Big Issues on Agenda for Casino Meet

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Mayor Chris Bell

Fruitland Park — Fruitland Park residents will have plenty to talk about Thursday evening when the city commission convenes a special meeting to discuss the proposed Villages of Fruitland Park development on the city’s western edge.

Mayor Chris Bell said the meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the city’s Casino community center on Berckman St. a block west of City Hall.

Bell said he will ask for a project overview from city staff, Greg Belliveau, who heads LPG Urban & Regional Planning and Consulting in Mount Dora and serves as the city’s chief planner, and Gary Moyer, Vice President for Development at The Villages.

Commissioners will then break into smaller groups to field questions from constituents, then reconvene at the dais to respond to many of those questions, Bell said.

“We want to give everyone the opportunity to ask questions and some people are more comfortable doing that in smaller groups,” Bell explained.

The development—with 1,972 new homes and an estimated 3,648 new residents—will nearly double the population of Fruitland Park over the span of about two years once development is approved. It would also double tax revenues and generate more than $13 million in impact fees, permit fees, inspection fees and the like over the two-year buildout period.

Commissioners are expecting plenty of questions, but few fireworks. Community Development Director Charlie Rector said he has been fielding six to 10 telephone calls a day from residents who have concerns. About half the calls support development plans, Rector said.

Many callers would prefer the Pine Ridge Dairy site remain cow pasture and farm lands. Most of the property is currently planted in peanuts.

But that’s not realistic, Rector said.

“History shows that the property will be developed one way or another,” Rector said. “The Villages is well known as one of the best developers in Florida, and that is to their benefit,” he said.

Other concerns range from ticklish to thorny:

• Developers are adamant there will be no golf cart access to the new neighborhoods from elsewhere in the city, where street-legal golf carts are welcome on most city streets;

• Fruitland Park residents are provided with heavy-duty garbage carts for curbside trash pickup. Villages residents will have to provide their own plastic garbage bags.

• Police protection for almost 4,000 new residents will require nine additional officers and one support staff at an initial cost of more than $1 million and an additional annual cost of $750,000. The police department budget is now just over $1 million.

• The Villages wants Sumter County to process building permits and coordinate inspections once construction starts, a task traditionally handled by the city, which would collect millions of dollars in fees for its oversight efforts.

• Development would necessitate substantial improvements to S.R. 466-A from the Sumter County line to U.S. 27/441. Funding for those improvements will likely come from variety of sources that could include The Villages, Lake County, F.D.O.T. and the city, but negotiations have not yet determined who will pay what.

• Mail service for The Villages is processed in Lady Lake. Fruitland Park mail is processed through the Fruitland Park Post Office, a treasured local institution. Who will deliver the mail in The Villages of Fruitland Park? That’s in negotiations as well.

• The city will take on enormous upfront expenses to serve almost 4,000 new residents, including an estimated $3.35 million to improve the city’s water system.

And not all the city’s projected expenses can be directly attributable to The Villages of Fruitland Park. New residents will need a wide range of services, from commercial opportunities—shopping and restaurants—to services such as landscaping, home maintenance and repair and housekeeping. Workforce housing for those workers—and school space for their children—will create a huge burden for Fruitland Park and surrounding areas.

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