Is Toll Brothers & McKinnon Groves Scott Boyd Bringing a Housing Hellscape to Winter Garden, Florida?
My description of Tampa’s overdevelopment was recently published in The Tampa Tribune as, “Florida is on its way to being an ‘apocalyptic hellscape’”, even winning letter of the month. I received responses well beyond the Tampa Bay area, confirming how many share this hellish vision. I was contacted by a group of concerned homeowners in Lake County, Florida. So, I decided it was time to go to the front lines and witness the battle between the forces of overdevelopment and those who are trying to defend what is left of old Florida, or at least live within it.
One of the more recent battlegrounds is right in the heart of one of the most rural areas of southern Lake County, the Flat Lake Area of Winter Garden under Lake County District 2 Commissioner and Chairman Sean Parks. The area borders the protected Lake Avalon Rural Settlement area of Western Orange County, under Commissioner Nicole Wilson.
Going to rural southern Lake County is an exercise in masochism for anyone who loves nature, Florida, its wildlife, flora, warm winds and clear, beautiful skies. To know that this land will soon become another pseudo-Mediterranean cutout community, with all its attendant retail and infrastructure, is a real kick to the sternum. Will the panthers resort to feeding off the purebred dogs of northern retirees? In truth, I’m more concerned about the panthers than the dogs or the retirees.
This rural part of southern Lake County in Winter Garden is not immune to gated McMonstrosities, but these homes are all zoned Rural Residential and sit on five-acre + parcels, with 50-foot setbacks and environmental buffer zones. The notorious Toll Brothers home builders are working under the ironically named, “McKinnon Groves”, and as with many developments, it’s named after what it is proposing to destroy — over 120 acres of active orange groves. This suburban, zero lot line nightmare is headed up by former Orange County Commissioner, Scott Boyd, and from north to south, the plan will stretch over 1.5 miles long, bringing with it several hundred homes and thousands of vehicles to clog up the now quiet country roads in the Flat Lake area of Winter Garden.
The goal is to re-zone the area from Rural Residential (R-2) and Agriculture (A) to Planned Unit Development (PUD). This will result in a mixed-use, massive and incompatible project of 660 units, each on a shockingly narrow 22ft wide building pad lot. The plan includes 48 acres of commercial space to allow for restaurants, offices, retail shops, entertainment and multi-family apartments.
Now, if you happen to be one of the few Floridians who did not become a real estate expert in 2020, taking into account streets, community centers, and other facilities, this means these houses will be about five feet off the street, and you may not be able to get a lawnmower between you and your neighbor’s house, as county Planning & Zoning Vice Chairman, Rick Gonzalez from District 4 pointed out, with a lot more laughter than I might have, at the McKinnon Groves planning and zoning meeting on August 4, 2021. What appears to be a simple bureaucratic rezoning effort will change the very character of southern Lake County, making it increasingly easier to develop even bigger mixed-use projects in the future. So that the Scott Boyd McKinnon Groves & Toll Brothers’ goal of “Disneyfying” rural Lake County will be accomplished.
My previous proposal to require developers to rewild the equivalent area they develop is, admittedly, idealistic, if not entirely unlikely. There is a middle way, however. Since there won’t be an end to development in Florida until the Atlantic meets the Gulf and the entire peninsula is under the ocean, in that glorious mean time, we might try to find an alternative to anonymous, relentless development, particularly, of our historically rural areas.
The developers of this McKinnon Groves Toll Brothers Trojan Horse Housing Hellscape — Boyd, developer Bob Holston and citrus grower, Dayne Jones, might go down as among the greatest consumers of rural land in Florida history. In itself, this is not a bad thing; people need places to live. The difference of course is how and where it’s done, and what your county is going to look like once the project is over, when the developers and their promises have moved on to the next rural area, first, stripping it bare and then filling it with concrete, blacktop, glass, cars and more people.
These promises to bring jobs and preserve the character of rural communities are easy to make and no one knows zoning laws and how to manipulate them like developers. As Toll Brothers did when it claimed on its McKinnon Groves rezoning application that no access would be created in the southern portion of the development, limiting traffic on roads that aren’t built for that volume. But this promise is only as good as the current commission. They know full well that one commission can’t bind a future commission to its decisions. And therein lie Odysseus’ troops hiding inside the Trojan Horse.
Once you open an area to dense development that is not compatible with its rural character, you simply invite, in fact, require more infrastructure, more services, more of these ubiquitous storage facilities. Because, as they build smaller units to cram in more people, your new neighbors need a place to stash and promptly forget about all the crap they can’t store in their new cardboard condos. They’re going to need to get their golf carts serviced somewhere, aren’t they? Development incompatible with the rest of Lake County just opens the door to more of the same. The Toll Brothers plan for McKinnon Groves is for buildings as high as 40 feet and three stories. Maybe the next development can be dozens of stories, with thousands of units on a few hundred acres of what was once panther, deer, turkey and bobcat habitat. Lake County residents won’t have to go to Orlando because Orlando is coming to Lake County.
In the near future, with McKinnon Groves and Wellness Way, southern Lake County will be no more peaceful, no more rural than the rest of paved and Orlandified Florida. Take one last hike or ride through this area and marvel at the peace and quiet, the warm breezes, the bucolic groves because it could soon be gone forever — the lasting legacy of McKinnon Groves Scott Boyd, Toll Brothers and Lake County Commissioners under Chairman Sean Parks. The final vote is on September 7, 2021 before the full board of Lake County Commissioners Doug Shields, Kirby Smith, Leslie Campione, Josh Blake and Chairman Sean Parks.
Let’s hope they do the right thing for Lake County and the rural Flat Lake area residents of Winter Garden they represent - who now face this Toll Brothers McKinnon Groves Housing Hellscape alone.
by Jeffrey Rubinstein
The final vote is on September 7, 2021 at 1:30pm before the full board of Lake County Commissioners at the Commission Chambers — 2nd Floor, 315 West Main St., Tavares, FL.
If you are angry, outraged and want to do something to STOP overdevelopment in Florida and STOP home builders from further destroying the rural character of Lake County, now is the time to make a stand.
Now is the time to let all Lake County Commissioners know how you feel.
Now is the time to let District 2 Commissioner and Chairman Sean Parks know how you feel.
Let them all know you are furious that beautiful rural lands of Lake County with teeming natural wildlife are being destroyed one planned unit development at a time.
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