The Villages Daily Sun

Leesburg OKs Land Sale

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Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 9:53 am | Updated: 2:43 pm, Wed May 17, 2017.

A majority decision by the Leesburg Commission on Monday evening paves the way for The Villages to continue growing and to bring its brand of lifestyle to its longtime neighbor.

By a 4-1 vote, with only Commissioner John Christian dissenting, the city agreed to sell approximately 2,000 acres along County Road 470 near the Sumter County line to The Villages. The accepted offer — about $12 million — comes with a nine-month “due diligence” process to make sure that both parties are satisfied with all necessary agreements closing on the property.

For The Villages, it provides an opportunity to continue growing in the southern portion of Florida’s Friendliest Hometown — a community that has earned the designation as the country’s fastest-growing metropolitan statistical area for four years running. The 1,938 acres — 1,684 can be developed — is located adjacent to the Village of Southern Oaks in Sumter County.

Kelsea Manly, director of operations for The Villages, said planning will begin immediately for how the Leesburg property will be developed.

“We appreciate the warm welcome we’ve received from the city of Leesburg and look forward to bringing some great new Villages residents to the area,” Manly said. “Our planners are eager to begin designing some beautiful Villages neighborhoods with all the amenities and conveniences Villagers are accustomed to. Leesburg will not only be gaining some great new citizens but the positive impact to its local economy — including an expanded tax base, new businesses and new jobs — will be significant.”

City leaders made it clear that they are keenly aware of how The Villages’ future development could help the city’s economy.

City Manager Al Minner presented the offer to the commission, pointing out that it would help kick-start a population that has lingered at just 2.67 percent growth over the past 13 years. Minner said that slow growth has challenged the city’s ability to expand.

“I think it’s relatively fair to say Leesburg has not grown,” he said.

Besides a boost in population, Minner predicted the project would almost double the city’s tax base.

“I’m very guarded with my words, but I think it’s safe to say The Villages has the potential to be a significant windfall and benefit for the city,” he said. “I look at them as a local company with a proven track record.”

Board members agreed. Commissioner Dan Robuck III said he believed it would bring jobs and opportunities to the city, as well as a solution for using reclaimed wastewater.

During public comments, a few people spoke in opposition to the plan, but Commissioner Jay Hurley noted that none of them live in the city.

“Everybody who spoke for it is from the city of Leesburg,” Hurley said.

“They (The Villages) are a first-class act,” Leesburg resident Carolyn Pasquale said. “They have a business plan that works and retirees love it.”

Sandy Stokes, a two-time Leesburg Chamber of Commerce president and resident since 1975, added, “Leesburg needs this tax revenue.”

Mayor Bob Bone joined fellow commissioners in rebuffing any talk that welcoming The Villages into the city would change its character.

“Leesburg will always be Leesburg,” he said. “I think this a good contract, good partner.”

As for The Villages, it allows the community to continue a successful model.

“This property is a natural extension of the great neighborhoods we’re already creating for the Village of Southern Oaks, and our designers are eager to begin work,” Manly said.