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An aerial view of the 18 acres of land Unicorp's Chuck Whittall is developing into a luxury home community called Carmel.
An aerial view of the 18 acres of land Unicorp's Chuck Whittall is developing into a luxury home community called Carmel. (carmelorlando.com)

Archeological remains, an Indian burial site and multimillion dollar homes.

The three put together may seem incompatible, but each plays a role in the story behind one developer’s ambition to build luxury homes along Lake Tibet.

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Chuck Whittall, president of Unicorp National Developments Inc., has site work underway for a luxury single-family community he’s developing called Carmel — a step some might hail as a milestone in the delicate process that is building on a site containing a prehistoric Native American burial mound.

“This kind of stuff can go bad,” Ryan Wheeler, director and chair of archaeology at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, told GrowthSpotter.

Developer Chuck Whittall said he plans to start construction in January on the $1 billion mixed-use district in the heart of Orlando's tourism corridor.

“It’s better to know about these sites prior to development rather than to find out during... If you think about it, construction starts, you have certain contracts in place and then suddenly that all has to stop.”

Known as the Macey Mound, the discovery of the burial site predates Whittall’s initial intention to develop the property.

The mound and the remains were uncovered by Fred Luce and his son Stanley Luce in the 1920s. Wheeler said the father son duo practiced uncovering archaeological findings in the mid-20th century, though they acted more so like dilettantes than full-time archaeologists, he adds.

“I think people locally must have known about it and the Luces got permission from the landowner to dig there,” Wheeler said.

Most of their collections, including the Macey Mound findings, went to the Haverhill Historical Society that operates the Buttonwoods Museum in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

In 1995, they were transferred to the Peabody. It wasn’t until late 2012 that a Florida Master Site File (part of the Florida Division of Historical Resources) regarding the Macey Mound was submitted to be listed with the state.

According to documents collected by the institution, human remains representing, at minimum, nine individuals were removed by the Luces.

A photo of Stanley Luce on the property in 1920. The photo is part of the Fred A. Luce image collection. All Rights Reserved.
A photo of Stanley Luce on the property in 1920. The photo is part of the Fred A. Luce image collection. All Rights Reserved. (Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, Phillips Academy)

In his notes, Fred Luce described the site as located on the Macey farm, along the shores of the lake — now known as the Butler Chain of Lakes, where a number of exclusive affluent communities boast the splendors of lakefront living.

The Peabody contains more than 600,000 artifacts and often works with students, researchers and Native Americans in archaeological research and guidance involving the collection and repatriation of cultural items through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

In addition to the individuals found, the Luces also uncovered 1,685 associated funerary objects that are mostly pottery fragments. Other artifacts include a shell bead and a stone tool, according to Fred Luce’s documentation notes, all which are compiled in a 215-page journal.

His findings state that the mound was constructed with white sand and originally stood eight feet tall and around seven yards in diameter, with a narrow trench connecting the mound to the lake shore.

A photo of Stanley Luce on the property in 1920. The photo is part of the Fred A. Luce image collection. All Rights Reserved.
A photo of Stanley Luce on the property in 1920. The photo is part of the Fred A. Luce image collection. All Rights Reserved. (Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, Phillips Academy)

A notice published by the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology in August states that the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma are all culturally affiliated with the individuals and artifacts found in the Macey Mound.

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After more than two decades in storage at the Peabody, and even longer so when counting its time with the Haverhill Historical Society, the remains will finally be put back to rest.

At an Orange County development review board meeting last week, Whittall told staff the remains will be reburied at the property he recently acquired for about $18 million.

Because of concerns about sites being disturbed or looted, state law allows the locations to remain secret. Where the reburying of the remains will take place on Whittall’s property will likely, therefore remain undisclosed.

Gary Bitner, a spokesperson for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, said the tribe wishes to respectfully decline comment on the story.

In a previous interview with GrowthSpotter, Whittall said he intends to dedicate about a quarter-acre of the property to the reburial. At the meeting, he also asked to decrease the initial lot count from 13 to 11, among other waivers.

An early conceptual site plan for the Carmel residential community.
An early conceptual site plan for the Carmel residential community. (carmelorlando.com)

Prices for homes are anticipated to range from $4 million to $15 million. The developer also intends to build a home for himself at the property.

According to three Notices of Commencement records filed in Orange County, demolition site work for Carmel started in June.

Prior to that, Whittall tapped the company Southeastern Archaeological Research, Inc., (SEARCH) to conduct a cultural resources assessment survey in anticipation of permitting requirements.

Based on information provided by SEARCH, the Division of Historical Resources of the Florida Department of State notified Orange County officials that the Macey Mound site is subject to protection and eligible to be listed under the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2018, the State recommended expanding the boundary of the mound site to the water’s edge to incorporate a “yet-to-be relocated trench,” which SEARCH assumes “may contain additional unmarked human remains.”

It also recommended professional monitoring by a Secretary of the Interior qualified archaeologist during all ground disturbing activities that take place “in the portions of the property that were not infilled with pond dredge spoil.”

The State claims it is possible that some early 20th-century bull-dozing of the prehistoric mound may have scattered funerary cultural material and human remains throughout the entire property.

An investigation of the Macey Mound site conducted this year also identified European artifacts, indicating occupation and use of the site during the 17th-century, according to a Notice of Inventory Completion by the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.

As previously reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Carmel will be a double-gated community with brick-paved roads lined with gas lantern lighting.

For years, the bulk of the property was made up of three single‐family homes and an orange grove.

The land is located west of the Masters Boulevard and Hubbard Place intersection, and was previously owned by the family members of Francis Evans Hubbard, who founded Hubbard Construction. The family built roads throughout Disney property and much of Central Florida.

Unicorp is behind the $1 billion O-Town West mixed-use developments in the tourism corridor.

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The firm recently paid $22.9 million to purchase about 46 acres of land underneath the Orlando Fashion Square, according to a deed recently recorded in Orange County. In August, GrowthSpotter reported on its plans to redevelop the aging shopping center into a mixed-use community with over 1,000 apartments, a hotel and grocery store.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at arabines@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-5427, or tweet me at @amanda_rabines. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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