Developer revives Mount Dora Groves mixed-use project, but in Lake County
By Yvette C. Hammett and Laura Kinsler
Sep 07, 2022 at 3:45 pm
Mount Dora Groves would straddle U.S. 441, next to the Country Club of Mount Dora. (Lake County Property Appraiser)
Bering Homes’ plan for a 224.6-acre mixed-use development on U.S. 441 next to the Country Club of Mount Dora, scrapped in January, appears to be getting new life, this time in Lake County, not in the city. The project will be split into two separate planned unit developments – one on the north side of U.S. 441 and one on the south side.
Lake County’s Planning and Zoning Board unanimously approved the Mount Dora Groves cases, which will go to the Board of County Commissioners on Oct. 4.
Mount Dora Groves primarily consists of vacant citrus groves. The properties are owned by the Simpson Family Partnership LTD, of Mount Dora, with Robert L. Simpson named agent and Mount Dora and naming Mark R. Simpson of Mount Dora Groves, Inc. as president of the partnership.
The applicant is proposing 275 single-family residential lots for Mount Dora North, containing 4.42 dwelling units per net acre. It is requesting a comprehensive land-use amendment to change the land use from Urban Low Density and Regional Commercial to Urban Medium Density.
The Concept Plan for Mount Dora Groves North would establish a 50-foot buffer along Loch Leven, then a row of estate homes on 70-foot lots. The North Neighorhood (yellow) would allow a minimum lot size of 40 feet.
Under the existing land use, the site is entitled for a maximum of 436 homes. However, the PUD application would limit the number of homes to 275. The PUD zoning requests 70-foot lots on the shore of Loch Levin and a mix of lot sizes over the rest of the subject property. A frontage road would allow residents to access the shopping center next door without exiting onto U.S. 441, and a golf cart path would connect the property to the country club.
For Mount Dora Groves South, the applicant proposes a mixed-use development containing 783 single-family and multi-family dwelling units with a density of approximately 9.75 dwelling units per acre), 150,000 square feet of commercial uses, and associated recreational facilities. The partnership is asking for a large-scale comprehensive plan amendment from Regional Office to Planned Unit Development. A case will be filed shortly for rezoning to PUD.
Planner Jim Hall with HDSi said the request would represent a downzoning from the existing Regional Office land use. “We were allowed 1,000 dwelling units and over 10 million square feet of nonresidential. The amount of traffic that would generate makes my head spin,” he said.
Hall said that because of the site configuration, the commercial lots would not accommodate big-box retailers. “It would be smaller, individual users,” he said. The request and future PUD would allow for a maximum height of 65 feet. Hall explained that one of the parcels could be used for a hotel, which would need that kind of height, but retail and office buildings likely wouldn’t exceed 35 feet.
Mount Dora Groves South would allow for 150,000 square feet of commercial or hotel uses (red), apartments, rental homes and single family homes. (HALFF)
The U.S. 441 corridor in Mount Dora has been a draw recently for new hotels. A new 4-story TownePlace Suites by Marriott is being built next door to the Mount Dora Groves South. And a pair of hotels, Holiday Inn Express and Home2 Suites, are coming in just east of the site.
In addition to the commercial use, the concept plan shows 783 residential units consisting of a 360-unit mid-rise apartment complex, 103 detached single family homes and 320 lowrise multifamily homes, which by definition would contain one or two dwelling units per building.
Mount Dora City Manager Patrick Cominsky asked the board to add a condition prohibiting built-to-rent units as a housing category. “Our staff wanted to see instead of build-to-rent, we wanted to see build-to-own. We felt that the character of Mount Dora needed to have more build-to-own properties in this land instead of creating a big swath of rental units,” he said.
Attorney Thu Pham with Akerman said that land development decisions cannot be based on the type of ownership. “I’m not sure that’s even a valid criteria as part of your consideration,” she said.
Only a pair of speakers addressed the P&Z Board Wednesday regarding the Mount Dora Groves project. It was a 180-degree turnaround from when the case was heard earlier this year. The Tampa-based homebuilder faced heavy pushback from neighbors when the plan was presented to the Mount Dora City Council in January, leading Bering Homes to pull applications that would have allowed the project to move forward by early 2023. Bering Principals Chad O’Brien and Ronald Rakunas had gone to the city with requests to get a comprehensive land-use amendment to allow for the mixed-use development on U.S. 441, including 100,000 square feet of commercial and 776 single- and multi-family homes, both low/medium and high-density units with a maximum height of 65 feet.
The city council approved the annexation in December 2021, but delayed votes on the land-use amendment and the Planning Unit Development zoning so a public workshop could be held. And that is where the project went south.
A dust-up occurred when Planning and Zoning Commissioner James Honich made comments to the audience considered improper for a member of a quasi-judicial board, which is to remain impartial. He told the audience the project was all about “more house and more money.”
There was even a call to remove Honich from the board, but that failed. Still, Bering Homes Attorney Cecilia Bonifay told the city council her clients were withdrawing the applications. She told the council her client could not get a fair and unbiased decision in Mount Dora.