It was a “historic day” as the Leesburg Planning Commission on Thursday cleared the way for the city to close on a nearly $12 million land deal with The Villages.
The immediate task at hand for the planning commission was zoning changes that would allow for The Villages famed 55+ age-restricted development.
The commissioners unanimously agreed to the changes although they posed questions about children, water usage, traffic and, of course, the possible location of a fourth town square in The Villages.
Planning Commission Chairman James Argento is a self-confessed fan of Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.
He had his first date with his future wife in November 2008 at the Outback Steakhouse at Rolling Acres Plaza in The Villages.
Two children later, the couple loves to visit the squares and even do a little Electric Slide.
But more importantly, he said the deal is good for Leesburg.
“This is the most important vote I have taken as an appointed public officer. I am very excited,” Argento said.
Argento, who has served on the planning commission since 2010 and as its chairman since 2012, said The Villages development will be a powerful boost to the city’s tax base.
The project would bring 4,500 homes to the new Villages of West Lake, along with commercial development and recreation opportunities, including golf courses. The development will be located north and south of the Florida Turnpike and will be contiguous with the new Villages of Southern Oaks in Sumter County.
City Manager Al Minner has previously estimated The Villages development would be a $900 million boon for Leesburg.
The Villages had prepared professionals on hand to field questions on sensitive issues:
• Water Usage. Trey Arnett of Arnett Environmental explained that a home in The Villages is responsible for far less water use than a typical home in Central Florida. He pointed to the storm water retention system which recovers water that is used for irrigation, including the golf courses.
• Traffic. Richard Barr of Kimley-Horn & Associates Inc. said a traffic study has been performed and that there is adequate capacity to handle traffic from the new Villages development. He said the extension of Buena Vista Boulevard to County Road 470 should ease the flow of traffic. It was indicated the project had received a letter of support from the Lake-Sumter County Metropolitan Planning Organization.
• Children. An attorney with Tallahassee firm Carlton Fields, representing The Villages, said that as an age-restricted development, children and grandchildren could visit for no more than 90 days.
• A Town Square? Planning Commissioner Don Lukich wanted to know about the possibility of a fourth Villages town square in the new development but received a non-answer from Carlton Fields attorney Darrin Taylor. “This will be mixed-use development in the Villages’ style of development,” Taylor said.
Having secured unanimous approval from the planning commission, The Villages of West Lake goes before the full Leesburg Commission on Monday night.