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The Villages
Monday, October 25, 2021

The Villages turns to the court to get its way

To the Editor:

Having the opportunity to review the court filings pertaining to Spanish Springs Town Center modifications as stated, it is very apparent that The Villages intent is not only to construct age restricted apartments but also change the original lifestyle The Villages represented. The Villages have outstanding representation to verbally present physical and procedural changes to Spanish Springs Town Center that sound very convincing for positive responses by Lady Lake Commissioners and zoning planners, but not detailed.  Comprehensive documentation was not presented to the commissioners outlining the overall plan, thus there was some push back.  That is what public meetings are for, not that everybody agrees to agree. Problem here is that The Villages are used to walking through anything that they want to do with little or no opposition. All of sudden they are questioned about somethings, and they are offended. And want to go to court.
There is considerable resentment from many Village residents that do not want to see Katie Belle’s or the town center changed. These people are not considered in any of the proposals put forward, only that The Villages decided that apartment living is the new wave of living in The Villages. Determination is, “There are no clients looking for office space in the future, only people that want to live on top of businesses.”   Living on top of business that existed, maybe still exists, in inter-city lining conditions and environment.  So we are going back to the future. There are many strip malls and apartment complexes under construction all around The Villages at competitive rental fees. What will allow The Villages to set high rental fees to attract apartment living dwellers? Most of the second floor office space in the town center is occupied by Village owned businesses particularly the Daily Sun newspaper.  These offices are well appointed and can be attractive to professional businesses such as lawyers, doctors, investment firms, etc. The Villages has marketing and real estate people, they can find renters since potential customers for these type businesses live in The Villages. Probably when the new newspaper facility is completed, everything will be moved under one roof. If so, this maybe some motivation for The Villages to look at apartments in the second floor of buildings going forward rather than office space without burdening the marketing people to do their job.
Currently, parking is not an issue since all parking place, except for handicapped, emergency and police spots, are available to patrons that participate in town square events. Even at car Cruise-Ins and parades people find a place to park with no complaints. By designating specific parking place, no matter what the amount, to facilitate apartment dwellers, guests and golf carts, will limit parking places particularly for events and entertainment in the square.
This was not defined or taken into consideration in The Villages proposal.
Age-restricted renters are something that has to be looked at very carefully. By definition alone, “What does age restriction mean?” There are people currently living in The Villages that are less than the 55 year old deed restrictions. When The Villages can’t find enough renters that want to live on top businesses, do they then lower the age limit? Keep in mind that The Lofts down in Brownwood are not fully occupied, what is the hurry to build apartments in The town square? How about if apartments are rented to other that occupants that dwell there, who checks the pedigree of the occupants?  Margarita Republic and Gators Dockside are frequented by the Lady Lake Police Department, what will keep the apartments clean?
Katie Belle’s is another issue.  The Villages made unilateral decisions to alter Katie Belle’s on two occasions precluding any resident input. The last time was more of a turn off to patrons than a positive business decision. Katie Belle’s was a meeting place for all residents to enjoy and form a camaraderie that to this day is talked about among many residents. Many people settled in The Villages because of the atmosphere Spanish Springs Town Square and Katie Belle’s offered. If there were operational deficiencies, The Villages should share these issues with the patrons and residents.
The Villages are renowned land developers, that is exemplified very well, but not so good restaurant/entertainer operators. The restaurant business is more of a hands-on type operation.  The Villages evidently don’t want to get involved with day to day operations of a restaurant and rightfully so since they face planning challenges on a daily basis. So to refit Katie Belle’s with apartments is not only a fix-all solution but an out. Discretionary funding alternatives can be organized to operate and fund Kattie Belles.  By abandoning the original concept of what Katie Belle’s was intended for will not resolve the issues with the residents and operational issues.  The Villages operated The Spanish Springs Brewery, Augustine’s Restaurant, La Hacienda Restaurant & Recreation Center, El Santiago Restaurant and Katie Belle’s, all shuttered. Why would The Villages want to pursue that business since it is obvious that they have no interests in the restaurant business. Either hire a qualified manager/operator for Katie Belle’s or sell the building. Maybe this is farfetched concept but there are interested parties that can make something out of the Van Patten Building that would include entertainment.
Problem at hand; The Villages want to change the benchmark of The Villages, Spanish Springs Town Square because they can, not because there is any consideration for the residents, value and the Town of Lady Lake. The Villages try covertly or overtly to persuade responsible people to make favorable decisions to allow these changes without any consideration for what will take place.  There are no alternatives or exit strategy offered, only this is it, period. If you guys don’t want to go along with our program, we’ll sue you.
Spanish Springs does not offer or resemble first class apartment living with a pool, car service, concierge service, security since all entrances will be open to outside, like cheap motels.  If The Villages are really interested in first class apartment living like New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Miami, etc. they should start from scratch and build something that will attract real apartment living. Any person that is interested in living in Spanish Springs Town Center is self-centered, has no consideration for other people that frequent and enjoy the square and are short lived.  They should go live in assisted living places in and around The Villages. Leave the square alone for following generations to enjoy.
Best if The Villages are upfront about what their overall plans are for Spanish Springs and Lady Lake.  Even though they presented a proposal that had imagination, it did not represent what the plan really is.  The proposal was academically correct as presented but obviously not suitable for the commissioners to accept going forward. Needs to be an alternative plan acceptable to all.

Jim Cipollone
Village of Palo Alto

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