TAVARES, FL-Residents living near the environmentally-sensitive Wekiva River Protection Area and a local daily newspaper have lost a round in a revived battle with Orlando developer Michael Dick whose 12-year-old Heathrow Country Estates project seeks a new development order from a pro-development Lake County board of commissioners.
Opponents argued the estimated $50 million, 489-acre, 323-unit single-family and multifamily shelter/recreation venture shouldn’t be allowed to reapply for a permit after commissioners rejected the proposal on a close 3-2 vote in July 2000. The proposed project is 24 miles northwest of Downtown Orlando.
But the county’s own planning and zoning commission is now agreeing to review the developer’s request to add an 18-hole golf course and build its own water plant for the planned community six miles west of the Wekiva River, off State Road 46. The zoning commission’s recommendation goes to the full county commission for a vote on Aug. 28.
At an Aug. 1 public hearing, residents cited case law that bars a developer from reapplying for a development order on a similar set of plans after his project is rejected by the county.
But Cecelia Bonifay, a land law specialist based in Tavares, maintains, her client, the developer, has made several changes to his project showing the golf course and its maintenance will not damage the environment or ruin the existing fresh water supply.
Even the Lake Sentinel, a regional edition of Orlando Sentinel, a daily newspaper, argued editorially the county’s planning and zoning board should dismiss the developer’s request for a new development order. “This battle ended long ago–for the right reasons, at the right time,” the newspaper editorialized.
Heathrow Country Estates, originally born as Gatwick II, was approved in 1988, a year before the Wekiva River Protection Act was jointly passed by Lake, Orange and Seminole counties. The act aims to protect the fragile ecology of the area and keep it rural. The state allows only low-density development in an area bordered by the communities of Seminole Springs, Sorrento and Plymouth.
Gatwick II, now owned by Michael Dick’s Heathrow Land Co., didn’t break ground on the project and allowed its five-year development order to expire.