First Seek to Understand


Part 1 of 4

In The BEGINNING

NOTE:  The information in this article is as accurate as we know. We are not attorneys and do not profess to be. This is a very dynamic project, and we gain information and understanding daily.  We will provide updates to the articles, as we have them. 

Please click on any of the underlined links to access articles that provide additional details.

Let’s go back, way back, BEFORE the Beginning

The Harold Schwartz story is pure Americana and his legacy, The Villages, is known worldwide, and is home to over 133,000 residents who have chosen the signature Villages Lifestyle.

So, let’s take a closer personal look at Harold Schwartz, a Visionary of lifestyle.  You can read about him in greater detail here –> The Villages – Harold Schwartz & Son, H. Gary Morse.

Welcome to Disney for Adults

Most first-time Villages visitors are dumbstruck by the enormity and beauty of The Villages (TV). This isn’t an accident. Gary Morse consulted Disney while designing our planned community and the rest is, as they say, history. Almost everything within The Villages is also owned and controlled by The Villages. The benevolent owners, Schwartz and Morse, garnered loyal resident support; some may suggest that it was a bit cult-like. And why not? The Villages offered good real estate investments, a sense of community and belonging, an entirely golf cart accessible active Lifestyle, and personal safety. So, what’s there not to like?

The Only Constant in Life is Change, Heraclitus

As the Villages grew things changed, of course. There was once a covered swimming pool where the hospital is now. And The Villages had a number of eateries in the northern areas that came and went. In 2013 and 2015, The Developer provoked the ire of residents with two major contentious changes; The Church on the Square closure, to build The Sharon Performing Arts Center , and closing Katie Bell’s  to remodel and reduce the restaurant to the second floor.  If you lived here before each of these changes, it’s easy to understand why the residents were angry.

Katie Bell’s Saloon was one of the first places new folks visited and where you took your guests. The history, the building, the unique inside venue that hosted all-day music was spectacular. It really wasn’t fair to blame the business for losing money when it was managed by The Villages before they outsourced the restaurants to professional restaurateurs. And instead of improving the management method, the immediate solution to an undefined problem was to totally tear it up to create the steadier income stream of the first-floor commercial space, and reduce the restaurant to a second story totally unimpressive venue, that used an archaic online reservation system that wouldn’t allow you to unselect seats as you would modify reservations as your party numbers changed.  It seems that TV often lags in technology which costs money, customer patience, and satisfaction.

Many appreciate the beautiful Sharon and respect the Developer for retaining so much of the Church on the Square in the new building.  It’s nice to have a golf cart accessible professional performing arts center as part of our Villages Lifestyle even if the shows are higher priced than perhaps the quality should garner.  As with change, nothing is guaranteed, just as the change to Katie Bell’s didn’t work with the completely remodeled cabaret venue, and so it closed for the last time in 2020.

3rd Generation Developers (3rd Gen) Now in Charge

Dad never sought the limelight,” the family said in a statement when their father Gary Morse died in October 2014. “He was content to stay in the background and enjoy seeing Villagers revel in this amazing lifestyle of their adopted hometown. While he was a friend and adviser to captains of industry, presidents, and heads of state, he never lost focus on this community and on making it the greatest retirement development in the world.”

Unfortunately, the new 3rd Generation Morse adult children, who are now The Developers, are losing their Father’s and Grandfather’s lifetime built resident respect and loyalty at an amazingly rapid rate.

It’s not like Gary Morse didn’t have a few issues here and there, like the 2008 class-action lawsuit multi-million dollar settlement that established the Amenity Authority Committee (AAC) and provided funds to bring neglected amenities north of 466 up-to-date. This settlement designated Center District, Districts 1-4, and the Town (Spanish Springs) as Center District Service Territory which is a governance method unique only north of 466 for The Villages within the Town of Lady Lake, Sumter County, and Marion County. The settlement set up a 13-year payment plan from TV to Center District Service Territory, expressly for the care and management of the newly established AAC. The last payment will be  Dec 31, 2020. This settlement also transferred amenity ownership, management, and care to the AAC.  And of course, there was all the messy IRS stuff, but it all worked out.

The 3rd Gen continues expansive land purchase and building growth south of 44 with a different model for Southern Oaks, which will include an Industrial Park, School, Hospital, and extensive infrastructure. Sumter County is benefiting from The Village’s massive growth and voted a very unpopular 25% tax hike in 2019,  which set the stage for three of the five Sumter County Commissioners to be ousted in the 2020 elections. According to The Developer, the Sumter County population is estimated to increase from 120,000 to 300,000 by 2045.

Traditionally, TV building model includes selling bonds as part of new home purchases, which is used to build the necessary infrastructure and has worked well to preclude all Village residents from sharing the new building costs. Then after building, TV typically turns over the roads to the counties. In 2019 Sumter Board of Commissioners pushed through a 25% tax hike indicating it necessary to pay for the infrastructure build ahead of TV massive expansion south of 44. This magnified Villagers’ and non-Villagers’ attention on the BOCC history showing a decade of favorable decisions for the Developer. Thankfully three individuals stepped forward and successfully ran a David and Goliath race culminating in the unseating of 3 existing commissioners, 2 November replacements, and 1 election due to a write-in candidate.

The 3rd Gen is building a different legacy than their Father Gary Morse and Grandfather Harold Schwartz as they reimagine their vision looking to future living options for multi-family apartments. There are pros and cons to apartments and should be integrated carefully into TV.


Part 2 of 4

APARTMENTS, APARTMENTS, APARTMENTS

If you live in the northern Villages, I’m sure you have heard or read about TV Developer seeking to add apartment living to The Villages Lifestyle, and that residents are pushing back, in a serious way.  So, what’s all the fuss about?

How Did This Get Started?  Right, …The Amenity Authority Committee (AAC)  Sold-out Their Constituents

North of 466 the Center District Service Territory amenities are owned and managed by the AAC members, who are elected by owners, 1 vote per household. While The Developer may have vacant unbuilt entitlements within the planned community, if they want to offer the unit owner use of the amenities, they must obtain the amenity contracts from the AAC.  To date, TV has obtained and issued 614, and most were for assisted/independent living (A/IL) built along the edges of TV.  TV had a balance of 286 such amenity contracts from their last AAC acquisition in 2015, and on August 12, 2020, threatened the AAC to either approve TV Developer change of the entitlements use from assisted/independent living (A/IL) to Multi-Family (MF) units/apartments, or the Developer would build a parking garage or a big box store. The Savannah Center room was full of 200 distanced occupants with an overflow crowd outside the room.  Residents spent over 4 hours pleading with the AAC to remain steadfast and not approve the amendment.  Two committee members spoke at length explaining the consequences of approving the Developer request, which included transferring over $500,000 a year to the Developer in amenity fees, in perpetuity, for use of courts (type and number unknown), walking path, and use of one “resort” pool (occupancy unknown) which residents will never be able to use due to the apartment dweller usage.

There is a big difference in amenity capacity usage from A/IL residents to apartment dwellers. A/IL residencies don’t burden our existing Amenities, as there is less usage. And they don’t overburden the roads as there is much less driving.  And until the August 12th shakedown the CDD’s and AAC retained the amenity fee cash stream for maintenance of the amenities.  On Aug 12th the amendment changed the usage to age-restricted apartments, the Developer is keeping the Amenity fees, building one pool, a walking/exercise trail, and some courts. However, the residents who are not A/IL have full access to all Village Amenities without any of their Amenity fees funding their use.  There were some additional transactions that are totally in the Developer favor.  A standing vote was called for and 197 people stood indicating they did not want the AAC to accept the amendment.  However, the AAC voted 4-1 for the Amendment. Thus the pushback.  We believe that the real risk is that the Developer is taking the Marketed/Branded Lifestyle that we pay a premium for and delivered a Broken Promise.  We pay premiums for home location, and when the location is affected, our home values are also affected, as well as our Marketed and Purchased Lifestyle.

Why More Rentals? 

We begin by asking the question: is there a need? Of course TV Developer insists there is, and their Orlando  Attorney, Jo Thacker, referenced a 2018 Sumter County Multifamily Market Analysis, at the Sumter County Special Magistrate meeting on September 21, 2020. That report clearly addresses different housing markets and needs than TV would provide. Even in her opening remarks, she commented about working from home which garnered audible sounds from the audience.  Everyone knows that TV is a senior resort-type community.  Few have time to work.

TV already hosts thousands of home rental opportunities through TV Realtors, MLS Realtors, Vrbo, and Airbnb,  for a lot less money than the Lofts, and still provides a carefree living for those who want to be “done with home maintenance”. Granted, many of the current Villages’ rentals are seasonal; but let’s face it, the Villages population can adjust quickly to a shift from seasonal to long term, and provide very competitive rates, and in most cases include a private garage without an additional charge.

Who’s Affected? 

The most affected are the golf front homes that face the HHCC site where the Developer wants to put 286 or fewer apartments that could possibly reach 50’ high, and the folks who purchased premiere pool and tennis memberships based on the location of those HHCC recreational facilities. For many of our residents, the HHCC pool was not just about recreational use.  Many residents relied on the pool use for exercise, strengthening of weakened limbs, and therapeutic suggested exercises for the disabled.  The pool was approved for disability exercise which the individual can no longer use and has suffered a relapse. The residents are obviously concerned about their views, their home values, and the traffic impacts to an already “F” rated Morse Blvd.

Both Spanish Springs and Sumter Landing could be changed to apartments on their upper levels, which will certainly magnify the parking shortage during the season and special events.  And of course, we are all concerned with the expansion inside and outside TV with a continuously challenged hospital.

Who’s Watching the Hen House?

V2PW addressed both The Town of Lady Lake and Sumter County ordinances which add multi-family (MF), presumably age-restricted apartments above commercial businesses, one being the iconic historic Katie Bell’s, in Spanish Springs Town Center, Hacienda Hills Parcel (HHCC), Sumter Landing Town Center and other locations.  We researched, wrote to the counties, met with country officials, and attended all the meetings to date.

There is currently a delay requested by TV Developer with the Town of Lady Lake until November 2nd for the first reading, so we have to wait to see if this meeting occurs or if the TV Developer seeks additional delay.  There is some conflict within the Town of Lady Lake BOC and we are not sure if that will affect the TV Developer requests.

Sumter County will conduct the 2nd reading next Tuesday night, Oct 27th, 5:30 PM, at Everglades Rec Center in TV.  Please arrive early for seating, and bring water and a snack.  Remember to wear green and see us for your green face mask.  V2PW will have an Attorney present to address several issues believed to conflict with TV applicant’s claims and the Sumter County Staff Recommendations.  Our Attorney sent a letter to the Sumter County Attorney addressing the county’s risks and areas of disagreement in our professional Planner’s findings.  It’s important that everyone attend the meeting. V2PW, with the Attorney’s assistance, is fighting the County to ensure all proprieties are followed; however, the visual V2PW GREEN FOLLOWING ensures that TV Developer, in addition to the commissioners, realizes the extent of activism in current-day residents.


Part 3 of 4

So, What Does the Developer Want to Do?  Good Question!

 

SUMTER

The developer has submitted 3 amendments (DRI2020-0001, DRI2020-0002, MISC2020-0006) to the Sumter County Commissioners, the main goal of which is to allow age-restricted apartments in The Villages. They also seek to extend the DRI expiration dates an extra 2 years; from December 31, 2023, to December 31, 2025. (The expiration date is the date at which the developer no longer has the legal right to add anything to the DRI.)

While there are 3 amendments, there are really only 2 requests.  Lake Sumter Landing (LSL) is governed by both a DRI and a Memorandum of Agreement, so any changes that impact LSL always require 2 sets of amendments. DRI2020-0001 (DRI-1) controls TV between 466 and 44, including LSL, while DRI2020-0002 (DRI-2) regulates TV north of 466.

The original amendments that were presented at the Sumter County Commissioners’ meeting on October 13th have been changed were quite different; the updated versions will be discussed and voted on at the October 27th meeting.

North of 466 = DRI2020-0002

DRI-2 seeks to put MF units at HHCC and Buffalo Ridge and has undergone significant changes over the last 2 weeks.  The original DRI-2 amendment would have allowed an unspecified number of Multi-Family (MF) units, or apartments, to be built at 17 different locations north of 466, including the site of the former Hacienda Hills Country Club (HHCC).  The revised DRI-2 is much more limited and only allows for 286 MF units to be built on 4 sites; at HHCC and on 3 parcels of mixed-use land at Buffalo Ridge (CR466 & CR101).

DRI-2 allows for MF by basically doing 2 things: (1) it permits a total of 286 apartments to be built on any Mixed Use (MU) site and (2) it changes the classification of Hacienda Hills from Village Center (country club) to MU.  Currently, only 3 MU sites exist and are all at Buffalo Ridge.  Golf course land cannot be used for MF units as it is not labeled as mixed-use; the developer would first need to go through the amendment process to reclassify the land from golf course to mixed-use.

South of 466 = DRI2020-0001 & MISC2020-0006

The developer is asking to build MF units at Lake Sumter Landing.  This change requires two amendments because it affects a town square which is governed by a Memorandum of Agreement as well as a DRI.  The Memorandum MISC2020-0006 (MISC-6) adds SF and MF as a permitted use in the town square.

There were no changes to MISC-6 and only minor changes to DRI-1.  DRI-1 permits an unspecified number of MF units to be built in the upper stories of 4 “parcels” at Lake Sumter Landing; (1) the entire block containing City Fire – Red Sauce, (2) all of the buildings starting at Fidelity Investments,  past Panera, and including the Villages Sales Offices, (3) the buildings along Canal and Old Mill Run, from JoS A. Bank, past Peterbrooke Chocolatier, GarVinos, Johnny Rockets, Starbucks, and ending at Van Heusen, and (4) the buildings containing Petsense and the Tuscany Spa.

Just like DRI-2, DRI-1 seeks to permit MF units on only 4 parcels of land; however, the way in which DRI-1 accomplishes this goal lays a foundation for building additional MF units in the future. In addition to adding MF as a permitted use to Town Center Mixed-Use space, DRI-1 also removes the existing cap on the number of residential units allowed in the entire DRI and adds MF to a land conversion table.  This land conversion table specifies how many square feet of non-residential space (retail, office, hotel, etc) equal a residential dwelling unit (du).  For example, if 100 retail sq. ft = 1 du, then 1,000 sq ft of retail space could be converted to a maximum of 10 dwelling units.  DRI-1 also allows the Developer to make these conversions without amendment or county approval as long as the space being converted already has MF as a permitted use.

DRI2020-0002
13th Amendment
Tri-County Villages of Sumter DRI
DRI2020-0001
11th Amendment
Villages of Sumter DRI
MISC2020-0006
2nd Amendment
Memorandum
LOCATIONVillages North of 466Villages Between 466 & 44Sumter Landing Downtown
# of SITES IMPACTED4 =
Hacienda Hills Country Club
3 @ Buffalo Ridge
4 =
Lake Sumter Landing
4 =
Lake Sumter Landing
CHANGE #1Remove outdated state languageRemove outdated state language
CHANGE #2Add MFAdd MFDefine permitted Uses for the 4 parcels: Any commercial, institutional, single-family residential, and multi-family residential use as permitted in the DRI
Keep current cap of 11,719 residential units but allow 286 of them to be MFRemove the current cap of 34,811 residential units and approve all of them for both SF and MF
Add MF as a permitted use @ Buffalo Ridge & HHCCAdd MF as a permitted in upper floors of existing Town Center Mixed-Use group
Change HHCC from Village Center to Mixed-Use
Amend the land conversion table to include MF
Add MF to Mixed-Use permitted uses on mapAdd MF to Mixed-Use permitted uses on map
CHANGE #3Remove residential/non-residential acreage referencesRemove residential/non-residential acreage references
CHANGE #4Extend dates
Buildout 12/2018 -> 12/2025
Expiration 12/2018 -> 12/2025
Extend dates
Buildout 12/2018 -> 12/2025
Expiration 12/2018 -> 12/2025

TOWN OF LADY LAKE

Lady Lake = Ordinances 2020-08 & 2020-09  

The developer is also asking to build MF units in the Spanish Springs town square.  Just like Lake Sumter Landing, this change requires two ordinances because it affects a town center which is governed by a Memorandum of Agreement as well as a DRI.  The Memorandum (Ordinance 2020-09) simply adds MF as a permitted use in the town center.  It is not yet known if these ordinances will be revised, as were the Sumter amendments.  Ordinances 08 and 09 also seek to extend the expiration dates to December 31, 2025.

Currently, the Lady Lake ordinances are structured just like the Lake Sumter Landing amendments.  Ordinance-08  permits an unspecified number of MF units to be built in 4 “buildings” at Spanish Springs: (1) The entire block that contains the Margarita Republic, starting at the square and ending at the Sales office on Paige Place (includes Kilwins, the Gallery, etc), (2) the entire block on the other side of the street (from Demshars down to the Citizens First bank), (3) the entire block containing Katie Belles, Amerikanos, McCalls, and Spanish Spring Lanes, and (4) the entire block containing Gators Dockside, Katie Belles, MVP, down to the Villages Insurance.

Just like Sumter’s DRI-1, Ordinance-08 also appears to lay a foundation for building additional MF units in the future. In addition to adding MF as a permitted use in the town square, Ordinance 2020-08 removes the existing cap on the number of residential units allowed in the entire DRI and adopts a land conversion table.  However, this land conversion table does not just establish the criteria for converting non-residential space to MF units, but it also allows for converting single-family (SF) homes to MF units.  Ordinance-08 also replaces the 3 dwelling units/acre density standard with a 12 dwelling units/acre density standard.   And finally, Ordinance-08 also allows the Developer to make approved land-use conversions without needing amendments or approval from Lady Lake.


Part 4 of 4

So What Do We Want To Happen?  What Do We Think Will Happen?

The perfect outcome is that The Villages Developer (Morse Family) would say, “Hey, let’s work together to revitalize the northern Villages!” The second perfect outcome, and very close to first, is that the Sumter BOCC votes against TV Developer, saying “NO” to the various change-of- use requests to allow apartments in the northern Villages. The third option, while not perfect, is still preferred, is that the Sumter County BOCC votes to table the apartment proposals for the next Board of Commissioners.

At this point, I really can’t venture a guess as to what will happen at the SC BOCC meeting on Tuesday.   I know that the V2PW Team has done all that we can to organize, learn, and respectfully challenge the premature apartment migration to the northern Villages.

Then What?

And our next, certainly less preferred option is to file an appeal should the SC Commissioners vote Yes on Tuesday night.

And Most Importantly, What Did We Learn?

I/we chose TV as our retirement Dream Come True based on some of the most thorough marketing ever experienced. Live Like a Millionaire! May all your dreams come true!  Free Country Club membership! Free golf for life!

And then our beloved bubble burst with the betrayal of our neighbors serving on the AAC and from the traditionally benevolent Villages leadership.

Now we are more concerned about our safety while driving on Morse Blvd with the added non-Villages apartments on 466 and 27/441 who use Morse as a shortcut through TV.  And more are coming.  And those of us who purchased our Dream Home viewing Hacienda Hills Country Club?  We worry about our property values, so critical at this life stage. We are angry at losing the beautiful Country Club with the pool, tiki hut bar, and tennis courts.  We are angry that we chose to live beside a Country Club with a walking accessible restaurant that hosted entertainment. We are angry that we bought in a neighborhood that touted the HHCC and, with its destruction, we have lost our recreation facilities and are left with the prospect of devaluation of our property values due to apartments.  We are angry that we are summarily dismissed and disrespected by the 3rd Generation Developers.

We are also the newer/younger generation of retirees; we are both professional women and men who have a vested interest to seek truth and respect from our Development leaders for the next 30-40 years. We cannot afford to allow our financial or Lifestyle investments to be DEMOLISHED this early in our game plan.

Here’s What Has to Happen

We must all take a greater responsibility to learn about our retirement home of choice. We must be willing to experience some discomfort by Stepping Up and Speaking Up when our investments, health, safety, and lifestyle are threatened. We must DEMAND to be Heard.

We must have honorable, smart, and energetic people step forward and learn the inner Villages workings. We need these same people to seek the various locally elected and volunteer positions to ensure our Village Lifestyle.

Are you willing to serve? If so, are you ready? Now is the time to prepare by learning all you can about the Villages’ workings.

The Districtgov.org site offers educational opportunities that will make us better residents and stewards of our future.

Two excellent learning opportunities are the Community Development District CDD and the  Resident Academy, although the April 2021 class is already full.

Areas where we need vested, honorable, smart, and energetic candidates are:

  • We must elect new AAC members at the earliest opportunity!  If you don’t believe me, as a review, here is the First Amendment that the AAC approved that sold-out their constituency. And the minutes that document the event
  • Villages Homeowners Association – Neighborhood Volunteers
  • CDD & District Supervisors
  • Property Owners Association (POA):  V2PW requested the POA take the apartment expansion as a violation of our branded and purchased Lifestyle, not to mention concerns over the land-use questions. Unfortunately, we were told that they didn’t feel they could assist us, but that if we found any legal standing, they would reconsider. We were also promised to use their 11,000 member email to get the word out on our efforts.  Unfortunately, the calvary never showed, and we kept fighting with our Followers’ support both emotionally and financially.  We requested emails be sent, presented articles, and have presented legal standing. We are disappointed in the non-responsive POA.
  • And last but not least, local governments, such as Sumter County, Town of Lady Lake, and Wildwood need responsible stewards who live inTV.

This concludes our articles.  We hope that you learned new information about our beloved Villages, and that you understand the current land-use issues better.

Patsy Oburn & V2PW Team


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