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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Falls of Ocala resident asks county to reconsider ‘all-ages development’

To the Editor:

I live in a small deed restricted (55+) community called “The Falls of Ocala.” We have lived in this community for a little over a year and love it. The neighbors are great and we are nestled in the horse farm country near the new World Equestrian Center. The down side is that the developer, who bought the property some years ago, along with the 28.58 acres directly east and adjoining our community, is now asking the County to allow them to develop an all ages family community on that adjoining property. Now we all understand that owners of land have a right to develop their land with some restrictions. The problem is that the developer wants to 1.Develop the community as a all ages community. 2. The new community which is actually phase II of our community, is planned to utilize our private streets as ingress and egress to SW 80 Ave. It should be understood that SW 6th Pl is not the only available street to access this parcel of land. The land is located on the north side of SW 8th Street which is outside the bounds of the Falls of Ocala. 3. The new community is planned to utilize our private well water and wastewater collection system. 4. The developer wants to also allow the new, all ages community to use our existing amenities such as club house, pool, etc. 5. The property in question is home to multiple gopher tortoises (a protected keystone species).

The proposal was slated to come before the Planning and zoning Commission of Marion Co on May 24, 2021, but at the last minute was pulled from the agenda to give the developer time to respond to concerns being brought by residents of the existing community and the staff of the P&Z Commission. It is now planned to be presented at the June 28, 2021 P&Z Commission meeting.

The problems with the above items should be immediately apparent to P&Z Commissioners, members of the Marion Co Board of Commissioners, as well as anyone who objectively looks at it.

The original development was for a nice quiet 55+ community. There were always plans to develop the remaining 28.58 acres as Phase II of The Falls of Ocala. It was always planned to be a similar community, which is primarily mobile/modular homes (there are a few site built homes in the community but of modest design). The new community is slated to be site built block homes in the range of $250,000+. This is not compatible with our modest community and, add to that the proposed all age community that uses our private streets as egress and ingress and one only has to drive around some of Marion County’s other communities to see the future. Our streets, which are already in need of TLC will be terrible, with the construction traffic and then the normal day in day out traffic by the residents of the new community added to our own as well as all the service vehicles we already have stressing our streets. This does not even address the issues of children being picked up, dropped off, and or driven to and from school or those of us who walk the streets for exercise. There are no sidewalks nor evidently any plans to have them in the old community. The new will have them. We can not count on the developer to maintain or upgrade anything. If they were going to do that why wait some 20 to 25 years to do so?

The well water and waste collection system is approximately 30 years old. It will be required to handle our own demands plus well over double the demands from the new community making it more likely to fail and have to be replaced with something that the residents of The Falls of Ocala can not afford. Most, if not all are on tight budgets. Some have to make decisions daily as to whether to buy medicines, food, or to go hungry. We know, it is an old story, but one that is shameful to continue. The proposal does not allot any access to the wastewater facility for maintenance or for the regular pump trucks to haul it off.

The developer wants to allow his new customers to use our amenities. I am sure they will claim that there will be upgrades. Again, as with the streets, why now. This has not taken place previously. Why should we expect it now? With unregulated use by children and young adults who have free access to the amenities, how will we, the current residents, who have lived here, some from the beginning, be able to enjoy them?

Thankfully, protected species are just that protected. The sad truth is that in some cases they are protected more than our elderly. Hopefully the tortoises will fare ok in how they are handled. State law requires they be moved before the development begins. Hopefully this will happen as it should and these as well as other species located on the property will fare ok.

The reason for the proposal now is clearly to profit from the current market of home sales. That is a good idea. But do it without tearing the heart out of an existing community that is well established. There is always a need for affordable housing for our elderly and families as well. The rush here to develop this particular piece of property more than likely tied to the explosion of development along SW 8th. But that explosion more than fills the current need for family homes in this price range. In fact, the little island of 28.58 acres with some 49 (plus or minus) homes will make a scant dent in any need. In fact, when compared to Calesa and other communities going in, why would someone pay the same amount for so much less? This brings up dire possibilities of similar abandoned developments across our county. Many of them abandoned in the real-estate glut of years past, leaving gaps with lot after lot on developed streets that are too expensive to get builders to come in and develop. This adds to crime and deterioration, just what a small community of senior citizens needs on their plate.

I call for the P&Z commissioners as well as our County Board of Commissioners to not rush in and allow the proposal to run roughshod over the small community known as The Falls of Ocala, but to make sure that any new development is not of a nature that devalues our homes, deteriorates our streets, and makes the community less safe and less hospitable. We have earned it.

James Sanders
Resident of The Falls of Ocala

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