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County rejects development on 200

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Sierra Club News Release

In the third and final hearing on changes to the comprehensive plan for the 3,000 acre Development of Regional Impact (DRI), AZ Ocala Ranch, the Marion County Commissioners were left with more questions than answers about this sprawling development in the southwest corner of Marion County.
Though the attorney representing the project referred to the plan as a “rural” neighborhood, the plans showed a sprawling urban development with up to 8 housing units per acre, shopping centers, professional offices, two golf courses and several community pools within one mile of Gum Slough and the Withlacoochee River. Commissioners patiently listened to over 20 speakers, mostly residents who opposed the development, and then sided with their constituents. No one from the audience spoke in favor of this project. The Commissioners did not accept the AZ Ocala Ranch agents’ arguments of why a development of this size and intensity was needed for this area of Marion County.
Protectors of the environment can breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate that Marion County Commissioners heard their concerns about this project, ranging from its intensity; projected water usage of 3 million gallons a day; future depleted wells of surrounding land owners; fertilizer and pesticide usage; changes to wildlife corridors; conversion of agricultural lands to urban intensive development; and costs for roadway concurrency and emergency services in a remote area of the county. Speakers also expressed concern about the Sabal Trail gas pipeline on the property and a compressor station across the street.
AZ Ocala Ranch planners offered to build a fire station, incorporate reclaimed water, and reduce fertilizer use. Plans about a mitigation bank on the most vulnerable wetlands within the property boundaries were unclear. The Marion County Commission cited public interest, incompatibility with existing neighborhoods and the need for increased emergency services as reasons for their rejection of the application.
When asked about the next steps for residents who oppose the development, Alisha Lewis, a Florida Highland community organizer stated, “we realize AZ Ocala Ranch may have a chance to appeal this decision; however our community will grow in strength and numbers to continue opposing a development of this size threatening to impact our rural way of life.”
After the meeting, Whitey Markle, Chair of Suwannee-St. Johns Sierra Club, said, “the commissioners acted in the best interests of their residents and listened to us, asking relevant questions based on our concerns. In the end, they voted to protect the environment.”