Hundreds more homes proposed for Marion

Some residents of SummerGlen, shown in this June photo, oppose plans to build more than 1,100 residential units nearby arguing the projects would add to traffic problems in the area. The community sits along Southwest 20th Avenue Road, south of County Road 484 and west of Interstate 75, [Alan Youngblood/Special to the Ocala Gazette]
A plethora of proposed residential developments flooded the monthly Marion County Planning and Zoning Commission agenda on Monday night.

Residents packed the county commission auditorium, and the meeting went on until 11 p.m. as dozens spoke against the projects. The most controversial proposals included:

  • A plan for 122 duplexes near Belleview.
  • 385 homes in Southwest Ocala near State Road 200.
  • A 320-unit apartment complex of County Road 484 near Interstate 75.

The P&Z commission votes to support or deny items. The votes are not binding and serve as a recommendation to the Marion County Commission, which approves or denies proposed zoning changes and developments. The proposals heard on Monday will go before the county commission on Oct. 19.

First up was the duplex plan, which included 35 acres near the 6600 block of Southeast 92nd Loop, east of County Road 35. The property owner, Flying Eagle Resources LLC, asked for a zoning change from single-family residential to planned unit development. The proposal included plans for 61 duplex buildings that would sell to individual owners.

But county staff recommended the commission deny the request. They argued the duplex plan was not compatible with the established use of surrounding properties, including dozens of single-family homes.

David MacKay, an attorney representing the applicant, said the plan would include establishing a homeowner’s association and unified management company.

“We feel like that should assist in the concerns in terms of occupancy by people that are not owners,” MacKay said.

Daniel Blanchard, president of the proposed developer – Southern Impression Development of Jacksonville – said they plan to build a high-quality product.

“It’s going to be a good-looking product. First-class. Lots of green space. Beautiful buffers all the way around. It’s something that we can all be proud of, and we think will fit well in that community,” Blanchard said.

Dennis Durkin, who lives near the proposed duplex project, wasn’t buying it.

“Our dream was to build and invest in high-end homes… they can put lipstick on a different pig, but this thing is rental property, and it’s going to take our dream and destroy the dream,” he said.

The commission ultimately voted to deny the application.

Up next were plans to build up to 385 homes in the middle of an already burgeoning residential neighborhood off Southwest 103rd Street Road east of State Road 200.

The plan drew dozens of opponents from adjoining neighborhoods, some 55-plus communities, concerned the unrestricted neighborhoods would disturb their tranquility, increase traffic and destroy heavily forested tracts of land.

The plan was part of separate requests for land belonging to different owners but located just a few hundred feet apart. The proposals were presented together.

The first proposal was for 55.72 acres belonging to Enrique Suarez. That plan would include up to 222 single-family homes. The second was for 45.12 acres belonging to Coba Homes Corporation and would include 175 homes.

The two heavily wooded areas are surrounded by several subdivisions, including Cherrywood Estates, Meadow Glenn, Oakcrest Estates, Emerald Point, Sandy Pines and Alexandria Estates.

But residents came out in force to oppose the plans.

John Thelen argued the proposed sizes of the lots are smaller than those of the surrounding neighborhoods.

“Smaller lots, smaller homes, lower prices,” said Thelen, a resident of Woods and Meadows East, the neighborhood that sits between the two tracts of land.

That also was an issue for Thelen as a road that bisects the neighborhood, but dead-ends at either side would eventually connect the two new subdivisions.

“We’re going to go from that to having 220 houses on one side and 180 houses on the other and them wanting to go back and forth,” he said.

But Jimmy Gooding, the attorney representing both the applicants, said connecting the roads to neighboring subdivisions is required by the county’s comprehensive plan.

“It’s good planning. It keeps people off the main roads,” said Gooding, adding that many of the neighborhoods already connect.

Additionally, the county will require the developer to complete nearly a mile of new road to the development’s north. The new stretch of road would connect portions of Southwest 100th Street, creating new access points.

As for the size of the lots, Gooding said it was a matter of economics.

“The fact is modern communities, in part because of cost of construction and land, are headed to smaller lot sizes. That does not mean lower quality houses,” he said.

Greg Lord, P&Z commission chairman, said the two areas were always designated for development, as is much of the area near State Road 200.

“That corridor of 200 in the past 30 years has changed unbelievably,” he said. “It’s going to continue to grow and grow and grow until there will be no more vacant land there to develop.”

The commission eventually voted 3-3 on the proposals. Lord, Danny Gaekwad and Jerry Lourenco voted in favor of the proposals, while Mike Behar, Andy Bonner and Thomas Fisher voted to deny.

The final plan drawing opposition was a 320-unit apartment complex on County Road 484 near Interstate 75.

The 70.85-acre property was zoned for commercial development, but owner Marco Polo asked to revise the plan to include the apartment complex on a portion of the property. Another part of the property running along CR 484 would remain commercial, including an unnamed grocery store. The plan is tied to a more extensive proposed development of an 800-plus-unit residential development just to the south.

The proposal brought out residents of SummerGlen, who object to the apartments and the larger planned community that would sit north of it on the dead-end Southwest 20th Avenue Road.

However, the plan was presented as a way to improve traffic out of the community. The apartment plan includes extending Southwest 20th Avenue Road west and creating two access points to CR 484 instead of the current single exit. The extended road would also connect to Marion Oaks. The second exit would be almost half a mile west of the current exit, which often gets blocked by traffic on CR 484.

“Everything we are doing is either a transportation improvement or a transportation reduction,” said David Tillman, the engineer for both the apartment complex project and the larger residential project.

But not everyone was convinced adding more residential and commercial properties would ease traffic issues.

“It’s already a nightmare for SummerGlen residents who live on a dead-end 20th Avenue Road trying to get out of there…So how on Earth can adding (these projects) solve the existing traffic issue?” asked Robert Saltzman, a SummerGlen resident.

Tillman said the proposed road extension combined with the planned expansion of the I-75 interchange at CR 484 would improve traffic.

The state plans $12.8 million in improvements from near Southwest 20th Avenue Road, through the I-75 interchange, and to County Road 475A.

The project has a tentative completion date of 2023.

The commission voted 5-1 in favor of the proposed revision to include the apartment complex. Mike Behar voted to deny the request.

The proposals will now head to the commission, and all are subject to traffic and environmental studies.

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