Villages Resident Plans Posh Eatery in Century-Old Fruitland Park Mansion

The Dwight estate at 200 Rose Ave., built in 1917, has a new future in store as Rose Plantation, an upscale steak house diagonally across from the city's new "City Center" project and the soon-to-be-former site of the century-old Casino Community Center, a much beloved local landmark.

The Dwight estate at 200 Rose Ave., built in 1917, has a new future in store as Rose Plantation, an upscale steak house diagonally across from the city’s new “City Center” project and the soon-to-be-former site of the century-old Casino Community Center, a much beloved local landmark.

Fruitland Park’s Planning and Zoning Board reviewed plans last week to rezone about five acres on Rose Avenue at County Road 466A from residential to commercial status, with accompanying changes to the city’s Comprehensive Growth Management Plan and Future Land Use (FLU) maps.

All four board members voted yes. The plan will radically change a tree-lined residential street into a busy new city gateway for about half the city’s residents.

City commissioners could approve the deal in three weeks at their August 13 meeting. They’ll hear a first reading of required ordinances Thursday starting at 7 p.m.

Leesburg attorney Ashley Hunt, who grew up in Fruitland Park and serves as the city’s Code Enforcement Magistrate, asked for the zoning change on behalf of Villages resident John Gibson, a former restaurant owner.

Gibson wants to turn the century-old lakefront mansion at 200 Rose Avenue into an upscale steakhouse restaurant and banquet hall called Rose Plantation. But he wants to city to bless his project first.

Last year the estate, 200 Rose Ave., was listed for sale for $499,000.

According to Gibson’s application and conceptual site plan, he hopes to seat 75 restaurant guests indoors and on a verandah overlooking Fountain Lake. The banquet hall, with seating for 75, would come in a second phase.

The estate played a key role in the city’s history.

Holyoke, Massachusetts newspaper publisher James Dwight built the estate in 1917 as a winter retreat.

The Dwights were the Gatsbys of Fruitland Park. All through the Roaring ’20s, the Dwights hosted Christmas galas, Halloween Masquerades, an annual tennis tournament and dozens of balls, socials and parties for their debutante daughters, whose exploits were local media events.

If Gibson’s plan is approved, and that appears likely, the project will mark the first of many visible changes in the city spurred by the wave of newcomers in the Villages of Fruitland Park.

Diagonally across from Gibson’s planned restaurant, the city wants to build a new 12,000-square foot library, a park for concerts and fairs and expanded public safety facilities next door to City Hall.

Called “City Center,” the plan has been in the works for many years, according to City Manager Gary La Venia. In a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior, La Venia wrote that design of the project is already under way and construction is set to start “in the next six (6) months to a year.”

Library director JoAnn Glendinning has secured grants totaling more than $1.4 million for the project.

Four-laning of County Road 466A from the Sumter County line east 1.3 miles past Micro Racetrack Road to Windy Acres Farms, about a mile from the Rose Avenue intersection, should open before next summer.

With 2,050 new homes and 4,000 new city residents, newcomers will comprise a majority of voters and almost half the city’s population.

They will generate millions of dollars in new revenues for city government, and millions more as retail stores, restaurants and rehab centers open new locations in the city with easy access from The Villages.

For 4,000 new city residents and more than half of the city’s voters by the 2016 elections, the Rose Avenue gateway is the only practical route to to the seat of city government. Four-laning 466A from the Sumter County line east past Micro Racetrack Road to Windy Acres Farms, about a mile from the Rose Avenue, should open before next summer.

Work on the east end, from U.S. 27/441 past the Fruitland Park Elementary school to College Avenue, is set to start by March and should take about 18 months.

Those development pressures—the highway project in particular—have been more than 15 years in the making. The city has spent more than $500,000 over the past 21 years acquiring residential lots for its City Center project.

Fruitland Park is changing fast.

 

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