The Lake County Board of Commissioners Tuesday approved an agreement on a grant request for a $100-million project by The Villages to build a medical center, businesses and homes near the Florida Turnpike and County Road 470 in Leesburg.
The agreement means The Villages can qualify for a rebate on a portion of property taxes paid for the project area under the Lake County Economic Development and Business Incentive program. The grant amount will be based on a percentage of property taxes paid.
Under the name of the Go West Project, the development is expected to generate at least 100 jobs at or above the county’s average wage, a grant requirement.
Plans call for a regional hospital and other uses that include heath care, “translational science,” retail, commercial and residential. Translational research is geared to solving specific problems.
The county-line Go West site includes 240 acres in Lake County and about 195 acres in Sumter County. The Lake County portion is part of 1,000 acres that The Villages bought from Leesburg in 2017.
The grant does not apply to the residential portion of the project. The Villages also plans to build about 3,000 homes on the property it acquired.
University of Florida (UF) Health, which owns The Villages and Leesburg hospitals, has expressed interest in building a research hospital in the undeveloped Villages area south of the turnpike and that project has been revealed publicly in the Developer’s plans.
During the meeting’s public forum, Leesburg resident Lavonne Silvernell criticized commissioners for what she called a lack of transparency about the project. The agenda states that the project developer, which clearly is The Villages, asked to remain confidential.
“You’re trying to do things that you don’t want the citizens to know about,” Silvernell said.
Commissioner Leslie Campione, who chaired the meeting, said commissioners are committed to transparency and must treat all grant applicants fairly.
“We don’t look at the applicant,” she said. “We look at the project itself and whether it meets the incentive criteria.”
County Attorney Melanie Marsh said developers are permitted to remain confidential under Florida Statutes, which helps prevent competitors from undermining them.
Commissioners expressed greater concern about the proposed 3,000-home Whispering Hills development planned at the south end of Leesburg.
The project developed by Marsan Real Estate Group of Orlando and Ayana Holding of Dubai also would have three nine-hole golf courses, an equestrian center and businesses.
Access would be from U.S. Hwy. 27 and the Number Two Road, which would need an upgrade.
Although Leesburg has authority over the project, Campione said she wants county commissioners to be involved and proposed a joint meeting with the city. Leesburg is expected to begin consideration of the project in September.
Marsh said a lawsuit to stop the development would be unlikely to succeed.