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Thursday, July 8, 2021

Ocala Planning and Zoning Commission recommends denial of 78-unit development after residents voice concerns

Residents of Saddlewood Estates showed out in force and persuaded the Ocala Planning and Zoning Commission to recommend that the Ocala City Council deny a new planned development in southwest Ocala. 

The matter came before the commission’s regular meeting on Monday, June 14. Multiple residents voiced their opposition to the new multi-family development, which is being proposed by Belleair Development, LLC. The development, which encompasses over nine acres, would potentially be built on two properties at 4240 SW 43rd Court and 4300 SW 43rd Court, next to SaddleWood Estates and Country Oak Estates. 

Belleair is the same group behind the construction of the Cheddar’s and Wawa locations nearby at 4025 and 4065 SW College Road. 

Among the chief concerns for those residents present was the added traffic, the increase in children attending local schools, and whether or not potential low-income housing would impact property values and increase crime. 

“We already have 178 signatures on a petition that we started last week,” said Justin Savino. Savino, who lives in Saddlewood Estates, suggested that once Fore Ranch neighbors were consulted, their petition list would surely grow. 

Ronna Goldbach, who is a resident of the Country Oak Estates nearby, works as a physical therapist at Saddlewood Elementary and other local schools. She believes the schools are already overwhelmed with students and cannot take the additional load.

“Saddlewood [Elementary] was built for 750 kids. There’s close to 1,000 kids there now,” said Goldbach. She explained that with the recent closure of Evergreen Elementary School by the Marion County School Board, many of the children and teachers were being inherited into the school. “There’s over 2,700 students at West Port High and they’re overcrowded as well.” 

Cynthia Gennaro indicated that those who purchased in the Saddlewood Estates community had done so for very specific reasons that the city was disregarding. 

“We all purchased our homes there because it was a quiet little slice of heaven right near everything. For the city to allow this to happen is a travesty,” said Gennaro. 

Many of the residents presented nearby construction of multiple multi-family and single-family units as alternatives to a new development. 

“I called Canterbury Circle and they have 304 units less than a half a mile away,” added Savino. 

“There is already a 289-unit complex across SW 200 on SW 42nd. We don’t need 80 3-bedroom apartments in that little parcel of land,” said Gennaro.

After hearing through public comments and answering a few questions submitted through Zoom, city staff addressed concerns and explained the process under which this potential development could be approved.

Planning and Zoning Manager David Boston explained that if the development were to reach a site plan review or a final development order, city engineering staff would examine traffic, stormwater and other issues very closely before moving forward. 

“Those types of reviews [traffic and stormwater] do not happen at this level,” explained Boston, who indicated that the project was at the conceptual plan level.

“We do recognize that there are existing issues on these roads, and that’s something that would be looked at if development were to move forward on the property,” explained Boston.

Ocala Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman William Gilchrist took the opportunity to address public comments by indicating that the commission was only an intermediary, and that residents would still need to follow up with the Ocala City Council to ensure they were heard. 

“We are volunteers that really make these decisions based on what the code allows us to make. And then we recommend to Ocala City Council approval or denial of any of these changes,” said Gilchrist. 

“No matter what decision we make, please show up at the city council meeting to express your opinions there,” added Gilchrist, indicating that Ocala City Council could choose to accept or reject the commission’s recommendation. 

Although the commission recommended approval of the annexation and land use requests, it unanimously recommended denial of the planned development request to the applause of those in attendance. 

Residents will now have the chance to voice their opinions about the proposed development when it is introduced to the Ocala City Council during their July 6 meeting.