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Mount Dora property owner battles with Lennar over road deal

The Phase 3 portion of Lennar's Stoneybrook Hills development would be built in seven sub-phases, moving in a clockwise direction. The Stoneybrook Hills Parkway extension runs along phases 6 and 7.
The Phase 3 portion of Lennar's Stoneybrook Hills development would be built in seven sub-phases, moving in a clockwise direction. The Stoneybrook Hills Parkway extension runs along phases 6 and 7. (Orange County Planning Division)

A Mount Dora-area land ownership group has been locked in discord with Lennar Homes for more than a decade, fighting for the homebuilder to build a contractually promised parkway within its development Stoneybrook Hills, a road needed to activate the group's own 294 land-locked acres for development.

With active litigation pending and Lennar back in front of Orange County planning staff to request PSP changes for the development's latest phase, owners behind Foothills of Mount Dora LLC are using the county review process to make Lennar live up to its commitments for connectivity.

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Located in northwest Orange County near the Lake County border, the Mount Dora development of Stoneybrook Hills has been built out slowly since the mid-2000s, with Lennar affiliate MS Rialto Stoneybrook FL, LLC owner of the property. The development has about 400 single-family lots already subdivided and sold through its first two phases.

Lennar now wants to develop a 229-acre parcel as Phase 3 of Stoneybrook, with more than 300 single-family home lots to be built over seven sub-phases.

The discord lies in what Lennar will build first in Phase 3.

Lennar wants to revise its Phase 3 PSP and build the sub-phases out in a clockwise direction. This gives Lennar the best connectivity to its existing subdivision roads, claiming it's the only feasible build-out strategy for the company financially, representatives said last week at Orange County's Development Review Committee hearing.

That would delay construction of Stoneybrook Hills Parkway to the final phase of this development, a road contractually promised more than a decade ago to owners of the land-locked Foothills of Mount Dora parcel.

Transcripts from a January 2007 Orange County Development Review meeting quote Lennar representatives agreeing to build the long-delayed Stoneybrook Hills Parkway before anything else in Phase 3.

"My clients' property is already approved at the PD and PSP phase, it will be residential as well, but they've been tied up since the early 2000s after selling the northern property to Lennar, and been through prior lawsuits already with this neighbor," said Miranda Fitzgerald, land use partner with Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A., and attorney for the Foothills of Mount Dora LLC land group.

In October 2003, Foothills and Stoneybrook Joint Venture (a Lennar affiliate that preceded MS Rialto) entered into a development agreement that required Lennar to build connective roadways by July 2004.

While that development agreement doesn't include a specific deadline for building that parkway connection, in absence of such a deadline Florida law implies the obligation be completed within a reasonable time, according to the latest legal complaint filed by Fitzgerald's law firm and her client.

Teri Bowley, director of entitlements and due diligence for Lennar Homes in Orlando, did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Foothills is asking the Orange County Circuit Court to rule Lennar's MS Rialto is required to immediately begin construction of Stoneybrook Hills Parkway, or order that Foothills can build it and be reimbursed by MS Rialto.

The Foothills group owns 294 contiguous acres to the south of Lennar's property that are landlocked. The owner needs the Stoneybrook Hills Parkway built to connect the property to the main thoroughfare, N. Orange Blossom Trail.

The group's property has been approved for 230 single-family lots, and includes sites reserved for public elementary and middle schools. The group has no builder in line for their property yet, because they have no way to confirm when the necessary access road will be constructed, Fitzgerald said.

"We're hoping the information from the (January 2007 DRC hearing) transcript will help us resolve the pending lawsuit and get Lennar to construct at least a two-lane road to my client's property soon," Fitzgerald said. "While this is still active in court, with the transcript, and our cooperation to encourage the county to reduce that road from a four-lane to a two-lane requirement, there is an opportunity to resolve this and make both parties happy."

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Orange County planning staff are still evaluating last week's request by Lennar to reduce the future extension of Stoneybrook Hills Parkway from four lanes to two, based on new traffic count data.

The Foothills of Mount Dora group supported Lennar in that request to incentivize construction of the road as soon as possible, but will appeal last week's DRC approval for a limited number of new Lennar homes if the two sides can't reach an agreement on Stoneybrook Hills Parkway, Fitzgerald said.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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