Leesburg, FL – – –
All but one Leesburg city commissioner approved the sale of 1,938 acres – about 1,400 football fields — to The Villages today for development east of the Florida’s Turnpike and County Road 470 interchange in Lake County.
“It’s a galactic shift in what we’ve been trying to do for the last 15 years,” said Leesburg City Manager Al Minner. “There’s opportunity for the city to grow on the residential, commercial factor.”
The sale nets the city $8.7 million and is expected to collect another $4.5 million in property taxes annually when construction completes after a minimum of five to seven years and expands The Villages boundaries farther south — one of the few directions it can grow contiguously.
For commissioners of one of the least well-to-do of Lake’s 14 cities, the economic benefits brought on by the booming retiree population was hard to resist.
“These aren’t just $8 an hour jobs, these are people who have done very well serving and working in the communities of The Villages,” Commissioner Dan Robuck said. “I think it’s just a huge opportunity for Leesburg.”
Since 2003, Leesburg has had an average of 176 single-family home starts a year. Meanwhile, the behemoth retirement community situated at the nexus of Sumter, Marion and Lake counties has been the fastest-growing metro area in the U.S. for three years in a row between 2013 and 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Commissioner John Christian, who voted against the sale, pushed for concessions on The Villages’ side, floating an idea of a per-home contribution to Leesburg’s affordable housing trust fund to help low-income earners in the city of 22,000.
“We are looking out for the entire city of Leesburg, not just getting a check, not just getting revenue,” Christian said.
But by Monday, that idea may have been premature. With the sale’s approval, nine months would be given to iron out details like providing utility and public safety services. One important factor still up in the air is the number of new homes slated for the area.
“Based on their typical model, I would say 2.6 units per acre,” said Minner, adding that The Villages has not defined a set number of houses. Based on the amount of land that could be developed in the deal that would mean 4,500 homes, Minner said.
That section of Florida’s Turnpike sees about 45,300 cars a day on an annual average, with the busiest portions of C.R. 470 seeing close to 11,000 cars over the same rate in that area.
Two-lane roads like C.R. 470 have a capacity of 12,000 cars a day, said Lake County Public Works Director Jim Stivender. Discussions to widen CR. 470 have been talked about for years, he said, but nothing concrete has been set.
Minner, meanwhile, said The Villages would likely have a vested cash interest in making sure area roads keep pace with growth.
“As this comes closer to fruition, I would probably think The Villages participate greatly as to how [C.R. 470] is modified,” Minner said. A spokesperson for The Villages did not return requests for comment.
But as The Villages looks to plant more homes, it’s also found fertile soil west of Leesburg. The Villages announced it purchased 2,300 acres in the Okahumpka Service Plaza on the Florida’s Turnpike earlier this year with a capacity for 8,000 more homes. Up for review by Wildwood City Council is another 4,500 acres for potential rezoning to 55-plus subdivisions for The Villages.
“It’s kind of never ending,” said Bill Cannon, Wildwood’s city manager, of the retiree community’s growth.
Officials from The Villages told Cannon that “by the year 2030, Wildwood’s population will be over 40,00,” he said. That would mean over 400 percent growth over the next 13 years for the city of 8,500.
“It’s phenomenal,” he said. “I hail from southeast Kentucky and one of the reasons I ended up here in Wildwood was because all the growth I saw.”