change, to wait a bit longer to gauge the true demand for The Lofts?  Continued weak leasing of The Lofts could indicate the demand for apartments for 55+ residents is not what was anticipated?  Perhaps potential residents do not feel the price point is a good value for “worry free living.” The Lofts will need to generate sufficient revenue to cover the financing costs of construction as well as providing for an acceptable ROI (return on investment). If costs cannot be covered then alternative actions may have to be taken such as lowering rents as well as the possibility of opening occupancy to other demographics than those 55+ in order to make the apartments financially viable.  For a community to qualify for age restricted (55+) classification at least 80 percent of the residents would have to be over 55 years of age which opens the other 20 percent to people under 55 as well as families with children. Activities and amenities developed primarily for Seniors (as is the case here in The Villages) would usually dissuade younger people and families from living here unless they feel it is an affordable option for them.
The Sumter County Commissioners will meet again on Tuesday, Oct. 13 to hear public comments on the subject with a zoning change vote scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 27.  If you want to be heard by the Sumter County Commissioners plan on attending the Oct. 13 meeting. I am suggesting the Sumter County Commissioners table this zoning change request for 90 days up to six months to reassess the future need of apartments in The Villages.

Susan Ridgeway
Village of Lake Deaton

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