Eustis developments
(Lake County Property Appraiser)

Construction on a new Unitarian Universalist Church and an affordable apartment complex are expected start in a few months within a few blocks of each other in Eustis, not far from Florida Hospital Waterman.

A Unitarian Universalist congregation that has been holding services in various city buildings for some 20 years plans to break ground on a sanctuary of its own in January at the Northeast corner of Mt. Home Road and David Walker Drive.

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The congregation plans to invite particular contractors to bid on the $1.5 million church construction. They hope to move into the congregation's first home of its own in the first quarter of 2016, said Carl Skiles, a member of the church who is overseeing construction details.

The new church is made possible by a gift left to the congregation by Ruth Gray, a former member who died a couple years ago, bequeathing funds to the Unitarian Universalists for a permanent home. "She took care of us," said Skiles.

The church has more than 24 acres at the corner, but it plans to only build on about five acres. The rest of the parcel will be preserved for future growth.

The sanctuary will be about 10,000 square feet with seats for about 150, and potential to expand to accommodate another 50.

The building also will include a couple of classrooms, an office, a kitchen, library, sound room and storage area. Also an outdoor covered patio is planned for meetings and services as desired, Skiles said.

That might seem like a lot of space for a congregation that has about 57 members, with attendance swelling in the winter and waning in the summer. But the congregation hopes that the new building will spur growth.

"Most definitely we would like to double our membership in a year or two," said Skiles. "I think we can do that with a new facility."

The congregants also hope to increase the number of children in the church. The classrooms are a nod to bringing in younger members.

"When we are done, everybody will be welcome," Skiles said.

When there are no services planned for the space, the group plans to offer up the space for rental for weddings, meetings and other functions.

Just a couple blocks away at the northwest corner of Huffstetler Drive and Kurt Street, an affordable apartment complex called Valencia Grove is being developed by Housing Trust Group. The group has a contract to buy 9.245 acres of vacant land there from the Ann Huffstetler Rou Family Trust.

The plan is for 144 units with between two and three bedrooms. They will be dubbed "affordable," but not Section 8 housing. Construction is expected to start before the end of the year, lasting 13 months. The total budget is set at about $21 million. Rents will range from $358 to $790 a month.

"Valencia Grove Apartments will serve the housing needs of working families in Eustis," said Matthew Rieger, president/CEO of Housing Trust Group. "It is the only currently allocated new affordable housing development in Lake County, and it will bring to the county dozens of new jobs and over $13 million in federal or state funding sources."

Teresa Burney is a correspondent for GrowthSpotter.com and can be reached at 352-455-1955 or at teresaburney4@gmail.com.

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