Marion County commissioners will be asked Tuesday to pave the way for changes on 39.28 acres just outside Florida’s Friendliest Hometown that would allow up to 324 multi-story apartments to tower over residents in the Village of Woodbury and the Phillips Villas.
The property’s owners, J.R. and D.T. Schilling & New Direction IRA, are asking commissioners to rezone the property off S.E. Hwy. 42 to planned unit development, along with an employment center designation to achieve consistency with Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan. The property also would include about 79,000 square feet of commercial space, a report on file with Marion County states.
The property in 2016 was debated by the Amenity Authority Committee as a possible site for a new recreation center that instead will be built at the nearby old First Baptist Church at The Villages. The nearly 40-acre site is located at 9494 S.E. Hwy. 42, adjoining The Villages and Hilltop Estates near The Villages VA Outpatient Clinic. Portions of the Orange Blossom Hills subdivision also are located north across S.E. Hwy 42 from the site.
The request has raised the hackles of many who live near the site and not surprisingly was a topic of conversation at Friday’s Community Development District 4 meeting.
Supervisor Don Deakin, who joined other Villagers at a previous zoning meeting in Marion County, said residents are concerned about the apartment buildings but welcome the potential commercial development that could include a grocery store.
Supervisor Cary Sternberg said he was concerned about Deakin attending the meeting and announcing he is “opposed” to the project.
“As supervisors, we need to be careful about getting involved in these types of activities,” Sternberg said.
He also said it’s easy to oppose high-density housing such as apartment buildings, but it is the reality of the growth of The Villages.
“The Villages is growing by leaps and bounds. We need the workforce, but everybody says, ‘Not in my backyard,’” Sternberg said.
Deakin wrote a letter to Jeff Gold, chairman of the Marion County Commission, telling him that many residents are concerned about the 27 acres that would be set aside for the apartments or condos. He said the development would indirectly affect all 10,000-plus residents living in CDD 4 and many living outside the mega-retirement community. But he added it would have a “very direct impact” on those living in the homes bordering the development.
Deakin also offered a comparison of the apartments with surrounding neighborhoods, such as the fact that the new units will be rentals, non-age restricted, would allow children, would be two- or three-story buildings and wouldn’t guarantee the future of trees. He said those things are the exact opposite of conditions in the nearby Villages neighborhoods.
“Therefore, I encourage you to require that the residential development be limited to age-restricted, single-family, privately owned, 1-story individual homes commensurate with the surrounding communities in the neighborhood,” Deakin wrote.
Villager Fred Didden, who owns at home on S.E. 93rd Cuthbert Circle, said his residence is within 300 feet of the planned development.
“While the north borders on Hwy. 42, this 40-acre property is bordered on the East, West and South by single family, one story homes. All three communities are age restricted,” he wrote earlier this month in a letter to Marion County Planning and Zoning. “I feel the high-density housing units proposed do not fit with the immediately surrounding neighborhood.”
Didden also predicted the apartments would negatively impact school loading in the area, traffic congestion on Hwy. 42, hospital access, law enforcement, emergency services (police, fire and EMS) and utility services (power and water and sewer). He said several retention ponds may negatively affect well water immediately east of the property and a proposed dog walk adjacent to one retention pond may be an environmental issue as well.
His wife, Holly, agreed, adding that the high-density development would create a “relentless and inevitable clash of age-related conflicts leading to anger, confrontation, complaints and frustration.” She predicted there would be more calls to law enforcement and EMS as tempers and patience continue to fray.
“Many of the senior homes, like mine, are very close to the property line,” she said. “Most seniors go to bed about the time younger people are just starting to crank up, which is about 9 or 10 p.m. These non-compatible lifestyles, schedules and stages of life must be considered and honored.”
Penny Gould, who lives in Hilltop Estates, said she’s very concerned about the additional amount of traffic that would be generated by 342 apartments and the impact those multi-family dwellings with no age restrictions would have on quality of life and property values.
“Adding up to 1,000 more people of all age groups will have a devastating effect on all the homeowners and residents who are already there,” she said.
Fellow Hilltop Estates resident Mary M. Smayda agreed, labeling as “terrible” the traffic already traveling on S.E. Hwy. 42.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like with 1,000 more residents,” she said, adding that most households have two cars, which would make it even worse. “Our property values will go down if apartments are built so close. Nothing against children or pets but I don’t want them roaming around my 55-plus community and that is what will happen if this rezoning takes place.”
In addition to the two-story or three-story apartment buildings, the project would include a dog park and an amenity center. The commercial portion, located just off S.E. Hwy. 42, could include a 20,000-square-foot grocery store, retail space and a medical complex, among other things.
In late 2015, AAC members expressed their desire to explore the possibility of purchasing the property – an idea that was backed by residents. The asking price at the time was $3 million and when AAC member Carl Bell suggested it would be wonderful to see the Developer make the purchase for a new recreation center to be built there, fellow AAC member Gary Moyer, who also served as vice president of development for The Villages, quipped, “Not at that price.”
Marion County commissioners will consider the request during the afternoon portion of their Tuesday meeting, which gets under way at 2 p.m. The meeting will be held in the McPherson Governmental Campus Auditorium at 601 S.E. 25th Ave. in Ocala. The meeting also can be viewed online by clicking HERE.