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Lake Commissioners want input on proposed 1,088-acre development in Leesburg

The conceptual master plan for Whispering Hills concentrates the multifamily housing and a town center around an existing pond on tracts 8, 9, 10 and 11. Neighborhoods A and F would be the only residential sections with 70-foot wide lots.
The conceptual master plan for Whispering Hills concentrates the multifamily housing and a town center around an existing pond on tracts 8, 9, 10 and 11. Neighborhoods A and F would be the only residential sections with 70-foot wide lots. (ECON South)

Concerned over the proposed size and scale of a 1,088-acre mixed-use development in Leesburg, Lake County Commissioners want to exert some influence on the planned Whispering Hills community.

Polk County developer Jean Marsan is under contract for the Journey Circle M Ranch just east of U.S. 27 and north of Dewey Robbins Road. He is seeking annexation into the city with a large-scale comprehensive plan amendment and Planned Unit Development zoning for the project, which could add nearly 3,000 dwelling units to the area.

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The project was brought up for discussion by the board following the city’s Planning Commission approval on July 22. The submitted plan calls for multiple golf courses with a clubhouse and pro shop, community pool, a town center, medical offices, a 250-bed assisted living facility/nursing home, a hotel and an equestrian center.

The developer has held multiple meetings with City of Leesburg to discuss preliminary plans for a 5,500-home retirement community.

“It has a great potential to be a great project, to be great for Leesburg,” City Manager Al Minner previously told GrowthSpotter.

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Marsan signed a joint venture deal earlier this year with Dubai-based Ayana Holding to develop the former Massey Ranch property. They initially described the Whispering Hills project as an 1,800-acre retirement community with 5,500 homes. It has been significantly scaled back since then. It’s unclear if Ayana Holding is still involved in the project, which is no longer listed on the company’s website.

Lakeland-based ECON created the conceptual master plan submitted with the PUD. The developer has not requested Age Restricted Development zoning.

The annexation and related cases head to Leesburg City Commission on Sept. 13 and for a final vote in late December. Lake Commissioner Leslie Campione said she would be reaching out to the developer and city commissioners to request a joint review of the project, even though it’s already contiguous to the city limits and eligible for annexation.

The Villages Development Company plans to start construction this year on the first phase of a 15-year, $100 million wellness district.

“This is a very rural area, and it’s a very beautiful area with changes in topography and a lot of nice environmental features,” she said. “I think with really good intentional planning, it could be done in a way that accentuates the rural aspects while facilitating the growth that they’re seeking.”

According to the submitted plan, 95% of the single-family lots would be 50-feet wide, with the rest 70-feet wide and extra deep. The minimum house size on the smaller lots is 1,400 square feet, and each house must have a 2-car garage. The developer would commit to extending natural gas service for water heaters and furnaces in 80% of the homes. The PUD also requires the developer to build sidewalks throughout the community, as well as golf-cart paths and parking along the primary roadway. All recommendations from the county’s Public Works Department for transportation improvements have been incorporated into the language of the ordinance.

The city does not have to consult with county officials. “The county has no say over Leesburg’s decision on this,” Commissioner Josh Blake said. “We have no leverage, so I don’t want to give a sense of false hope.”

Campione said she wants to ensure that the developers are required to make necessary transportation improvements, particularly to Number Two Road, which is unpaved now but would be a main corridor in Whispering Hills.

She told GrowthSpotter she also hopes to see the project designed in a way that protects the adjacent rural landowners. “I think you can use a rural transition to actually make the two densities more compatible, instead of putting your high-density products right next to a large parcel where someone has horses. And I think if you do that transition that could go a long way to making it a better project for everybody,” she said.

The proposed PUD ordinance gives the developer 10 years to commence construction. Otherwise it would expire.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @byLauraKinsler. Follow GrowthSpotter on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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