The Project Wide Advisory Committee has rendered a decision on the controversial “million dollar mile” walking path.
A packed house of residents attended Monday morning’s PWAC meeting at the SeaBreeze Recreation Center, where the fate of the $730,000 Lake Miona Walking Trail was to be determined.
The overwhelmingly majority of the residents showed up to support the idea of the path, which has been criticized thanks to a price tag which has ballooned since its inception.
Many of those attending the meeting expressed their fondness for the walking paths put in by the Developer south of State Road 44. They said that residents living north of State Road 44 deserve a similar amenity.
Villager Bob Martin, past president of Village Birders, said he uses the trails down south, but wants something closer to home.
“Those things are a 30- to 35-minute ride for me,” he said.
Director of Recreation & Parks John Rohan said at least 30,000 people per year are using the Fenney Nature Trail.
“Walking is a critical and paramount activity for residents who move to The Villages,” Rohan said.
Sue Flowers of the Village of Sunset Pointe said she does not feel safe walking on the multi-modal paths because many of the golf carts are not adhering to the 20 mile-per-hour speed limit. She said the street is not a safe option, either.
“We can walk on the street, but we’ve already had one person, that I know of, who has been killed while walking on the street,” Flowers said in reference to 68-year-old Joan Marie Colonna of the Village of Sunset Pointe, who died in 2018 after she was struck by a golf cart while out for a morning walk with friends.
PWAC Chairman Don Wiley pointed out the rising cost of the project has raised eyebrows and he unveiled a new nickname for the path, which would be only seven-tenths of a mile long. Wiley called it the “million dollar mile.”
He reminded the audience that the purchase of $352 million of amenities south of County Road 466 from the Developer in 2016 came with the additional ongoing costs of upkeep for 23 golf courses, 69 swimming pools, numerous recreation centers, postal stations and pickleball courts. That includes a recently approved $900,000 renovation of the Churchill Greens Executive Golf Course and a $300,000 roof replacement at Lake Miona Recreation Center.
Wiley added that a recent budget workshop contained “sobering news” including a 10-year trendline that shows that expenses will begin to outpace revenue.
PWAC member Don Brozick picked up on Wiley’s point and added that within a decade the annual revenue of $90 million will be surpassed by the projected $92 million in expenses.
He said he fears the trail could become more expensive.
“The concern I have is once we get into it, is it going to get to $1 million?” he asked.
The Villages of Fruitland Park resident added that he informally polled his constituents in Community Development District 11 and found “not one in favor” of the Lake Miona Walking Trail.
In the end, Brozick cast the lone vote against the trail project. He was outvoted by the other PWAC members, representing CDDs 5 through 12. Chairman Wiley, with obvious reluctance, joined in the affirmative vote.