Ocala, Florida City Council denies 84 townhouses near crowded school


As thousands of new residential units are planned and built in Ocala, a multifamily home project was halted on May 17 by the Ocala City Council.

Citing concerns about traffic and school overcrowding, neighbors living near southwest 43rd Court behind Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen and Wawa northwest of State Highway 200 have urged council to reconsider the planned 84-home development in a row.

The council eventually agreed to annex the 9.1 acres to the city and change the land use to a ward. However, members voted against the Planned Development (PD) rezoning and approved the development plan for the property.

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The community, called The Keys of Ocala I, was to have a Key West theme like its sister neighborhood across SR 200, The Keys of Ocala II, which the board approved at that same meeting.

Opposing council members are open to development on the property, but did not support the townhouse density and traffic it could create near Saddlewood Elementary School.

The developer had planned 84 townhouses

Two properties, each with a home built in 1953 and zoned agricultural under Marion County, make up the 9.1-acre site. Pinellas Park’s Cay Ventures owns the northern half of the site and Pinellas Park’s BDG Albee owns the southern half. The land borders the Saddlewood Estates subdivision.

Belleair Development Group, which is owned by Carlos Yepes and based in Pinellas Park, is developing the property, which is less than half a mile south of Saddlewood Elementary and near Sam’s Club on SR 200.

The proposed plan called for a gated community of two-story townhouses with four and six units. There would have been 84 units in total, or 9.23 units per acre, which is less than the 12 units per acre allowed by the neighborhood’s land use.

Planned amenities included covered pavilions, benches, parks, a dog park, fitness center, community pool and self-service car wash.

Last June, the city’s benevolent Planning and Zoning Commission recommended that the plan be denied. City officials had worked with the developer to revise the plan in the meantime. City staff recommended approval of the new plan, even though the P&Z board was still split 3-3 the second time around at its April meeting.

“That’s six or seven reviews that city staff have analyzed and made suggestions to the developer over the past year,” said attorney David MacKay, who spoke on behalf of the developer.

The revisions were still not satisfactory to many neighbors and some council members.

Neighbors concerned about traffic, school capacity

MacKay and Aubrey Hale, Ocala’s growth development manager, both pointed out that the total number of afternoon rush hour rides was estimated to be less than 100, meaning that a traffic study is not necessary, but that any resulting traffic problems should be mitigated by the applicant.

The city plans to soon connect Southwest 43rd Court to SR 200 at the 42nd Street Flyover intersection. The two-lane road will be transformed into a four-lane freeway as part of the 44th Avenue project. It will travel north of SR 200 to County Road 326 along the west side of Interstate 75.

“If this were allowed today, (it would) probably take six to eight months for final engineering and site plan approval, and maybe another six to eight months for construction, so if this action advance, this project would come online fairly around the same time as the completion of the city (of part of the road widening),” MacKay said.

During public comment, a handful of neighbors described their first-hand experience with the area’s traffic issues. Some council members expressed the wish that the road works be completed first.

“We have issues in this area with roads, school capacity, public transportation, lack of law enforcement,” said resident Justin Savino, who questioned whether the study of the traffic had been conducted during rush hours.

Ronna Goldbach of Country Oaks noted that school buses are constantly running late because they have to make two trips.

“As you put up these apartments, there’s going to be another 100 cars coming through to get out to go to Dillard’s or to go anywhere west out of 200,” she said.

Neighbors also scoffed at the school district’s estimated number of students who would be added to surrounding schools as a result of the development: five at Saddlewood Elementary School, two at Liberty Middle School and two at West Port High School.

Barbara Dobbins, executive director of operations for Marion County Public Schools, told council members that there would be an impact of 1,300 students at Saddlewood Elementary School alone at a time when all developments in the town and county county in this region will be built.

“We are all responsible for the education of our children because they are our future,” she said, noting that teachers, infrastructure and supplies are needed for the additional students. “You have to step back and look at all the development that’s going on in our county.”

Neighbors further stated that the multi-family units were not compatible with the neighborhood.

“Responsible growth is what needs to be done here,” said Milton Frazier. “You have single-family homes. Why are you going to save 84 units next to these single-family homes? It’s ridiculous. These out-of-town developers are coming here, (and) they’re lining their pockets with (the money from) multi-unit projects instead of putting single family homes where they should be.

Council members agree that the project is not compatible

The council voted unanimously to annex the property to Ocala from Marion County because it abuts the city limits and water and electric services are available. He also voted 4 to 1 to apply a Neighborhood Future Land Use designation — the city’s lowest intensity designation — to replace the low residential designation it had under the county.

PD zoning and plan approval failed 2-3 with opposition from council members Kristen Dreyer, Jim Hilty Sr. and Barry Mansfield. Jay Musleh and Ire Bethea Sr. supported the measures, although Bethea later changed their minds in a final vote to reject both articles.

“This area is already oversaturated just by traffic,” Hilty said. “We have to solve it with what we’re trying to do with 44th Street and all these other things, so at some point you just have to say it’s not the right thing or the right time for something like this. nature.”

Dreyer wondered if less intense zoning than PD could be applied.

“The project, design and scale of the units are simply not compatible with the neighboring property, and access to this project is insufficient as it lacks the four-lane highway,” she said.

Growth Management Director Tye Chighizola explained that the applicant can reapply in a year, or sooner with a waiver from the city council, and come back with a new PD proposal or apply for land use. lower such as R-1 (residential), which would allow approximately 30-35 single family homes on the property.

Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at [email protected]


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