Save Rural Sumter poised for pivotal showdown on massive Villages’ expansion

Article Courtesy of The Villages-News
By Marv Balousek   
Published May 10, 2020


After confusion over whether proper notice was given the first time, the giant Stuart’s Ranch addition to The Villages south of County Road 470 is back on Tuesday’s agenda of the Wildwood Planning and Zoning Committee.

A group of Sumter County residents known as Save Rural Sumter has circulated a petition against it and wants to appear at the meeting, but is hampered by COVID-19 restrictions.

The Villages now owns 13,637 acres south of CR 470 and is authorized to build up to 35,000 homes. The property reaches State Road 48 at the city limits of Center Hill, which is as far south as Bushnell.

After the rezoning from agriculture to age-restricted development was approved in February, area resident Bill Pownall challenged the city’s action, claiming that notice of the case was not properly posted. Pownall is a retired firefighter who owns 10 acres across CR 470 from Stuart’s Ranch.


Wildwood City Manager Jason McHugh said an investigation of Pownall’s challenge could not substantiate whether required posting was done, so the city attorney advised that the zoning special magistrate take it up again.


McHugh said the city has changed its procedures to prevent the posting problem from happening again.

Pownall said he has collected more than 800 in-person signatures and over 2,600 online signatures against the rezoning.

His group has asked city commissioners to postpone the case for 40 days because they have been unable to gather people together, investigate the issue and educate the public while under the governor’s stay-at-home order, which expires Monday.

“We are currently shut down per the Honorable Gov. DeSantis stay-at-home order,” the group wrote in a letter to the mayor and commissioners. “The citizens of Sumter County would like to participate in the hearing by communicating their voices and reasoning against the rezoning of Stuart’s Ranch…. Please reschedule these meetings for ample time for residents to become involved.”

McHugh said the meeting will go forward, but the city is taking precautions to protect residents from COVID-19.

A wall partition will be opened so up to 60 people, 25 percent of capacity, can attend the meeting with chairs spaced six feet apart.

The meeting also will be broadcast oN so residents can listen to it online.

“We will also have sanitation equipment readily available to clean the podium and microphones after each use,” McHugh said. “We are also encouraging participants to wear face shields and gloves to protect themselves as recommended by health officials.”

He said people also can post comments to the city’s web site before the meeting and other arrangements will be made if so many people show up that the room would exceed 25 percent of its capacity.