A room of Geneva area residents on Dec. 7 watched another hurdle fall in the development of a portion of the former 6,000-acre Yarborough Ranch property, reducing the chances of stopping a 300-home development slated for land clearing next year.
A 5-0 Seminole County Planning and Zoning Board vote to approve the preliminary subdivision plan punctuated nearly an hour of pleas from residents near the proposed community. Residents said they feared it would change the area from a formerly rural loose collection of homes using “a cleverly disguised request for a zoning change,” according to Geneva Citizen’s Association’s Richard Creedon.
“We’re not supposed to ignore and reinterpret (codes) that we do not agree with,” he said.
The applicant disagreed.
“It’s been about a 5-month review and several re-submittals and they have certainly made us follow the code to the letter of the law,” said attorney Becky Wilson, representing developer Pulte Homes.
“In order to obtain these 300 single family homes, we would have to have a minimum of 40 acres in tract 3 of open space…and we’re coming with 234,” Wilson added. “So not only did we meet that but we’re actually pretty proud that we have exceeded that requirement.”
Residents took issue with what they said were codes that were being ignored, with resident Linda Lamay saying that the properties in the development area should be a minimum of five to 10 acres each, not one, as the development would be using.
“They’re making it sound like they’re giving all this extra land to nature…but they’re saving money by clustering these homes,” Lamay said.
Nancy Harmon, president of the Geneva Citizens Association, said that she believed the future land use map was being ignored in certain parts, pointing to multiple parts of the proposed 1,300-acre development that she said didn’t follow the future land use map.
When asked by board member Richard Jerman whether she was a planner, Harmon responded “I could be. I’ve been doing their job,” to applause from the audience.
Other residents took issue with potential ecological damage from having 300 more houses pulling water from the Geneva Lens in the aquifer and then dumping wastewater into the ground using septic systems. The Geneva Lens is an area surrounding Geneva, and stretching north and south from there, comprising underground freshwater surrounded by non-potable water and which is protected by Florida statutes.
“The state is spending millions of dollars to eliminate septic tanks, yet here you’re projecting the potential of adding 300 that will drain into a water body that’s already established by the state as impaired,” Sanford resident Joe Humphries said.
Geneva resident Keelan Stuart, echoing another resident who questioned the wisdom of building on the floodplain of a river, worried that water will be an issue in another way.
“Six of the last 10 major flood events have been in the last 20 years,” he said. “The trendline is going up. There are areas that have never flooded before that are now flooding. It’s not a question of ‘if’. It’s a question of ‘when’.”
Wilson responded to the neighbors’ worries by stating that she believed the developer was doing more than the amount required to make the development comply with local codes.
“I do not think that the speaker Ms. Harmon really wants us to comply with the comprehensive plan,” Wilson said. “As you may know your comprehensive plan contemplates clustering allowing down to ½ acre lots. Instead we did not choose to implement that ½ acre lot clustering but went with what’s the land development code, which requires the larger 1 acre clustering.”
“It sounds like a lot of people believe things are not in compliance but have not brought forward any evidence that we’re not in compliance,” Wilson added.
Jerman asked Seminole County Planning and Development Manager Mary Moskowitz if what residents were saying about the development not complying with codes was true. “I’m sure you would not recommend this for approval if it didn’t comply,” Jerman said.
Moskowitz cited the land development code, stating that it was in compliance under a special rule allowing clustered subdivisions to have smaller lot sizes while setting aside conservation land.
The plan was approved unanimously with all board members in attendance.
Minutes earlier, seemingly in anticipation of the Planning and Zoning Board approving the preliminary subdivision plan, Harmon said, “I’ll be seeing you all again on this.”
Pending an appeal to the Seminole County Commission, the plan would be reviewed and voted on at a future meeting, though that date is not yet set.