South Florida developer Sheldon Rubin narrowly won approval Tuesday from Lake County Commissioners to increase the density for his Rubin Groves property in the Four Corners area to include a workforce housing component and the county’s first vacation home resort community.
The board voted 3-2, with Commissioners Leslie Campione and Doug Shields in the minority, to create a new land use category that allows up to six residential units per acre on the 248-acre site, which is just north of Cagan Crossings and borders on the Green Swamp. The board also approved a new Planned Unit Development (PUD) that allows up to 1,200 residential or resort units and up to 65,000 square feet of retail or commercial uses.
The PUD ordinance allows for the development of traditional residential homes and townhomes at a density of no more than four units per acre and resort properties, which could include large vacation homes, townhomes or condos, at the six units per acre density.
Rubin has met with several of the well-known vacation home builders who are active in the Kissimmee market, and reportedly has sale contract with Pulte Homes, which is currently building Windsor Island Resort less than 5 miles away in Polk County.
Land use attorney Jimmy Crawford told commissioners the unnamed buyer wanted to do a 50:50 split between residential and resort units. “If that contract fell apart, there were three that we spoke to that were highly interested in it, so I believe it’s highly likely that we’ll have a percentage of resort residential homes,” Crawford said.
He also sweetened the deal Tuesday by revealing that Rubin had a signed, executed contract to sell 4 acres within the community to Turnstone Development’s Steve Smith and would allocate up to 90 of the residential unit entitlements for an affordable workforce housing community.
Lake Commission Chairman Sean Parks had actually approached Crawford with the idea after the BOCC tabled the final vote on Smith’s application for a 72-unit multifamily community on Ruby Red Boulevard, just north of Rubin’s property.
“We all saw how contentious it was two, three months ago when we had the Ruby Red application in front of us,” Parks said. “That was not the right site for an attainable housing project.”
Rubin told GrowthSpotter he had toured Smith’s other developments and was confident the project would be a good fit with his PUD and fulfill a need for attainable multifamily housing in the Four Corners area.
“It’s going to be good, attractive, well-landscaped community,” Rubin said. “We’re happy to have it as part of our plan. It’s important for everyone to do their share, and I do believe in the cause.”
That deal with Smith ultimately convinced Commissioner Kirby Smith to swing the project for the developer. “If it wasn’t for the affordable housing, I’d vote no,” he said.
The land previously was part of the Green Swamp Ridge land use category, which limits the density to 4 residential units per acre. Rubin won approval more than a decade ago for a Planned Unit Development that would have created a 500-home residential subdivision with just 5,000 square feet of commercial space. It was never built because of the Great Recession, Crawford, told the commissioners.
In 2014, Rubin sought a PUD amendment to allow him to grade and level the property for a proposed ADA-compliant retirement community. In that case, Lake County approved the request but Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity appealed the decision and an administrative law judge overturned it. Rubin was set to appeal the case all the way to then Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet, but he eventually agreed to a settlement with DEO in 2018.
“Rubin Groves, along with (Cagan Crossings) is the most environmentally and planning studied and restricted properties in the Green Swamp, and maybe in the county,” Crawford said. “With Rubin Groves, we spent over two years and $300,000 doing groundwater studies in surface water studies to implement the county DEO Settlement Agreement.”
Cagan Crossings developer Jeff Cagan actually spoke against the proposed PUD for Rubin Groves, saying the density was “crazy.”
“At first I was for the project — I thought it was a great idea that would help the whole area,” he said. “I think the density has crossed the line. The idea about our area was to keep for homeowners living in place. Now we turned it into an amusement park for short term rentals.”
Parks and other commissioners preferred the concept of resort rental because it would generate higher taxes for the county without creating a burden on the school system. Vacation homes typically appraise at higher rates than traditional residential homes on the same size lots, and they are not eligible for homestead exemption. They also pay Tourist Development Tax, Parks said.
“It’s a great location for a resort,” Park Square Homes CEO Suresh Gupta told GrowthSpotter. “The thing with these resorts now is the competition is getting so intense. You have to put in a great rec center and pool with lazy river.”
Gupta previously owned the 49 acres immediately to the north, and Park Square is in the process of buying it back from Rubin after a 1-year land-banking arrangement. He said Park Square would close on the site in May and hopes to start model construction on the 148-home subdivision by the end of the year.
Crawford said Rubin was also in early discussions with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office about opening a substation in the commercial section of the PUD, and he would also make space available to lease for a branch of the tax collector’s office. “We are committed to working with them,” he said. “Four Corners needs services — we know that. We’re one of the last larger parcels down there, and if we can help supply those services we’re in 100%.”