Lake County Board of Commissioners approved a controversial 102-home subdivision east of Lakeshore Drive near Clermont after two previous rejections, an administrative law judge ruling and a lawsuit threat.
Lake Nellie Crossing – north of Suggs Road and being developed by Clermont-based Pillar Homes – required a rezoning of 117 acres to Planned Unit Development – one dwelling unit per acre – from Rural Residential (R-6) – one dwelling unit per five acres. Neighbors expressed concern about safety on Lakeshore Drive, a two-lane road that already is highly trafficked and congested. Commissioners and neighbors agreed about this.
The property has a Rural Transition future land use, which is intended to protect rural communities from the encroachment of more suburban-style development. Lake Nellie Crossing fits perfectly into that plan, Commissioner Leslie Campione said. Homes will be clustered in one area of the land with 50 acres remaining open space in perpetuity. A wastewater treatment center will be built on-site to serve the community instead of septic tanks.
“The design itself could serve as a model” for other Rural Transition proposals, Campione said. The updated concept plan by engineer Stringfellow Planning & Design was presented to commissioners.
Another important factor in favor of approval, Campione said, is landowners’ right to use their property as they want. “It has too much traffic on it,” she said of Lakeshore Drive, but “property rights are the cornerstone of our American Democracy.”
Commissioner Josh Blake agreed, saying, “If you can’t build what you want on your property, it’s not your property.”
Lake County commissioners first considered the rezoning in June 2021 and was denied in July. After a petition for relief filing, a compromise proposal was presented to commissioners in October – that too was rejected. In December, an evidentiary hearing was held before an administrative law judge, who rendered a special master’s recommendation in favor of the development on Jan. 18. If not approved, landowners next recourse would have been a lawsuit. Prior to the meeting, landowners Harry Alfred Suggs & Patricia Durmeyer Suggs Family Trust submitted a letter about such a lawsuit against the county.
The administrative law judge concluded that “the proposed Rezoning satisfies the requirements of the Lake County Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code, that there is no reason related to transportation safety to deny the Rezoning, and that the denial of the Rezoning, under the circumstances presented here, is unreasonable or unfairly burdens use of the Property. Therefore, it is recommended that the Lake County Board of County Commissioners approve the application for the Lake Nellie Crossing RZ 20-39-1, Lake Nellie Crossing PUD.”
The judge also included development conditions discussed and agreed upon by Lake Nellie, including the cluster development pattern and0 open space plan; density capped at 103 units; and limiting development to lands west of Royal Vista Avenue. Commissioners were satisfied that this would pacify residents that expressed concerns about future development on the land.
Cecelia Bonifay, an attorney from Akerman representing the developer, said the developer will be adding shoulders to Lakeshore and making other improvements, along with keeping the open space by creating a clustered subdivision and having the onsite wastewater system that is licensed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Commissioners could have approved, modified or denied the special master’s recommendation. They approved it 3-2.