Three lame duck Sumter County commissioners ousted in the August primary election will vote later this month on The Villages Developer’s controversial plan to build apartments on the former site of the Hacienda Hills Country Club along Morse Boulevard.
Two weeks ago, Commissioner Doug Gilpin, who is not up for election this year, said he would move to delay consideration of the plan until the new commissioners take office on Nov. 10. Several commissioners said they supported the idea.
But Tuesday night at the first of two public hearings on the plan, Gilpin said he had changed his mind and would not seek a delay.
“I am not going to make a motion to delay the process because that’s what’s required by the state,” he said, adding that he had “mixed emotions.”
Nearly 100 people attended the four-hour public hearing at Everglades Recreation Center and many spoke against the plan.
Commissioners will vote on two resolutions and an amendment to an agreement that will allow The Villages to build more than 250 apartments on the Hacienda Hills site and more apartments on the second floor of four buildings at Lake Sumter Landing currently used for offices.
The Hacienda Hills property is zoned for mixed use, but a resolution would allow multifamily housing on the site. Those apartment dwellers would have full amenity privileges thanks to a vote in August by the Amenity Authority Committee.
Some Villages offices will be moved to a new building at Brownwood, making second-floor space available at Lake Sumter Landing.
Besides the apartments, Orlando attorney Jo Thacker, representing The Villages, said the Hacienda Hills plans include a pool, walking trails, a restaurant and sports courts.
“These new amenities will create a wonderful sense of place,” she said.
Thacker said the agreement amendment would allow conversion of four Lake Sumter Landing buildings to apartments, although more second-floor spaces could be available.
Richard Barr, a traffic specialist with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., said the Hacienda Hills apartments will not aggravate traffic on Morse Boulevard, according to statistical projections.
“We are not adding any new traffic impacts,” he said.
But residents didn’t buy it. Some of them bought Premier and Designer homes along the golf course more than two decades ago.
“It’s a broken promise,” said Karen Weber. “It’s devastating for this to be happening after 23 years. The original owners I know would never go along with this.”
Evelyn Krawczyk said using a 2018 study to justify a need for age-restricted apartments is misleading because the study only cited a need for affordable workforce housing.
Rich Fitzgerald said the resolutions would change the rules and could extend beyond just Hacienda Hills and Lake Sumter Landing.
“Why do we need to change the verbiage to allow apartments everywhere?” he asked.
Nick Walters said the four-story apartment buildings planned at Hacienda Hills said could harm the 57-acre Sharon Morse Owl Sanctuary across Morse Boulevard. Burrowing owls, a protected species, often travel up to 300 yards from their nests, he said.
The apartments would be spot zoning because they are incompatible with the surrounding area and could result in a lawsuit, said Patsy Oburn.
“They are setting up a continual conflict of interest between the apartment dwellers and the residents,” she said. “The pool will never be an amenity for us.”
But Villages consultant Darrin Taylor, of the Tallahassee firm Carlton Fields, said it would not be spot zoning because a zoning change is not needed and the site already is zoned for mixed use. He said spot zoning would be putting a factory in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
Barr came under fire for citing statistics and conversion tables instead of an actual traffic survey of Morse Boulevard.
“Why would no one insist on a boots-on-the-ground traffic study?” asked Barb DiLaura.
Jean Corley Wix said three of her neighbors have been injured in traffic accidents on Morse Boulevard.
“Traffic on Morse Boulevard is brutal in season,” she said.
Josephine Flood called the plan “nothing but greed,” while Sandra Gill said residents “feel betrayed.”
A tearful Maria Guerrera pleaded with commissioners to reject the plan.
“This may be the last place I live,” she said. “Do not make it hell. Use your heart.”
Earlier this month, The Villages asked the Lady Lake Commission for a delay in a presentation on apartments at Spanish Springs. The delay was requested after the sudden hospitalization of Mayor Jim Richards.