TAVARES, FL-Lake County, 25 miles northwest of Downtown Orlando and one of Central Florida’s hottest development spots, has passed the state’s first ordinance on water usage for golf course developers.

For developers, the new rules could help avoid near-future battles with anti-development residential and environmental groups opposing new commercial ventures.

For the activists, the ordinance could show the county, long known for its pro-development posture, is taking environmental issues seriously.

For the county, the stiffer golf course development guidelines could be the best pro-business and public relations vehicle it has ever latched onto.

“Elected Lake County officials over the years have always been concerned with the area’s environment, even when citrus was king here for 100 years and nobody really complained too much at the time,” a longtime Leesburg, FL rancher and grove owner tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

But, he says, “what has happened over the past five or seven years is that certain elected political factions have appeared to the public as being in the pockets of the development community and not giving a hoot about how new developments might destroy or damage the fragile environment here.”

In a county with 1,400 lakes, 24 golf courses and only 210,000 residents, water usage is critical as the area experiences its fourth consecutive dry year of below-normal rainfall.

New residents and businesses continue to arrive from neighboring Orange County and from South Florida, real estate relocation specialists tell GlobeSt.com.

“If you’re looking for inexpensive developable dirt, Lake County has it in abundance,” Dean Fritchen, senior associate, Arvida Realty Services Commercial Division, Winter Park, FL, tells GlobeSt.com. “The national retail players only now are discovering Lake, but wait for five years–they’ll be all over the area.”

Under the new guidelines, greens can’t be irrigated with water from the upper Florida Aquifier; developers must use reclaimed or city-treated water; developers must dig deeper irrigation wells; and native plants and wildlife must be protected.

For the first time, developers will be required to monitor pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer contamination of underground water supplies; show how they plan to conserve water once their projects are operating; and limit the amount of pesticides in wetlands areas.

Developers helped write the ordinance over the past 18 months. “If we don’t like the rules, we’ve got only ourselves to blame now,” a Clermont, FL developer tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

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