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Clermont rejects Hancock Road apartments despite pledge to include affordable units

The Clermont City Council voted 3-2 to reject a proposed apartment complex called Hancock Commons. It would have been the first to utilize the city's affordable housing density bonus.
The Clermont City Council voted 3-2 to reject a proposed apartment complex called Hancock Commons. It would have been the first to utilize the city's affordable housing density bonus. (Lee and Associates)

A new development that would have added 281 apartments to Clermont was rejected by the City Council last week because of high traffic complaints in the area.

Hancock Commons was proposed after approval by the neighboring community for a zoning change from commercial to allow multi-family developments once prohibited on the 16.5 acres. A modification of the developer’s agreement was executed and recorded with the Lake County Clerk of the Courts on May 16, 2019 removing the prohibition of multifamily developments.

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The property is part of the original Hills of Clermont development that consisted of commercial, office, and residential use along Hooks Street and Hancock Road.

The developer was seeking approval to build 281 apartments, of which 13 units would have been reserved for moderate-income families.
The developer was seeking approval to build 281 apartments, of which 13 units would have been reserved for moderate-income families. (Lee and Associates)

Hancock Commons proposal by Clermont 15, LLC and Hancock Commons, LLC, also included affordable housing under a city ordinance approved in 2018. The inclusion of affordable housing gave the development an added 90 units from an original request for 191 units.

The requirement under the ordinance means there would have been 13 affordable housing units among the 281. Clermont weighs density bonuses as path to affordable or inclusionary housing.

See the two areas where the city is considering increasing housing density, how the proposal differs for each, and the intended goal.

City council members did have some concerns about the low number of affordable housing units and said this is part of a discussion for a future workshop on the ordinance. However, the biggest objections were over traffic and safety at Hooks Street and Hancock Road.

“It looks like a beautiful development,” said Councilwoman Diane Travis. “Our council has said we won’t allow new development on roads that haven’t been fixed by the county.”

The developer agreed to take on responsibility to extend Hooks Street through the property, and City Manager Darren Gray said there are two other developments in the works that have agreed to allow the street to continue through their properties.

That wasn’t enough for the council. Citizens and the council have issues with Hancock Road south of the Hooks Street intersection and worry that adding a new residential community father north would just make back-ups on the road even worse.

“Where this is going to be built at Hooks and Hancock, would be an absolute disaster at rush hour,” said Mayor Gail L. Ash.

The proposed road extension into Hills of Clermont became a sticking point during the debate.
The proposed road extension into Hills of Clermont became a sticking point during the debate. (Lee and Associates)

Lake County is responsible for Hancock and Hooks and has plans to widen the part of Hancock that isn’t currently four lanes, Gray told the council. Designs for the improvements on Hooks been funded by the county, he said. Construction hasn’t been funded.

“There’s no way without Hooks Street being completed. It’s not going to happen unless you do finish Hooks Street all the way," Ash said. “I don’t care who pays for it, but it has to be finished.”

The votes clear the way for new apartments, commercial uses and a hotel to be built along U.S. 27 in the Wellness Way area.

City Councilwoman Heidi Brishke said the city has worked with other developers to improve streets. “I feel like you guys are missing out on an opportunity to help out with that.”

Councilman Timothy Bates said the Hancock Commons would be great after the traffic problems are solved. The City Council denied the rezoning application and development by a 3-2 vote. The city zoning board recommended denial. City Staff recommend approval. “The residents just aren’t going to put up with this,” Travis said. Developers declined to comment at this time.

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