Clermont’s Planning & Zoning Board cited traffic concerns and incompatibility with surrounding neighborhoods Tuesday in voting 4-2 to recommend denying a request future land use and zoning change for an assisted living facility by First Baptist Church of Clermont.
The church is seeking the change to sell a 6-acre site within its 38-acre parent tract at the southeast corner of Hartwood Marsh Road and the future Hancock Road extension. The property currently has Low Density Residential land use and zoning, which allows the church building as a conditional use, but not assisted living facilities.
Cecelia Bonifay, land use and development chair for Akerman, represents the church. She said since the city doesn’t have an institutional zoning classification, the sought PUD zoning for just the 6-acre site, which would have restricted the use to ALF. The church started construction on its new 650-seat worship center earlier this year, according to its blog. Pastor Ben Bond said the ALF has been a part of the church’s master plan for the property since it purchased the land in 2002, but that site plan has never been approved by the City of Clermont. The church intends to sell the lot to Lawson Group, which designs and operates faith-based senior living facilities.
The proposed facility would have 100 assisted living apartments and 32 memory care rooms, separated by a 1-story common area. The project initially was proposed in 2019 but the church and developer withdrew the application and redesigned the project to flip the building so the 1-story memory care wing would be closest to the adjacent single family homes and the 3-story assisted living section would be moved to the center of the property.
“I think I can say this is a client who has been very earnest and willing to address all the issues raised by their neighbors,” she said. “They want to be good neighbors.”
Bonifay said the new site plan also moves the primary access points for the property to the future Hancock Road extension. The driveway on congested Hartwood Marsh Road would be a right-in, right-out access. Jeff Fuqua, the developer of the 328-home Hartwood Marsh subdivision at the southwest corner of the intersection, was required to build the Hancock Road extension as a condition of his annexation and subdivision approval last year.
Clermont’s planning staff had recommended denial of the plan in 2019 but changed it’s position following the redesign and addition of a second driveway access point on Hancock. Still, residents of nearby Hartwood Pines and Regency Hills opposed the project, complaining that it would generate too much traffic on roads that are already congested.
Bonifay said that because the average age of a ALF resident is 82 (and memory care patients don’t drive), the proposed use would generate less traffic than if the project were developed as single family residential. But P&Z Board members questioned the conclusions of the traffic study because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Trying to do a traffic study right now is kind of useless – the data can’t be relied on,” Joe Gustafson said.
Board member Tim Murry said he agreed that Clermont needs more elder care facilities, but he questioned if this was the right location. “I have to ask myself, would I want this in my community, and answer was no,” he said.
The case is scheduled for a public hearing at the July 14 City Council meeting. It’s unclear if the church will withdraw a second time. Neither the church nor its attorney responded to questions from GrowthSpotter.