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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Leesburg OKs plan allowing younger employees to live inside The Villages portion of city

Leesburg commissioners gave their blessings Monday night to four ordinances connected with the future growth of The Villages on more than 2,612 acres – one of which signals a marked change in the mega-retirement community’s housing philosophy.

Commissioners agreed to amend the city’s comprehensive plan to allow new Community Support Districts inside the age-restricted portion of The Villages that already has gained approval in the city. According to documents filed with the city, The Villages plans to create designated areas within The Villages of West Lake – which will be located on both the north and south sides of the Florida Turnpike and County Road 470 to County Road 48 – to provide housing for younger residents who are working in the community.

The Villages of West Lake Areas A and B

An earlier memo from Planning and Zoning Manager Dan Miller to the commission said approving The Villages’ request will reduce the number of “vehicular trips” into the community and “ensure appropriate land use compatibility with future development in the area.” Leesburg’s Planning Commission approved the request on Sept. 24.

According to an earlier letter written to Miller from Villages representative Darrin F. Taylor, of Carlton Fields in Tallahassee, the employee housing would be located “in close proximity” to the age-restricted homes in the new section of The Villages. He said the new Community Support Districts must also “include recreation and commercial uses, at a minimum, to serve its residents.”

Taylor also had asked for commission to amend the Future Land Use Element Policy for the proposed development to add research and development and education to the list of permitted uses. It’s unclear from the letter exactly why that request was made, or what kind of housing will be provided. The Villages is hoping to build apartments in all three town squares and at the site of the former Hacienda Hills Country Club and that type of “multi-family” dwellings would be permitted in the Villages of West Lake.

The commission also approved ordinances that modify the Chapter 163 Development agreement between the city and the Villages of West Lake for 1,382.31 acres in Area A and 1,230.73 acres in Area B. Another ordinance that was approved establishes the definition of age-restricted development.

Under the agreements, the permitted uses in the Villages of West Lake also will include:

  • Commercial including but not limited to retail, office, hotel, convention/performing arts center and theater;
  • Independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care facilities, as well as hospice and other similar uses;
  • Medical campus including but not limited to a hospital, clinic, professional offices and pharmacy ;
  • Agriculture uses on undeveloped land before development begins provided that such activities don’t conflict with the city’s comprehensive plan (permitted uses would include but aren’t limited to silvicultural, farming and animal husbandry); and
  • Wireless communications towers and antennas.

Leesburg finalized a deal in November 2018 to sell The Villages Land Co, 1,127 acres for about $7.54 million. Since that time, the Developer has added more acreage and could build in excess of 6,100 dwelling units, 1 million square feet of commercial/retail and 100,000 square feet of government/office uses.

In March, the commission approved an ordinance designed to protect the government body from being taken over by any special interest group, such as The Villages or another large housing project. That ordinance, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the Nov. 3 General Election, starts the process of the city switching to commissioners elected from five distinct districts instead of the current makeup of three from districts and two at-large representatives. That requires a change to the city’s charter and will prohibit any one group, neighborhood or developer from obtaining a three-person majority on the commission by getting both at-large candidates elected from their areas or communities.

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