Roberts family to develop on Lake Weir
The private road in the middle of the grove has been proposed to be removed once Golden Ocala Equestrian Land completed the purchase at Carney Island Recreation and Conservation Area Friday, March 24, 2023, in Ocklawaha [Alan Youngblood/Special to the Ocala Gazette]
One of the largest landowners in Marion County, the Roberts family, has acquired 85.79 acres on Lake Weir for just over $3.5 million.
Before buying the property, which is adjacent to the county’s Carney Island Recreation & Conservation Area, the Roberts family asked Marion County to terminate its interest in dirt roads that run through the site.
The county’s attorney, Guy Minter, said an engineer reached out on the Roberts’ behalf in September 2022 to discuss abandoning the roads.
Minter said the Roberts’ group provided the county with a “very preliminary and highly conceptual,” rendering of what they proposed for the property, which included a package plant, event hall, and homes.
During a March 21 meeting, the commission, without discussion, approved the request as a consent agenda item.
The county agreed to move the entrance to Carney Island Park to divert traffic from what will likely turn into the entrance to the Roberts family’s lakeside property. The Marion County Parks & Recreation Department will plan a strategy to move the park entrance. The agreement calls for the Roberts family to pay for that undetermined cost.
During that same March 21 meeting, the commission agreed to explore the donation of 137 acres of land in Citra from the Roberts family. The caveat to the donation was that the county must obtain a Special Use Permit and only use the property for animal rescue purposes. County staff sent a press release on the Citra land deal following the March 21 meeting.
At the commission’s April 18 meeting, the board agreed to a land lease of the 137 acres in Citra that “terminates upon the county’s acquisition of the property, subject to obtaining a Special Use Permit, or upon failure to use the property for animal rescue purposes.”
The item was on the board’s consent agenda, and there was no discussion.
Representatives of the Roberts family did not respond to the “Gazette’s” request for additional information about the Lake Weir property.
About Carney Island Recreation & Conservation Area
The Lake Weir area has a rich history. The property has historically supported agricultural uses dating back to the 1600s. When the Spanish missionaries first visited the Lake Weir region around 1600, the Timucuan Indians occupied Marion County. The diseases carried by the Europeans decimated the local tribes by mid-1600. Around 1700, the Creek Indians were forced into Florida by the British and swiftly became known as the Seminoles. Many Seminoles settled in the Lake Weir area where they farmed and raised livestock.
In the 1800s, the lake was named in honor of U.S. Army Lieutenant Weir, who was killed near the lake’s banks by the Seminole Indians in the early 1800s. In 1875, Captain John L. Carney & his brother E.L. Carney purchased the land now known as Carney Island. They developed a 25-acre orange grove, which later grew in size. The Carneys were responsible for propagating several new varieties of citrus, including the Parson Brown variety. For most of the last century, the area surrounding the Carney groves flourished as a citrus-producing region. The citrus was shipped by steamboat from a packinghouse on the east shore of the property across Lake Weir to the railroad. Pilings still exist on the property today from this packinghouse.
A hard freeze in 1894 wiped out the citrus trees around Lake Weir. Most groves were re-established, & citrus groves remained an important agricultural industry until another widespread freeze in 1984.
Over the years, several fruit growing companies had interest in the Carney Island property, and it was eventually acquired by the Coca-Cola Company in 1960 when they purchased the Minute Maid Corporation. In 1990, officials with Coca-Cola agreed to sell the Carney Island property to Marion County at a price below market value. The property was acquired using funds from the “Pennies for Parks” program. The site, which includes over 750+ acres of sandhill islands, causeways, wetland systems and shoreline beaches was acquired by Marion County to protect its ecological character and to provide a resource-based recreation area.