Lake County Commissioners have asked the City of Leesburg to pump the brakes on the development process for two projects located in rural areas of the county, citing resident concerns over increasing density in what is currently a rural area.
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners sent a letter dated August 10 to Leesburg Mayor John Christian requesting a delay in annexation hearings for the proposed 1,008-acre mixed-use project known as Whispering Hills.
Jean Marsan, of Marsan Real Estate Group, Orlando, has applied for annexation of the Journey Circle M Ranch to build a golf and equestrian community with nearly 3,000 homes, a community pool, a town center, medical offices, a 250-bed assisted living facility/nursing home and a hotel.
Another action by the commission asks for Leesburg to postpone the public hearing on the proposed Hodges Reserve, a 149-acre, 449-unit residential development located near the north side of Dewey Robbins and east of U.S. 27. The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to deny the rezoning request. The voluntary annexation, future land use and PUD zoning requests had their first readings June 14, and a final vote on Hodges Reserve is scheduled to take place at the City Commission meeting on August 23.
The request to Leesburg officials regarding the Whispering Hills annexation was approved by the board on August 10, and states that unincorporated residents have expressed opposition to the projects because the developments would adversely increase density in what is currently a rural area.
“Several unincorporated residents have expressed their concerns to the Board of County Commissioners regarding the density and intensity of these developments in a primarily rural area,” the letter stated, adding “developments of this size and nature will severely change the character of the area and negatively impact the residents striving for a rural lifestyle.”
The letter indicated that the County’s Public Works Department has already submitted comments to the city’s staff indicating that neither nearby Turkey Lake Road nor Number Two Road can handle the traffic that would result from the developments.
But the commission’s letter has implications beyond delaying the process on the two developments. The board requested that the city engage with the county on joint planning while seeking to re-negotiate the Interlocal Service Boundary Agreement forged in 2014.
“The original ISBA did not contemplate the tremendous increase in growth now being experienced by Lake County which is impacting rural areas,” the letter states. Citing state statutes requiring that local governments to jointly review land use, the letter suggests that unanticipated high growth requires negotiations.
“The Board of County Commissioners does believe that good developments are possible, but all parties should come to the table to discuss the issues to ensure that all impacts of the development are appropriately addressed,” the letter says.
The County Commission had previously expressed concern about the size of Whispering Hills. But Commissioner Leslie Campione brought the matter of the ISBA to a head at the board’s August 10 meeting.
Campione suggested the county and the city engage in a review of the ISBA “as a way to actually honor the processes that are in the ISBA agreements to see if we can make changes or possibly get rid of the ISBAs, and to have a dialog to see if these things make sense or not.”
Campione said discussions should also take place over whether Leesburg should honor the rural protection areas designated by the county. The county has designated the area as a “protected rural area.”
“In the case of Leesburg, the rural protection area the county has in place should be honored by the city or at least the spirit of it in these projects,” she said, later referring to “land uses that aren’t meshing with what is being annexed.”
Meanwhile, Leesburg officials were not available for comment on the letter. City Manager Al Minner told City Commissioners on July 26 that the city has approved about 25,000 new residential lots and multifamily units for development, which has caused friction with County Commissioners. “Each subdivision that we have dealt with in the past several years has gotten a lot of contention, especially in areas that are up against unincorporated areas of significant ruralness,” he said.
During that meeting, Christian said he would oppose any amendments to the ISBA, saying “the last thing we need to do is to amend this to where we do not have control over the growth of our city. This is a great time for Leesburg and it is our time to grow.
“This is an opportunity for us to add to our tax base and grow our city responsibly so we can have the things that our citizens deserve and what they have asked for,” he said. “We do have people that live in rural communities, but unfortunately, if someone owns five hundred acres and decides to sell and develop, it is not our responsibility to tell them they cannot develop their property.”