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Eco-friendly treehouse resort in the works in Lake County

The developers will showcase the private lagoon and tributaries to the St. Johns River.
The developers will showcase the private lagoon and tributaries to the St. Johns River. (Unity Resorts)

You’ve always dreamed of staying at a posh resort and spa located high above the ground.

In the trees.

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Oh yes, you have.

You could get your wish, as Unity Resorts, of Casselberry, has filed a request for a conditional use permit to locate what developers believe is the world’s first socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and ADA-compliant treehouse resort at 43505 Indian Mound Trail in DeLand, on 43.4 acres that include wetlands along Shell Creek and the St. Johns River, across from Blue Springs State Park.

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So, you can’t climb trees?

No worries.

You’ll still be able to reach your luxury aerial coop.

Unity Resorts CEO Kristin Boekhoff has teamed up with Pete Nelson, host of the Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters, to develop the Nest Treehouse Resort concept. Fall City, Washington-based Nelson Treehouse and Supply has built treehouses for corporate clients, including Microsoft, Bass Pro Shops and Angry Orchard.

Each of the rooms will have a steel structure that would be covered with natural material to resemble bird nests.
Each of the rooms will have a steel structure that would be covered with natural material to resemble bird nests. (Unity Resorts)

The developers are ADA-conscious as well. Elevators will get you into the trees, and ADA compliant walkways within the proposed 100-unit development will also allow you access to any place in the resort, including – and take a deep breath here – two restaurants, a pool (Yes! They’re building a treetop-accessible pool!), a gift shop, boathouse, a poolside café, writers’ nook, a hammock house, observation towers, a wedding pavilion, gazebos, gardens, a commercial kitchen and walking paths.

One of the restaurants will feature a menu of organically grown southern food, and developers are still in talks with a second eatery.

No, there will be no ropes if you’re intent on swinging from tree to tree.

There won’t be any zip lines, either. Just the treetop walkways high above the ground.

But you’re up in the trees. Isn’t that enough?

The developers have already identified some of the trees that would be used to support the treehouses.
The developers have already identified some of the trees that would be used to support the treehouses. (Unity Resorts)

Although no timetable has been set, the development would be built in two phases, with construction of the first consisting of 60 units and the second consisting of 40 units. Total indoor areas will account for 54,000 square feet with outdoor areas at 27,700 for a total of 81,700 square feet of treetop living. McCree General Contractors and Architects, of Orlando, will build the treehouse complex.

Each unit will be a modern interpretation of a bird’s nest, except with high, arched ceilings not usually found in traditional avian series. Unit sizes will range from 250 square feet to 450 square feet, and each of the nests, er, rooms, will have a deck. Accommodations are available for two to six guests, depending on the size of the unit. Each unit would have a low-flow toilet and shower.

The majority of “nests” would be built on the property’s upland habitat, but the developers intend to offer a few units built in the wetland areas to showcase the pristine ecosystem.

Some treehouses will be built in the wetland area. The developer plans to donate 7 acres of wetlands for a conservation easement.
Some treehouses will be built in the wetland area. The developer plans to donate 7 acres of wetlands for a conservation easement. (Unity Resorts)

The site currently isn’t served by utilities, so Unity plans to install its own “green” wastewater treatment plant.

If there’s a hitch or two, there are these: The development will need the conditional use permit from Lake County, and the developers will have to work with county transportation officials who want the resort to comply with county road standards, while Unity wants to have more environmentally friendly permeable roadways.

Unity is also still in the fundraising phase; Boehkoff declined to reveal the project budget. According to county records, the land value is $518,924, vacant residential on the property is valued at $72,250 and wetlands at $1,671.

According to documents filed with Lake County, the resort’s financial benefit to Lake County will be as high as the trees where the resort is located. Estimates say the resort would generate roughly $360,000 in resort taxes each year along with $210,000 in sales taxes. That’s a lot of birdseed.

The resort would be located on 43.4 acres across the river from Blue Springs State Park.
The resort would be located on 43.4 acres across the river from Blue Springs State Park. (Unity Resorts)

Some of the profits from the resort would go to supporting environmental initiatives. Employees would also be paid at least $15 per hour.

This is one resort where you don’t just hug trees, you live in them, amongst the birds and the branches and the blue Florida sky.

The resort promises to showcase Florida’s wildlife heritage and preserve the wetlands on the property. In addition, developers will establish a partnership with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology to include features such as bird feeder cameras and a citizen eBird “hotspot” where guests can enter bird sightings. In addition, bird education programs will also be available.

Lake County does not have figures on how many people visit for eco-tourism, but spokeswoman Samantha Shylkofski called eco-tourism “one of our major draws for visitors” to the county.

The Nest received an enthusiastic reaction from Commission Chairman Sean Parks, who said that although he has not seen the site plan, he liked the idea of The Nest being located in Lake County.

“I would say it sounds like a great concept and we want it in Lake County as we could promote it as part of our ‘Real Florida, Real Close’ brand,” Parks said. “That would be attractive for people to come and spend money and it definitely fits our brand.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at Newsroom@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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