Eustis City Commissioners voted last week to delay action for the third time on a set of controversial annexation requests along Thrill Hill Road and the former Pine Meadows golf course that were opposed by surrounding residents and county commissioners.
The three requests along Thrill Hill Road, totaling a combined 164 acres north and south of County Road 44-A, are now scheduled for adoption on Jan. 21. All three are located in the joint planning area with Lake County and have a future land use of Rural Transition.
The city would assign the properties a Suburban Residential future land use with a Rural Neighborhood district designation, which would allow for a maximum density of 3-3½ dwelling units per acre, or roughly 574 homes.
City Manager Ronald Niebert told GrowthSpotter he has been negotiating with county officials an interlocal agreement that would allow the cases to move forward.
“The residents in the area that were opposed to the proposed annexation and the proposed land development classifications and obviously they kept saying, ‘We don’t want five units an acre, 800 homes,’ and we kept telling them and it’s not going to be that,” Niebert said. “And it’s just a matter of the residents don’t want any higher density development in the area. And obviously the county commission is supporting those residents in their efforts, and we are working through with the county to try to come to a reasonable negotiation.”
Among the topics under negotiation: density, fire and emergency service and transportation improvements to Thrill Hill Road and intersection improvements at Thrill Hill and C.R. 44 and C.R. 44-A. Niebert said it’s possible the agreement would require the applicants to provide a conceptual plan, something that usually wouldn’t be required until the owner enters the site development permitting stage.
The properties were only eligible for annexation because one parcel abuts the county-owned Lake May Preserve at East Eldorado Lake Drive. But the Board of County Commissioners voted on Dec. 1 to deed a 25-foot strip on the east boundary of the park to a nonprofit environmental foundation, which in effect breaks the contiguity.
Commissioners called a special meeting Dec. 1 take the action so they could head off the city’s Dec. 3 vote on the annexations. “That was the goal of their action, obviously, to stop the process. I guess was their intent,” Niebert said.
Carol Harper, who owns the property at the northeast corner of C.R. 44-A and Eldorado, sued Lake County to stop the board from taking the action. She sought an emergency injunction on Nov. 30, but it was denied by the court. After the hearing, Lake Commissioners added a provision to the deed so the land could revert to county ownership if the city and county reach an interlocal agreement for the Thrill Hill cases by March 1.
Lake County declined to make any staff members available for interviews on the subject, and Commissioner Leslie Campione, who proposed deeding the land strip to the Scott and Elaine Taylor Foundation to stop the annexation, did not return calls from GrowthSpotter.
During the special meeting, she told fellow commissioners the county had to act because Eustis had refused to engage with the county, in violation of the Joint Planning Agreement.
“There are a lot of ways that you can go about joint planning that can address this specific area,” Campione said. “And then the bigger picture of, you know, all of the JPA and all of the areas that have been discussed before that the city has interest in growing in.”
Only Commissioner Josh Blake opposed the decision. “I understand where the commission’s coming from. I understand the concerns of the neighbors,” he said. “My only concern, and the reason I’ll vote against it now, is that I feel like we’re sort of playing Lucy to their Charlie Brown.”
Campione pointed to the pending Pine Meadows annexation as an example of where the city and county worked together to negotiate an Interlocal Service Boundary Agreement. Under the terms of the ISBA, the property cannot be developed until the city extends water and sewer service to it. The city agrees it won’t use the Pine Meadows land as a vehicle to annex any additional properties in the area until they meet certain standards defined by state statute.
In that case, Hanover Land Co. is seeking to annex the 225-acre east of S.R. 19 and north of C.R. 44. Hanover is seeking the same Suburban Residential future land use and Rural Neighborhood Design District as the Thrill Hill cases.
Eustis Commissioners were scheduled to approve that annexation request also on Jan. 7 but elected to postpone the vote until Jan. 21. Mayor Michael Holland suggested voting on all of the cases at the same meeting to give the city’s two newly elected commissioners time to familiarize themselves with the issues.
“We also are in negotiations with the county about our land use,” Holland said. “I think if we hit the pause button until the 21st, it gives us time to get our commission up to full speed and for us to see what the county- expecting from us, as well.”
Hanover representatives declined to comment on the Pine Meadows annexation, which could add nearly 800 homes to the area.