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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Controversial development wins unanimous approval from Leesburg Commission

Despite opposition from neighboring residents, Leesburg commissioners have approved a controversial development.

Monday night’s commission meeting was moved to the Venetian Center as city officials anticipated that the commission’s city hall meeting room would be overwhelmed by opponents of the development. More than 40 residents of the Sunnyside neighborhood attended the meeting and cheered those citizens who urged the commission to reject the development, which will be located south of U.S. Hwy. 441 and west of Sunnyside Drive.

This diagram shows the Sunnyside Ladning development
This diagram shows the Sunnyside Landing development.

The commissioners had rejected the developer’s plan for, Sunnyside Landing, a 159-residence subdivision on a 120-acre parcel in 2022. In response, the developer, Sunnyside Lake Landholding LLC and Cenizo Ventures Florida, filed a lawsuit against the city. A special magistrate, Carlos Alvarez, was appointed to help resolve the dispute between the developer and Leesburg, which arose  when the city denied a rezoning application. The magistrate found that the development met all legal requirements and that the city’s reliance on a the 2006 Sunnyside Task Force Study Report unfairly burdened the property owner. City staff recommended that the commission adopt the special magistrate’s report. The city could have been forced to go to trial in the matter, had it not agreed to the special magistrate’s findings. Commissioners agreed to the terms recommended in the special magistrate’s recommendation in order to avoid a costly trial. City leaders were warned that they would likely lose in court.

The developer was represented at Monday’s hearing by Brent Spain, who explained that the plan for the development has been reduced from 159 lots to 150 lots. He also indicated that the plan had enlarged the buffer area between the development and local residents.

Mark Arney spoke out against the development Monday night
Mark Arney spoke out against the development Monday night.

Mark Arney, who lives within 200 feet of the north side of the development, said he has been opposed to the development since it was first proposed in 2019. He showed the commissioners an aerial photo he had taken of the area showing that the track to be developed was heavily wooded. He said that wildlife including bald eagles would be displaced when the developer cut the forest down. He also expressed concerns regarding possible flooding of adjoining property once the woods are gone. Other neighbors raised concerns regarding the roads not being able to handle the increased traffic.

Spain told the commissioners that the sheriff’s office records indicated only eight traffic incidents were reported by the deputies  in the last 10 years.

Commissioner Allyson Berry told the audience that she felt she would be negligent to not follow the attorney’s recommendation to approve the development given that the city may be liable for the developer’s legal costs as well as the city’s attorney fees if they lost.

Commissioner Mike Pederson noted that none of the commissioners were serving when the city failed to enact the Sunnyside Task Force recommendations into the comprehensive plan. He also was acting as mayor and voted against the plan when it was first presented because he believes the roads are inadequate. Mayor Jimmy Burry also said he believes the roads are not adequate despite the traffic studies presented by the developer. However, he also believes the special magistrate’s findings would mean a certain loss in the courts.

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