After a five-hour hearing Tuesday night, Sumter County commissioners voted to allow The Villages to build apartments on the site of the former Hacienda Hills Country Club.
They also approved two other measures that allow conversion of second-floor offices to apartments in multiple buildings on four parcels at Lake Sumter Landing.
Three outgoing commissioners defeated in the August primary election were among the five who approved The Villages plans, which upset the residents fighting against the apartments. The vote came after The Villages modified its proposal, placing restrictions on the number of units and the square footage of other uses.
A limit of 150 units was placed on the number of apartments at the Hacienda Hills site and a maximum of 286 units would be permitted there or in the Buffalo Ridge area north of County Road 466 along Village Campus Drive.
A restaurant planned at Hacienda Hills would be limited to 10,000 square feet and a golf shop would be no larger than 5,000 square feet. No hotel could be built and the site plan must be reviewed by residents who live within 500 feet.
Commissioner Doug Gilpin made the motion to approve the amendment allowing apartments. Last month, Gilpin said the amendment should be delayed until new commissioners take office in November, but he later changed his mind.
“There were very good presentations on both sides,” he said. “I see no legal reason not to proceed.”
He said commissioners have studied the issue closely and apartments can provide another housing option.
“A lot of people can’t take care of a home,” Gilpin said. “I don’t want to see somebody forced out of The Villages because they can’t take care of a home anymore.”
The Villages lined up its top guns for the meeting – Villages Vice President Marty Dzuro and his son Marty Dzuro Jr., Darrin Taylor of Tallahassee consulting firm Carlton Fields and Orlando attorney Jo Thacker. They sat at a table at the front of the room.
Taylor said trees will buffer the apartments from single-family homes.
“We are not placing multi-family housing in residential areas,” he said. “We have no plans to put apartments on golf courses.”
Thacker said the planned resort pool and restaurant will be similar to those in the Village of Fenney. She called it a “common misconception” that apartments lower the home values of nearby homes and cited several studies.
Representing homeowners opposed to the apartments, Winter Park attorney Alison Yurko said a vote on the plan should be delayed.
“I don’t think that you should be readily considering approval here today,” she said. “I’ve never seen such a confusing or convoluted series of submittals.”
Yurko said the developer abdicated an obligation to provide recreation for residents by tearing down the country club.
“It looks like a recreation facility burial ground,” she said.
Yurko consulted with a traffic engineer who had far higher estimates of the number of daily trips generated by apartment dwellers. Traffic and the impact of apartments on home values were the major concerns of homeowners who testified.
Jackie Murphy said 22 cross streets pour traffic into Morse Boulevard, a two-lane road that can’t be widened.
“It’s a horrific problem,” she said. “Let’s put our heads together and try to find a band aid solution for Morse Boulevard.”
Susan Manz said she was hurt in a golf cart accident on the boulevard.
“We were lucky we weren’t killed,” she said. “It’s a very dangerous place.”
Mary Bahry, a longtime real estate agent in Illinois, disputed Thacker’s claim that the apartments won’t reduce home values.
“I have never seen home values go up when an apartment complex is put into a residential neighborhood,” she said.
Ivan Kourzarov, 84, said he misses the Hacienda Hills restaurant and pool.
“What percentage of my life are you stealing at this moment?” he asked.
Patsy Oburn, who lives close to the former country club site, criticized a Villages official who threatened to build a big-box store on the site if apartments were not approved. She said project planning by The Villages usually is top notch, but the apartment plan is not.
“Right now, you’re in a trust deficit,” she told The Villages representatives. “Before you start building something, you need to start building that trust deficit.”
You can learn more about the opposition to the apartments at V2PW.com.
The Villages also is hoping to put apartments in Spanish Springs Town Square, but that hearing in front of the Lady Lake Town Commission was postponed earlier this month after Mayor Jim Richards was hospitalized shortly before the meeting started. The Lady Lake Planning and Zoning Board voted against the proposal after a raucous meeting in September. That board serves in an advisory capacity to the Lady Lake Commission, which isn’t bound by its recommendations.