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The Villages
Thursday, December 2, 2021

All Villagers have a stake in issue to be decided by Lady Lake Commission

Jiim Cipollone
Jim Cipollone

Most Villages residents are aware of The Villages Developers plan to build apartments above the businesses located in Spanish Springs Town Center and the second floor of the Van Patten Building, formerly Katie Belle’s dance hall, restaurant and saloon. Please at this time, forget about the history associated with the camaraderie, experiences, new friendships, memories and sentimental values most of us experienced at Katie Belle’s from the beginning of the entertainment features to closing last year. Let’s look at what is planned by The Villages Developer, where we are at this time and what are the results impacting the Spanish Springs area and the resident lifestyle.

The Villages Crew developed a machine that is very effective at what it does. The Villages uses all means available to advertise, boast and promote their agenda when suitable. The Villages Crew has significant influence on the news media, The Villages radio stations and the individuals that wear The Villages uniforms. The Villages must be commended and always appreciated for building facilities and developing a lifestyle second to none. Although The Villages started 30 some years ago, necessary improvements were integrated into future expansion during the progression. The original Villages settlement included Spanish Springs, Katie Belle’s and the lifestyle as presented to potential early buyers resulted in more developments to sell houses. Based on the current proposed apartment scenario in Spanish Springs, there is no appreciation and consideration by The Villages Crew for Village residents that makes The Villages the best people place compared to any other development. The absence of any resolution if apartments in this area prove a bust, The Villages residents will have to live with the results.

The Daily Sun newspaper is often used to notify residents about upcoming meetings scheduled pertaining to Sumter County issues such as tax rates, impact fees, ambulance services, proposed expansion, etc. However any notifications pertaining to Spanish Springs Town Center are never published in the Daily Sun, only procedural results affecting this area.  The radio station, sometimes included in the newspaper, is used to advertise activities about fund raisers, entertainment events, shows, etc. The newspaper often has write-ups negatively reflecting viewpoints of elected officials that possibly could influence issues in discussion prior to meetings.  Often the residents’ input and opinions are under consideration by The Villages Crew when needed for influencing the final direction in The Villages’ favor. Meeting outcomes are timely published that includes positive results for The Villages. But The Villages residents’ voices are not invited in major issues that impact major lifestyle issues.

Brownwood Town Square area is still in the growing and planning stages to some extent. The music from different generations is offered in the square but rock and roll still is a prevalent draw.  Apartments and multi-family housing are located away from the square area proper with little effect, if any, that will impede any entertainment functions, and the same will not affect any living standards for residents in immediate proximity. This area was developed and programmed as such to maintain harmony between entertainment and residents. What is planned and under construction in Fenney are basically designed and built-out to maintain the separation of entertainment and lifestyle living standards.

Lake Sumter Landing Square is an entertainment mecca. There are various gin-mills that offer entertainment in early afternoon till music starts in the square and some places that have entertainment during and after the square entertainment ends. The movie house also offers side-walk entertainment and eats. Rock and roll is a desirable music attracting the biggest crowds in this square.  There are also some hangouts that by their unique notoriety attract repeat patrons from late morning till late at night. This square is designed and programmed to attract people. There are various shops offering sundries to suit customers’ desires and restaurants that have entertainment while patrons are dining. 

Spanish Springs Town Center, the benchmark of The Villages, has always had an attraction for people of all ages that include generational differences. This was the happening place that visitors still ask about and residents wonder what is happening to this place. Take a ride on the same night through Lake Sumter Landing Square and then drive to Spanish Springs Town Center. Spanish Springs resembles a ghost town in comparison to Lake Sumter Landing, not by design but by The Villages grandiose planning yet to be disclosed.  The road to hell was paved with good intensions. The movie house had big plans offered but is still boarded-up for whatever reason. Katie Belle’s shut down for financial reason as portrayed by The Villages since the second floor alterations, as designed and built by The Villages, were not attractive to enough customers to support ongoing substantial operational requirements.  There are businesses that left the square and others businesses considering leaving Spanish Springs because of no life, people and potential customers.

Spanish Springs business people currently make their own way to a certain degree by offering afternoon entertainment till music starts in the square and other activities. If the scheduled entertainment has a following, more people are attracted to the square. Car shows and square functions do draw some people but not as a routine happening. Business people wish that Katie Belles is reopened. Katie Belle’s attracted many people and brought life to the Square most of the day every day.  Apartments at this location and around the Square will only bring warm bodies with marginal affect if any for the businesses. Spanish Springs needs attractions that bring people and life.

Where are we at this time? Recently at The Town of Lady Lake Planning & Zoning Meeting, the attorney representing The Villages presented all the legal documentation in a timely matter to The Town of Lady Lake to abandon Development of Regional Impact (DRI) Ordinance 2020-08. Ordinance 2020-08 included all The Villages-owned property within the city limits of Lady Lake, including Spanish Springs Town Center, to build anything complying to permit zoning. Multi-family apartments are considered commercial zoning since properties are not sold, only leased or rented. This ordinance has been in effect for over 30 years. By abandoning this ordinance The Villages then can alter or build just about anything, zoning permitting, with assets and property located within the Town of Lady Lake.  The Main Street entrance to Spanish Springs, Spanish Springs Town Center and Katie Belle’s was designed by amusement professionals with entertainment as the attraction for The Villages residents.

The  Lady Lake commissioners are faced with a decision that will change the complexion of Spanish Springs Town Center and the lifestyle that existed. The lifestyle that The Villages advertised offered and profited by to further build-out and develop The Villages.  The commissioners vote is bigger than just a “yes or no” because the vote affects thousands of residents and people living in Lake, Marion and Sumter counties. Forcing apartments in Spanish Springs will nullify any previous fit for a particular purpose and just about change many residents view point about The Villages.

Before any final vote by the Town of Lady Lake commissioners, a town hall type meeting and place should be advertised to discuss the future of Spanish Springs. Although The Villages have the advantage of muscle, people and pocketbook to do anything they want and use residents to influence outcomes of other issues, the residents should have the opportunity to be heard about the Spanish Springs reshuffle.

Jim Cipollone is a resident of The Villages.

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