A judge has ruled that Lake County's Wellness Way sector development plan for 16,200 acres in its southeast corner is not in compliance with state planning rules, leaving county officials and land owners to contemplate what to do next.
"They didn't kill the whole plan," said Robert Chandler, Lake County's economic development director. But it certainly put a major question mark on its viability.
The heart of the court's problem with the Wellness Way sector plan is that the development plans for each parcel have not been designated specifically enough, Chandler said.
Specifically labeling the use for each piece of property is problematic because, unlike most developments which typically are owned by one entity or group, Wellness Way has more than 100 land owners. Defining whose land gets what use is difficult because such land use determines property value, he added.
"What we had to do is create a Land Use Plan to allow flexibility, so the owners could apply for land use at the planned use development level rather than having one assigned now by the group," Chandler said. "We thought we had done enough to define where the land uses are in our plan."
Jim Karr, one of the Wellness Way property owners who was also involved in the development of Horizon West just east across the Orange County line, said he is disappointed in the ruling.
"I really don't know at this time what is next," he said. "You can't positively identify every land use on every parcel of that land. Some people will be enriched and some would be punished."
The process has been punishing and costly to the group, which has spent three years and upwards of $175,000 on the project. Lake County has spent $50,000, said Karr, plus whatever staff time the planning initiative has taken.
Wellness Way had sketched out general areas for each land use in the plan, said Karr, but it wasn't specific and detailed enough for the state.
Future development of Wellness Way is hampered by another issue as well.
Cemex wants to build a sand mine where the Wellness Way group has proposed to have its town center. Lake County turned down the request, and Cemex promptly sued. It also is challenging the legality of Wellness Way.
"Cemex has proven to be very powerful, politically," Karr said.
Chandler said the county has 60 days to accept or appeal the decision.
In the meantime, a 721-acre parcel that had been tagged as the town center for Wellness Way is up for sale by the Clonts Family, which owns the land and grew citrus there until the blight impacted the grove.
Unlike the other Wellness Way land that has more rural zoning designations, the Clonts Groves parcel already has existing entitlements to build homes on its land, said Daryl Carter of Maury L. Carter & Associates, listing agent for the property.
"While it may be disappointing to other (Wellness Way owners) in the region, we are still in good shape for our development," Carter said. "We are getting a lot of interest, and are negotiating a contract on a portion of the property."