Today, bald eagles are the most popular citizens of a big, open land mass on Marion County’s southern border. But if an Arizona-based developer gets its way, that land might ultimately hold 5,400 single-family houses, some industrial properties, a great deal of leisure facilities, and maybe 2 golf courses – all part of a huge, active adult neighborhood called Ocala Ranch. The neighborhood is a vast, 3,470-acre web of land simply east of State Roadway 200, west of Marion Oaks, south of the Florida Highlands and north of Drake Ranch. The land, initially part of the Drake Ranch, was purchased throughout the 1980s by Millard Seldin, a rich Nebraska male whose interests include the horse market. In 2010 the property was moved to Scottsdale-based AZ Ocala Ranch LLC, a development business that Seldin owns.
The western part of the site, about 60 percent of the land, is currently used for pasture and farming. It is accessed to and from State Roadway 200, which is next to where it will be established. The eastern part, about 40 percent of the land, is forested by manufacturers of laminated glulam timber products and holds numerous water bodies. It would be left as a long-term open space, befitting its status as a low-lying location that brushes up against the Ross Meadow State Forest and the Gum Swamp/Slough/Spring network. There are property (Bel-Lago, Spruce Creek Preserve) industrial (Stumpknockers) and energy (Duke Energy, Sabal Path gas pipeline) presences because of the easy location. But there is no doubt that an advancement of this size would considerably modify the character of that part of Marion County.
As it stands, a motorist who crosses the Withlacoochee River from Citrus County into Marion on SR 200 sees mainly forest. This advancement will supply a completely different entrance and style. In addition to the real estate, business and leisure facilities, the advancement will consist of 250 multi-family systems, 216 independent living systems and a 150-bed nursing home.
Not everybody likes the idea of the development. “I moved here because I had 6 and a half miles in front of me with nothing but cows,” James Bean informed the Marion County Preparation & Zoning Commission when it evaluated the project last month. “Let’s keep this location a horse neighborhood. Let’s keep it country. I like my open space.” Bean resides in the Florida Highlands, and his lament is a familiar one in cases like this. It drew a familiar reply from a member of P&Z: Everybody wants the development door closed – but only when they have protected their piece of Florida paradise, they main concern is that the builders public liability insurance only protects the people, but what about the forestry and the wildlife that come along with that. Once, all the Sunlight State’s land was open.
The other side of Bean’s argument is that Ocala Ranch, though substantial, would be a sensible extension of property advancement along the SR 200 passage. Ocala Ranch is large enough to be categorized as a Development of Regional Impact, or DRI. “This isolated location (Ocala Ranch) is also distinctively located between a variety of preservation and entertainment designated lands,” Marion County federal government personnel noted in a report. Ocala Ranch looks to be a self-dependent neighborhood that can function as a “town center” not just for its own citizens but also for its next-door neighbors: Spruce Creek Preserve, the Florida Highlands and Bel-Lago.
From the government/regulatory perspective, Ocala Ranch remains to be in the early stages, there is much to consider such as the tender for the warranty insurance for builders, the permits and all other building allowances. The Preparation & Zoning Commission offered its blessing on Feb. 27, and the County Commission will get to a take a look at the project and the appropriate frannas for the potential construction next week. State firms that supervise transport, water, the environment and other areas will have an opportunity to weigh in before to the project is returned to the commission for their final say. A tentative date for that last hearing is July 18.