Lowrie Brown's family has owned some 640 acres of ranch land off S.R. 44 north of Leesburg since the 1960s. His deceased father loved the ranch life, and Brown has a sentimental attachment to the land that fronts Haines Creek and features a breadth of natural scenery.
Now he thinks it's time to turn the land over to development, but not just any developer.
"It would kill me to see retirement homes or mobile home parks there," said Brown, whose business is warehouses. "I want to see a development there that I can be proud to say we owned the property."
So Brown, as Lowrie Brown Investment Co., applied to the City of Leesburg to annex into its city limits and rezone the property from Agriculture to a Planned Use Development. His plans call for a mixed-use residential community "where you can live, work, and play and where people don't have to get in their car to go everywhere," he told GrowthSpotter on Monday.
Brown tried earlier to rezone the land, which is in unincorporated Lake County, but the cost to build water and sewer lines to the community would be prohibitive.
Since then, the Florida Legislature has created a process where cities can provide services such as water and sewer, fire and police by annexing land that is not contiguous to the city limits, as long as the land is within a negotiated service agreement area worked out among the various municipalities.
Brown also owns a separate 40-acre parcel on the south side of S.R. 44, not contiguous to the 640 acres, that has office and light-industrial zoning that could be developed in conjunction with the larger land mass.
"It's the kind of thing that, in theory, can create higher paying jobs," said Brown of the 40-acre parcel.
By taking the development through the entitlement part of the process, Brown hopes to influence the quality of the development.
"I have seen so much stuff that has been built in the years that if you come home drunk you wouldn't know which house to go to, and you could stick your hand out the bathroom window and borrow toilet paper from your neighbor," he said.
The development plans up for review with Leesburg specify a varying degree of densities, from as high as eight lots per acre to as low as one unit per acre. Greg Beliveau of Urban & Regional Planning and Consulting is Brown's planner on the application.
After the annexation and DP approval is complete, Brown hopes to find a like-minded developer to bring his vision for the community to fruition.
"Now I have the ability to make decisions about how the property can be used, what amenities may be there and the type of development," Brown said.
The plans call for a total of 995 residential units, with 791 single-family and 204 townhomes. There is a 283,700 square feet of commercial planned for mixed commercial uses, and more than eight acres for a clubhouse.
Leesburg officials are happy about the development application.
"The city encourages new development to further strengthen the economy while expanding employment and enhancing our quality of life," said Deputy City Manager/Economic and Community Services Director, Michael Rankijn. "This application is a clear indication that developers can see the potential associated with investing in Leesburg."