Heaping piles of dirt, miles of cracked asphalt and metal beams standing hundreds of feet in the air serve as the building blocks of growth. Sumter County and the city of Wildwood are paving the way for ongoing and upcoming development both inside and outside of The Villages. From reconstructing utility lines to widening roads, installing cellphone towers and increasing public safety resources, local governments are preparing for thousands of new homes and hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail slated to be built in the area in the coming years.
“The Villages is our leading growth provider, but we do have other entities that are looking to expand and develop here in Sumter County,” County Administrator Bradley Arnold said. “We’re working on setting the stage as they continue to move south.”
To make sure people who are living and working in newly developed areas can stay connected, new cell towers are being constructed in Wildwood and Sumter County.
Karl Holley, development services director for Sumter County, said the county approved the construction of a new 199-foot cell tower in February that will help with cellphone reception in The Villages south of County Road 466. According to documents filed to the county, the tower will serve up to four wireless carriers, and will be located at an existing water treatment facility near the Village of Bonita off of Buena Vista Boulevard.
Wildwood is set to vote on the construction of a new tower within its city limits on March 26. Melanie Peavy, the city’s development services director, said that tower would be located near the property of T&D Distribution off of U.S. Highway 301 and Northeast 37th Place.
Last year, Sumter County approved construction of a Verizon tower just south of the U.S. Highway 301 and County Road 470 intersection and east of County Road 471 in Sumterville aimed at helping with connection issues in and around the villages of Fenney and Southern Oaks. According to the company constructing the tower, Florida Tel-Con, the tower should be up and running by the end of the month.
Just as roads are made wider to make room for more traffic, water treatment plants need to be expanded to make sure water can flow to each of the new homes and businesses.
Chris Picardi, utilities director for the city of Wildwood, said the city is working to make sure its water capacity can keep up with demand by expanding existing water treatment facilities and adding new ones.
Picardi said an existing plant on County Road 501 is set to double water-pumping capacity from 2 million gallons per day to 4 million gallons per day.
“That’ll help out that area as the Village of Southern Oaks comes together,” Picardi said. “It will enhance our overall distribution capacity and allow us to move water around more efficiently.”
The city is also in the design phase for an additional facility in the Oxford area, set to pump an additional 2.6 million gallons per day. Picardi said the Wildwood City Commission is likely to vote on a bid for the construction of that facility March 26.
Picardi said Wildwood also is working on utility relocations to make way for construction of the Village of Southern Oaks.
Overall, he said, the city is looking to add additional capacity to make the city’s utilities as efficient as possible as new developments plug in.
“There’s so much growth, and as it’s changing we want to make sure we can provide the water we need to the new customers coming in and the new developments coming in,” Picardi said.
Sumter County is preparing the utilities in the area for more than just new developments from The Villages, Arnold said.
On March 6, Gov. Rick Scott’s office announced nearly $23 million in awards for 11 additional Florida Job Growth Grant Fund projects across the state, including $838,860 for water infrastructure upgrades in Sumter County.
Arnold said that money will help the city of Bushnell make water system upgrades in the County Road 470 corridor to make way for an expansion by Great Southern Wood, a distributor and seller of pressure-treated wood.
Two of the main artery roads heading into The Villages’ Southern expansion are undergoing major makeovers to ready them for increased traffic. Sumter County is currently in the process of widening both County Road 468 and County Road 501.
“Road construction is tied in with economic development,” Arnold said. “And obviously we try to stay ahead of the need of the demand” as the community continues to grow past Fenney with the villages of DeSoto, Southern Oaks and McClure in the works.
The Sumter County Commission will vote March 27 to rename portions of County Road 468 to make it more synonymous with The Villages.
If approved, County Road 468 will be renamed as a continuation of Morse Boulevard from south of State Road 44 to a yet-to-be-constructed roundabout east of Florida’s Turnpike, and then as Warm Springs Avenue from that roundabout to U.S. Highway 301.
“Morse Boulevard has always been one of the main north/south arteries within the development, and with this section of 468 it would simply be making that consistent,” Arnold said.
Up farther north in The Villages, Arnold said the county also has plans this year to make intersection improvements along County Road 466 from County Road 105 east to Buena Vista Boulevard. Arnold said they will look for changes needed at traffic signals and at the depth of turn lanes to make sure current and future traffic needs are met.
A larger population means the community needs a larger number of people to keep them safe, Arnold said.
In Sumter County, that means adding an additional fire station, as well as expanding the county’s jail.
On Tuesday, the county also approved allowing The Villages Public Safety Department to take full control of Station 33 in Coleman, which the Sumter County Fire & EMS Department has been sharing with VPSD since December 2016.
“We’re at a point now where (VPSD) needs to put more equipment and more personnel at Station 33 to be able to provide service to this continually growing Villages development,” Arnold said at Tuesday’s Sumter County Commission workshop.
That changeover will take effect Oct. 1.
In December, the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, Fire & EMS and Emergency Management moved into The Villages Sumter County Public Safety Center on Powell Road to be closer to the county’s population center.
On March 13, the county approved a land acquisition to build a new fire station near the intersection of Interstate 75 and State Road 44. Arnold said that facility will help improve response times to accidents on Interstate 75 and on State Road 44, where the county has seen increased commercial growth. That station is anticipated to open by the end of 2019.
Arnold said the county also has plans to start the financing and design process to expand its jail later this year.
In Wildwood, Police Chief Paul Valentino said a new police headquarters is in the works to help the department meet increasing demands.
“Wildwood has grown exceptionally and that new headquarters is going to help prepare us for more of that growth,” Valentino said.
City Manager Jason McHugh said the Wildwood City Commission is likely to vote next month on approval of the new station, which is set to be built near the intersection of U.S. Highway 301 and west County Road 462.
Sarah Wilson is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5401, or firstname.lastname@example.org.