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TAVARES, FL-Despite heated protests from property owners and environmentalists, a pro-development Lake County commission has voted 4-1 to allow Heathrow Land Co. of Heathrow, FL to build the 323-home Heathrow Country Estates in the Wekiva River Protection Area, 15 miles northwest of Downtown Orlando.

Ground breaking is tentatively set for February. The buildout would be in 2005.

Heathrow Land Co. officials couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline. But area construction industry estimators tell GlobeSt.com the hard construction cost of the venture should be at least $50 million.

Environmentalists argued the state’s 13-year-old Wekiva River Protection Act prohibits golf course development on the 489-acre tract on fast-developing State Road 46 in Lake County.

But commissioners ruled the act didn’t apply because the developer’s revised plans include a central water and sewer system that will not affect the area’s clean water supply, a major concern of property owners.

Heathrow Land Co. president Michael Dick argued the project was grandfathered in in 1989 under the Gatwick II name and should be allowed to be built. If not, Dick told commissioners his company would sell the 489 acres to another developer who would apply for a similar development permit.

The commission rejected the company’s application last year. Heathrow Land then sued the county and lost but returned this year with revised project plans. Dick argued the project was six miles from the Wekiva River and not actually sitting on the shoreline, as some environmentalists had intimated.

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