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ORLANDO-A state judge this month will decide if Lady Lake, FL developer Gary Morse can add 43,000 homes and four million sf of retail at the Villages, a 25-year-old subdivision and one of the fastest growing communities in the nation.

The issue is over water. Morse says he needs to extract a total 3.9 million gallons a day in Lake, Marion and Sumter counties where he plans to add golf courses and new businesses over the next six years.

The developer says the project will attract 10,000 new residents and run up the community’s total permanent population to 90,000 in 2020 from 25,000 today.

Ninety percent of the population is over 55. The residents are considered to be healthy retail spenders and aggressive voters in local and national politics, according to the last U.S. Census.

Morse, a former advertising executive and staunch supporter of Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush, couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline.

But he has told the Southwest Florida Management District he needs 2.8 million gallons daily for irrigation and another 1.1 million gallons for household use.

The water management district says Morse should be allowed to draw the water. But area residents disagree fervently and want administrative law judge Don Davis of Tallahassee, FL to rule on the dispute.

The residents maintain the development area is so dry now, lakes are at record low levels and wells are pumping sand. They argue drinkable water could be in short supply in the three counties by 2006. Pro-development forces, however, say that is a myth being propounded by anti-development factions.

The residents’ complaints have stalled new development and are costing Morse $50,000 a day or $1.5 million a month in interest charges and other contracted fees, he maintains in published reports. Morse has sued the residents, seeking to dismiss their complaints as frivolous and without merit.

The Villages is the single largest development in Lake County and one of the largest in Central Florida.

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