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Florida DEP sets February hearing on Thrill Hill annexations

Eustis City Commissioner Willie Hawkins accused Lake County officials of hindering growth of the city after a scheduled Sept. 2 vote on three annexations along Thrill Hill Road was delayed again while the county, city and state grapple with the status of one parcel that the county had deeded to a non-profit.

The delay on a vote means Eustis’s plan to annex 164 acres in the Thrill Hill and Lake Eldorado area is now in the hands of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which is set to have a hearing on the matter in February. The cases have on hold since December 2020.

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The county has argued that the Thrill Hill annexation would constitute urban sprawl and had earlier voted to deed a 25-foot-wide strip of land in the Lake May Preserve to a non-profit in order to block the annexations. But the state would not allow the land transfer because it violated deed restrictions on the property, which had been purchased with a state grant.

Hawkins sees the Thrill Hill annexation issue as part of a larger conflict between the city and the county over economic development.

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City and county officials will schedule a joint meeting to "hash this thing out" with the help of a mediator.

“I don’t think they’re giving the elected officials here in Eustis what we need to do to grow our city,” Hawkins said after the city’s annexation vote was continued to February. “I don’t think the county is trusting us to do our job. I think we can do some smart planning and make everybody happy. But the county is holding us up so we can’t do anything at all.

“We’ve tried to grow, and we’ve been roadblocked at every turn. From where I’m sitting on the city commission, that’s an issue.”

Meanwhile, Lake County Commission Chairman Sean Parks said talks are already underway and he was optimistic about coming to an agreement with Eustis on expansion issues in general.

“We have another joint planning session soon. I’m excited and remain confident a good plan for the city and the county will be achieved,” Parks said, adding that he believed a plan that “respects the rural charm and promotes connectivity can be accomplished.”

Parks has been negotiating an Interlocal Service Boundary Agreement with Eustis for properties within the Joint Planning Area after commissioners rejected the proposed ISBA put forward by the city in March.

And while Hawkins said he is interested in working with county officials, he is skeptical of their intentions.

“I’d like to see the county work with us in good faith and I don’t think at this point they are,” he said. “We’re not trying to force annexations. We’re just trying to grow our city.”

At an earlier County Commission meeting, Parks expressed concern over the conflict between cities and the county over growth issues. “I know cities want to grow and counties want to grow, but the vision can be very different,” Parks said. “I continue to see the frustration playing out because often-times there is no common vision between the city and the county.”

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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