71.3 F
Thursday, May 30, 2024

Marion officials approve 312-unit apartment complex next to retirement community

Marion County commissioners have approved a request to rezone over 22 acres of land next to On Top of the World in Ocala, clearing the way for a new, 312-unit apartment complex next to the retirement community.

The Marion County Board of County Commissioners made its decision on Monday during a public hearing on the request, which was made by Tillman and Associates, LLC on behalf of the landowners, On Top of the World Communities, LLC. The new apartment complex, Authentix Ocala, will be built by Continental Properties.

The Marion County Board of County Commissioners convened for a public hearing on a rezoning request.

During an over five-hour meeting on Monday, the board ultimately voted 4-1 to approve the measure to avoid the legal recourse of voting against it. Several commissioners also cited the desire to work with the developer at the 22.63-acre site, which is located at 8441 SW 9th Street in southwest Ocala.

According to county records, the planned development will feature 13 two-story, multi-family/townhouse buildings, with a proposed density of 13.79 dwelling units per acre and 12.22 acres of open space.

Renderings of the new apartments coming to On Top of the World.
Renderings of Authentix Ocala planned for southwest Ocala.

The complex will feature multiple amenities including a clubhouse, a pool, pickleball courts, a pavilion with grills, and a playground area, according to conceptual plans submitted by the developer.

According to county records, the site is part of the Circle Square Woods Subdivision area, which was established in 1973 as a Development of Regional Impact. Florida law defines a development of regional impact as one whose size, character, or locale has the potential to substantially impact an area’s citizens.

Apartments constructed by Continental Properties
This apartment complex is similar to one that will be constructed by Continental Properties in Ocala.

The Circle Square Woods Subdivision area is eligible to develop up to 3,282 single-family dwelling units, 3,600 multiple-family dwelling units, and 1.936 million square feet of commercial development.

On Monday, after hours of discussion with county staff and a slew of public comments against the development, County Attorney Matthew Minter was asked to explain what might happen if the board was to deny the rezoning request.

“I can’t tell you what they’re going to do,” said Minter. “They could file a lawsuit against us.” Minter went on to explain at least three types of lawsuits the could be filed against the county, including a consistency claim, wherein the developer could accuse the board of being inconsistent with the comprehensive plan if denied.

During comments from the board, Michelle Stone argued that the developer could use the current B2 zoning at the property to “sculpt something to match what is appropriate for” the community nearby. Stone, who was the lone commissioner to vote against the request, went on to say that if the developer thought it was “appropriate” to build an apartment complex, she didn’t agree.

Plans show the layout for the new Authentix Ocala

“And if they believe that’s appropriate, that’s on them. I don’t believe it’s appropriate,” said Stone.

The rest of the board members shared far different opinions than Stone, suggesting the county was better off working with the developer to have an impact on the development process.

“On straight zoning, they just do it the way they want to do it. They’ve come in with a PD request that involves us,” said Commissioner Craig Curry, who represents District 1. Curry said he was unsure why the developer would choose to involve the county in the process, but that it was the board’s responsibility to see it as an opportunity.

“We just got out of a major lawsuit, a $20 million lawsuit on a major property. This one is lined up to be another one. If you look at the vesting rights that they have, whether I like it or not, they are there. If they sue us, they are going to win. And we are going to spend a lot of these people’s tax money defending it. We have an opportunity, whether we like the type of project they’ve got,” said Curry during the meeting.

He went on to ask “if not this, then what,” suggesting he’s heard rumors of a people asking for a Costco or other box store.

“I think a Costco would be a nightmare jammed up next to these people. We are on a slippery slope here. If we don’t watch it, we are going to be right back in court spending a lot of unnecessary money,” said Curry.

Commissioner Carl Zalak III echoed those concerns.

“[This property] has been vested since 1973,” said Zalak. He suggested it was better for the county to plan the buffer and access to the planned development and that the board had to follow the laws that previous commissions and the state put forth. He said the board couldn’t tell the developer “how many units” or “how much square footage” a planned development could have, because those rights were established decades ago.

“We have given those vested rights to On Top of the World. Not us. Four generations ago it was done. In the 70s, by the state and by the community. If you were in the same position and you came to us and you had rights, then this board should honor those rights,” said Zalak.

In the weeks leading up to the decision, the county says it received nearly 300 emails and letters of opposition, as well as 2 emails of support.

At the same time, multiple Ocala-News.com readers have written in and detailed their opposition to the project, as well as several other developments planned for Ocala.

Those in opposition to the rezoning created a website, NoRezoneOTOW.com, to gather signatures for their petition and rally residents to attend Monday’s meeting. During the meeting, multiple residents from the retirement community voiced their opposition to the new complex, which many say will greatly impede their access to shopping and medical services nearby.

What are your thoughts on the new development? Share them in a letter to the editor.