Lee approves development

LEESBURG -- The Lee County Commission approved what had become a controversial affordable-income senior development off Forrester Parkway Thursday night, but the Commission put some conditions on its approval.

"I move that this rezoning request (sought by Peachtree Housing Partners, Rea Development and Flint Ventures) be approved pending the following conditions," Commissioner Bill Williams said of a request that 14 acres of land be rezoned R-2 (residential) from C-2 (commercial).

Williams then said the developer should put in writing a restricted land-use agreement, should agree to hire a property manager, a maintenance professional and a landscaper, provide for ongoing inspections of the development to make sure Department of Community Affairs standards are upheld, and repair any deficiencies found during inspections or be subject to Code violations.

Peachtree Development Manager Josh Thomason said after the meeting the conditions offered no problem for moving ahead with the project.

"Those are things we do anyway," Thomason said. "We have absolutely no issues with the conditions they mentioned. All we need now is a resolution of support that we must supply by July 22.

"I plan to get started on the project, though. We have environmental reports and marketing studies to complete. I plan to start spending money on this project tomorrow based on the support we were given here tonight."

The project, to be called Forrester Senior Village, calls for 78 one- and two-bedroom apartments to be built in a complex that will include amenities like a clubhouse, an on-site laundry and an outdoor gathering area. The developers will apply for tax credits based on Section 42 of the Internal Revenue Code, which limits income levels of renters, who must be 55 or older.

"I think everyone here is really excited about finishing this project and having people come out and see it," Jim Bacon with Flint Ventures said. "We're anxious to see everyone go 'Wow.' This vote tonight, I think, is an indication of the Commission's support for the project."

Also at the meeting, the Commission approved a resolution that will authorize the board to reimburse itself for any funds used in purchasing property off U.S. Highway 82 that will the site of a new library branch/conference center. But not before Commissioner Dennis Roland offered a few words about the project.

"Every meeting I sit and listen to how broke Lee County is, how we're looking at an about $1.5 million shortfall in our next budget," Roland said. "Now it seems that we're wanting to borrow $2 million to add to the $4 million we already have for the library/conference center, adding an estimated $200,000 to our budget each year for the next 15 years. I've been told we'll just add this to the next SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax). Presently, of the $3 million we collect yearly in SPLOST funds, $2.5 million of it goes to service old debt.

"In the next SPLOST there has been a request for an agricultural center for our youth. Already I'm hearing of plans in the making for a new recreation complex. Add that to the $2 million loan, and I already know where the ag center stands. I've been told this conference center will be good for Lee County, and I do believe there is a need for it. But we need to stay within our $4 million. I wish someone would tell the people who pay almost twice as much for homeowners' insurance because of no fire protection, with a response time of from 20-30 minutes for an ambulance, why the library/conference center is more important than their needs. And maybe at the same time someonde could explain to our law enforcement why they must work so much overtime becaue the sherrif's department is understaffed."

Roland concluded, "Yes, there might be a need for such a center, but not at such a high price. Seems to me our goal is to entertain our citizens more than giving them needed protection." Following his words, a round of spontaneous applause broke out in the audience.

Also at the meeting, the Commission adopted a resolution calling for the closure of an undeveloped portion of Whitney Road and OK'd an updated mutual aid agreement with Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany.