With a potential extension of the Florida Turnpike now on hold, Royal residents set their sights Tuesday on a proposed residential development of 527 homes as the latest threat to their historic black community.
The Highland Homes family housing project is planned for 157 acres along County Road 229 west of Wildwood.
On a 3-2 vote, Sumter County commissioners decided to send the proposed development to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for review before it will come back for approval. Commissioners Garry Breeden, Roberta Ulrich and County Chairman Craig Estep supported the referral while Doug Gilpin and Don Wiley opposed it.
Property owner Sammie E. Albritton and Gaddis, Inc., are requesting a comprehensive plan amendment and rezoning that would change the designation to urban residential from agriculture.
Although the project would be outside Wildwood, the city has agreed to provide water and sewer services.
Royal residents spoke against the development at a public hearing.
Beverly Steele said Highland Homes is the third major rezoning application near her community since April.
“Why Royal?” she asked. “These homes will be within the boundary of a historic community.”
Steele said the community has begun the process of achieving historic district status for Royal, located in western Wildwood and originally settled by freed slaves after the Civil War.
Cliff Hughes said major developments have been proposed for the area even though roads are in poor condition.
“We don’t want urban development in Royal,” he said. “We want Royal to stay as it us.”
David Carruthers, whose family farms 440 acres south of the proposed project, also spoke against it.
“Turning agricultural land into a residential subdivision is the wrong direction,” said Carruthers, adding that his family has farmed there since 1840. “Not every area in Sumter County needs to be developed.”
He disputed claims that the project would have no impact on protected species because gopher tortoises are on his land and likely also in the project area.
Wildlife biologist Tom Weber said the development would substantially impact wildlife.
“These rural areas are so special and have so much to offer,” he said.