A Mount Dora land ownership group battling with Lennar Homes for more than a decade over a promised roadway got Orange County staff to make the homebuilder compromise this week, but Lennar is still unsure if it'll agree to terms.
The fight has been for Lennar to build a contractually promised boulevard within its development Stoneybrook Hills, a road needed to activate the group's own 294 land-locked acres for development.
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. Lennar affiliate MS Rialto Stoneybrook FL, LLC owns the property, and has about 400 single-family lots already subdivided and sold through its first two phases.
As GrowthSpotterreported in mid-October, Lennar came back before Orange County planning staff to request PSP changes for the development's latest phase.
Owners of those 294 land-locked acres, Foothills of Mount Dora LLC, are using the county review to make Lennar live up to a deal it signed in 2003 to build the road at a particular phase.
That future "Boulevard A" (an extension south of Stoneybrook Hills Parkway) must be built to connect the Foothills property to the main thoroughfare, N. Orange Blossom Trail.
Since that October meeting with Orange's Development Review Committee, Lennar's PSP change application was delayed in December and February.
The homebuilder wanted to revise the unbuilt "Boulevard A" section (less than one mile) from four lanes to two, and change the road construction phasing. The Foothills group and DRC members agreed to reduce lanes, which should could cut construction costs for the road extension by 66 percent.
Lennar had agreed to build that road now, when it would start construction on a 229-acre parcel as Phase 3 of Stoneybrook, with more than 300 single-family home lots.
But Lennar's PSP change is to break that phase up into seven sub-phases, building clockwise (see map above) and leaving Boulevard A for the final two phases (74 lots).
Lennar's Keith Malcuit, director of land acquisition and development, said this gives the best connectivity to its existing subdivision roads, and claims it's the only feasible build-out strategy for the homebuilder, financially.
"Boulevard A was supposed to be the first thing they did in Phase 3A. Our concern is they never reach final Phases 6 and 7, and our land remains completely land-locked," said Miranda Fitzgerald, land use partner with Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A., and attorney for the Foothills of Mount Dora group.
The group's property has a PSP approved for 230 single-family lots. It hasn't been able to start their own development because they can't confirm when the necessary access road will be built.
Lennar was held to its word on Wednesday by John Smogor, planning administrator and head of DRC, who delivered a compromise: begin sub-phases 1-3, but Lennar won't get plats on those phased homes until it starts Boulevard A construction. It'll have a two-year window to finish the road, and must provide a letter of credit.
Malcuit offered to give the Foothills group Lennar's right-of-way to build the road themselves, which Smogor quickly shot down.
"You have an obligation to build the road, you're just willing to throw the cost on them," he said. "It's been your obligation since your first subdivision plan."
DRC ultimately approved the PSP changes, with those new compromises in place. Malcuit said Lennar will still have to calculate if home sales from sub-phases 1-3 will support the cost of building Boulevard A afterward, or if they'll ask DRC to rescind the decision.
Town Hill Boulevard ("Boulevard B"), which runs through Lennar's finished phases of Stoneybrook now, is gated. Staff asked if that road's extension, to run through sub-phases 1-5, could be built now to the Foothills property and be ungated for public use, solving the access problem. Lennar's Malcuit said it's not an option because of the existing HOA.