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Highlighted is the 2,467-acre mixed–use development planned for property in Lake County, to be annexed into Groveland.
Highlighted is the 2,467-acre mixed–use development planned for property in Lake County, to be annexed into Groveland. (Littlejohn)

When owners of Villa City, a 2,467-acre assemblage north of Groveland in Lake County, started working to get approvals to develop the land a couple of years ago there was one big problem: they couldn't show they had enough water available to sustain the thousands of homes planned.

"Villa City came in with a DRI (Development of Regional Impact) a couple of years ago and they hadn't identified the water demands of the project, and did not really define how they were going to obtain the water," said Richard Burklew, chief of water use regulations at the St. Johns River Water Management District.

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It seems an unlikely problem, given that the land sits on sandy hills overlooking lakes in several directions. But this was a case of the old adage, "Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink."

While the fresh water beckons, regulators and lake dwellers frown on draining their lake levels down to quench the thirst of development.  Draining swamps isn't an option either, as they recharge the underground aquifer and are protected.

Details on new zoning and entitlements planned for nearly 2,500 acres in Lake County, and what the owner wants to do with it.

Much of Central Florida has more trouble finding water sources than the coasts, where rivers and even desalination plants can be called into play. One potential water source, the St. John's River, is a fair distance away from the Lake County highlands.

So the City of Groveland, eager to annex the potential development in a vote on Tuesday, and Littlejohn Company, which is working to entitle the land for its owner, came up with a radical plan rarely seen in the area.

The ownership, via various foreign LLCs with the root name Floribra-Villa City, has offered that no water pure enough for drinking would be used to water lawns.

Instead, Floribra-Villa City proposes to gather rainwater in storage ponds for irrigation use. The ponds would look different from the traditional individual retention ponds mowed close and unconnected to other wetlands.

The plan would group the ponds into a chain of natural looking water features, creating a wetlands system that would also give residents open space and park space.

The development plan also includes a classic technology rarely used today in the United States. Adding cisterns on homes would be encouraged to gather rainwater from the roof into a containment vessel for the home's use.

It's been more than a year since developers dropped off the plans for a mixed-use project that could more than double Groveland's current population by 2035 and not much has happened since the initial bout of excitement.

"The city (of Groveland) is encouraging of that," said George M. Kramer, director of planning for Littlejohn. "In addition to using less water we are preserving wetlands as part of the water capture and cleaning to be returned to the aquifer."

Villa City's water management plan has drawn praise from the St. John's River Water Management District regulators.

"It is very encouraging," said SJRWMD's Burklew. "To me this is a real big step. We don't have many places that say 'We won't use ground water,' particularly in this region."

The most recent plans for the community call for a total of 7,760 homes, made up of 2,579 single-family homes, 2,000 multifamily units, and 3,190 homes marketed for active adults.

Commercial development plans call for 300,000 square feet of office space, 100,000 square feet of industrial, 500,000 square feet of retail, a 400-bed assisted living facility and hotel with 150 rooms.

The land is southwest of the Florida Turnpike and bisected by U.S. 27. Villa City Road bisects its north-south axis.

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Floribra-Villa City, the ownership entities traced to Saudi Arabian investors, are not likely to be develop Villa City, Kramer said. It will be marketed for sale to developers, for which there has been some interest already in portions, he added.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at teresaburney4@gmail.com or 352-455-1955. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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