Wildwood Sprawl Taking Over Proposed Conservation Lands

Wildwood officials are poised June 8 to consider adoption of a growth plan amendment that will turn most of a 12,512-acre ranch that was once proposed for conservation purchase into the newest section of The Villages. A large group of residents oppose the plan change and opposed the annexation that led to it.

The Villages, in case you are unfamiliar with the area, is an upscale retirement community that occupies parts of Lake, Sumter and Marion counties.

The new development is the result of the latest southward annexation by the city, which has been converted from what was once a small community at the crossroads of highways and railroads into a city that sprawls past communities such as Coleman and Sumtervillle deep into rural areas of central Sumter County a few miles east of Bushnell.

This provides an example of the lower oversight of growth decisions by the state in recent years.

The annexation and subsequent development has been opposed by a group called Save Rural Sumter, which has raised concerns about how the amount of development proposed for the site—14,455 homes, 1.8 million square feet of commercial development and 110,000 square feet of government building space—will stress the water supply, which is stressed in many other parts of central Florida.

In addition, opponents argued the property lies in an area critical for wildlife movement and provides important habitat.

Preservation of the land was proposed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, but land-acquisition funds were cut over the past decade. Additionally, Sumter County officials opposed the purchase, according to correspondence on file at the district.