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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Ocala attorney asks city council ‘how many residents is enough’

An Ocala attorney questioned city leaders during a recent meeting as to what threshold of residents was enough to sway their decision one way or another.

Fred Roberts, who represents a collection of commercial real estate developers with properties in Ocala, made the comments during the July 6 meeting of the Ocala City Council. During that meeting, council members approved a location permit for the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption at a new 7-Eleven proposed for the intersection of SE Maricamp Road and SE 25th Avenue. 

“We got 600 people in opposition. I would ask this for this council, or any council in any jurisdiction: How many is enough?” said Roberts to council members after public comment was closed on the location permit. 

“What’s the right number for polls,” continued Roberts, who defended the property as being used for its “correct” or “appropriate use.” Earlier in the meeting, Roberts suggested that if the 7-Eleven wasn’t deemed appropriate, the developer would likely install a fast food restaurant. 

“Is it 600, 300, 5, 1?” asked Roberts of the council. He referred to the representatives who spoke on behalf of the hundreds of residents in opposition as “fine folks” and said he was a frequent visitor to the neighborhoods nearby, including Woodland Village and Magnolia Villa Garden Villages. 

Roberts suggested that there might be residents in the nearby neighborhoods that were in favor of the proposed convenience store, but that they might not come forward on account of their neighbors. 

“They won’t speak to that particular point because it’s hard when there is a group that very loudly opposes it. In this neighborhood, there was a sign that said ‘email your city council members,’” said Roberts. 

Although he said he supported the residents’ right to express themselves, Roberts suggested that legally, the developer had “checked all the boxes” to move forward in the future with site planning. 

Although Ocala City Council members approved the permit for the sale of beer and wine, the convenience store is still multiple stages away from construction.