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LEESBURG, FL-City commissioners in this Lake County city of 15,624 permanent residents, 45 miles northwest of Downtown Orlando, are betting their 4-0 vote to annex a 3,443-acre cattle pasture will pay off in higher property taxes and impact fees over the next 20 years and place Leesburg on a solid revenue base.

It’s the largest single annexation in the city’s 100-year history, city officials confirm. The annexation controversy has been simmering since February.

Some residential activist groups argue the project is too large for a small city such as Leesburg to manage. They cite a lack of sewer, water and utility hookup connections and a limited fresh drinking water supply.

“The city understands the potential risks but sees no immediate danger to either public health or infrastructure limitations,” an independent planner working with the city tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

The annexation decision for the commissioners came down to one factor: control of the project. “With annexation, the city can set standards and make the developer follow them,” another local land planner not associated with the project tells GlobeSt.com. “Without annexation, any project out there, just south of the city, would turn into urban sprawl.”

Of the 3,443 acres, 2,479 acres are developable; the balance are wetlands.

The unanimous commissioners’ vote means landowner Dr. Clayton Pruitt, a vascular surgeon in Clearwater, FL, can begin selling either the entire tract or parceled development rights to third parties.

The nearest ground-breaking date is tentatively projected for 2003 when a new Florida Turnpike interchange is scheduled to be completed just south of Country Road 470, a road that is destined to become the area’s newest commercial/retail artery as development work takes shape, area brokers and land planners tell GlobeSt.com.

“Spillover commercial growth from Orlando is generally headed that way,” Dean Fritchen, a senior associate at Arvida Realty Services Commercial Division, Winter Park, FL, tells GlobeSt.com.

On the revenue side, Leesburg projects it will receive $181,687 annually in the development’s first phase and $609,000 annually from 2006 to 2010. Annual utility revenue is estimated at $818,652. Builders would pay an estimated $112 surcharge on each home built and an undetermined franchise fee.

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