a treasure to be discovered
With just the right mix of small-town charm and big-city amenities, Groveland, Florida draws visitors and new residents to its nearby shores
Groveland, Florida, is situated east of Orlando and is a smaller city that retains its quaint natural charm. In recent years, the area, once known for its orange groves and manufacturing, has seen a dramatic increase in activity regarding developments.
The region’s natural assets have been highlighted by the city and were interpreted in its logo; ‘City with natural charm’. With its undeniable beauty attracting new residents to the area, Groveland has become an all-inclusive space, allowing everyone to live, work, and play in one city while enjoying enviable weather and being able to take advantage of a short hop away to beautiful neighboring beaches
The list is long when it comes to the strides the city has made in recent years in the realms of outdoor amenities, infrastructure upgrades and attention paid to health, safety and sustainable building efforts.
One of the many achievements of the city has been the accreditation of the Police Department. According to the Department of Justice, in 2020, there were 838 fully accredited law enforcement agencies in the United States. These accredited centers allow for the training of emergency personnel.
“The education facilities at the department have been hugely beneficial. Through these courses, the city has become a destination for training new law enforcement officers,” says Evelyn Wilson, Mayor of Groveland, Florida.
The importance of having well-educated emergency services means that during hurricane season, they can assist with domestic matters. Currently, the department offers training in advanced life support and police diving services, to name a few.
The city of Groveland has prioritized pushing for more trails and parks, and its primary goal is keeping 50% of the area naturally intact. Currently, the city is partnering with the county for the South Lake Regional Park, which aims to have 140 acres of land under its banner.
The park’s development is tied to the strategic goal of bringing more tourism to the area.
“Groveland has adopted an all-new future land use element and a community development code, with walkability being the foundation for the whole policy and code update,” says Tim Maslow, Community and Economic Development Department Director for Groveland.
Groveland is currently composed of a collection of communities that are dispersed far apart. The city has 34,000 acres of a utility service area at its disposal, along with loads more open space.
The city is surrounded by nature preserves. One area of critical concern is to the south of the city, under state road 50, and is called the Green Swamp. To the north of Groveland, the Palatlakaha River is another and there are three different natural green belt areas within the city limits.
The city is involved in a large project called the Coast to Coast Trail, which will go through the city, boosting ecotourism in the region by bringing tourists from both coasts.
The city is located in the middle of the state of Florida. Turnpike 75, 27, and 50 either go through Groveland or are within a 15-minute drive, so accessing it is easy.
Bearing in mind the primary goal of driving tourism to Groveland, the mixture of agriculture and ecotourism in the region will push to the forefront the eco-agrarian lifestyle, which is about preserving farmland while still providing economic opportunities for locals.
The city’s downtown region has been designed to be one of its most walkable areas within Groveland, but the hills hamper the score for walkability, so guests are recommended to put on some comfortable walking shoes.
Other areas have also been developed, but the challenge is all these communities are very far apart and separated by various green belts. Soon, however, these areas will be joined via well-designed pathways.
The city planners want to ensure that the sidewalks have trees, city blocks are short, and communities are mixed. These communities are being designed so residents can stroll to a location quickly, creating an environment with a sense of being walkable, something along the lines of the “Garden City” design moment of the early 1900s.
These developments have gone according to plan, and Maslow elaborates, “Groveland is a collection of towns, villages, and hamlets, interweaving diverse people into an eco-agrarian landscape embodying the city’s core values.”
Another area that the city has explored is providing dark sky lighting, with the goal of increasing its natural charm factor. Groveland is the first metro in the state to be a part of the International Dark Sky Alliance.
“We championed doing the dark sky compliant lighting because the city knows that growth is coming, and the citizens don’t want to lose their beautiful starlit skies,” says Maslow.
Lake County is the fastest-growing county in the country, and as Maslow likes to say, “I like to tell people we are the fastest growing city – in one of the fastest growing counties – in the fastest growing state of the country – at the fastest growing time that we’ve ever seen in the history of this country.”
In the last ten years, Groveland has doubled in size from 10,000 to 20,000 residents. Currently, the city is home to 9,000 residential units, with the last four-year average being an addition of 600 new units per year. The city has another 25,000 units that have been entitled.
With so many potential units, the city is tasked with ensuring that they don’t become a monotonous lump of single-family houses. Rather, management wants to create mixed-use suburbs that allow for walkability, meeting all the elements of good design criteria.
Apart from the residential development, commercially, the city is seeing big developments within its limits. The Ford Commerce Park, for one, is the most active industrial hub within the county.
On a smaller scale is Hunt Industrial Park, comprising a million square feet of buildings divided into smaller lots of 500 to 3000 square feet. Currently, Hunt Industrial Park is home to 100 independent small businesses, and there is a waiting list of new business owners looking for space.
These businesses are located in the walkable downtown area to ensure that there’s foot traffic.
During COVID-19, some smaller eateries in the city had to downscale and resort to serving in food trucks. Seeing an opportunity, the city partnered with the community to start a Friday Farmers Market that happens every second week.
Groveland has been able to balance keeping a spotlight on smaller businesses with welcoming larger companies who are establishing distribution centers. The first prominent player was Kroger, followed by Amazon. Now, the city is home to four million square feet of distribution warehouses, which have been, or are currently being, built.
Other players who have located in the city include Captive Air, Best Buy, and Carroll Fulmer Trucks. All of these companies also provide employment opportunities for the local residents.
With a large number of construction projects in the region, the city is blessed to have Madrid CPWG Engineering Consultants, which is working on several projects.
One such is the Streetscape Project, which is in its second phase. The project includes redeveloping the sidewalks to fit the city’s strategy. The initial phase included updated lighting, benches, irrigation systems, and trash receptacles. Work is also being done to replace existing trees, plants, and flowers in newly configured beds, as well as continuing the phase one job.
“We’d love to thank the city board for the opportunity to continue our partnership in phase two of the streetscape project. And we’re pleased to be planting Eastern Red Cedars, Simpson’s Stoppers, Cathedral Live Oaks, a variety of shrubs, and botanical ground covers along the sidewalks,” says Grace Harrison, Associated Principle of Madrid CPWG
Another project that Madrid CPWG is collaborating with the city on is the Lake David Project, which includes the addition of a new amphitheater and boardwalk. These developments, situated in the northern portion of the park, will play host to street festivals.
Concerning public infrastructure projects, the city’s public works received a grant for a new stormwater system, and are collaborating with neighboring cities within the country on it. But roads are still top of the agenda.
“In Florida, there are always road issues due to the large increase in population. We need to find the connector roads to move tourists and locals around,” says Mayor Wilson.
To address this issue, the city is collaborating with other cities in the region on a full-rejuvenation plan. Maslow elaborates, “Groveland and collaborating cities are putting together agreements right now for some of our major collector roads. We won’t be just widening the roads but taking the opportunity to develop streets so that we’re accommodating all modes of transportation.”
Another large project is the realignment of State Road 50, which would allow the city to capitalize on new opportunities.
With the city dispersed over a large area, Groveland is working closely with internet providers to ensure that rural pockets can access high-speed internet. It’s vital that professionals are able to work remotely, especially in a lifestyle city like Groveland.
A city developing at such speed can only do so by collaborating. Institutions like Hope International Church have built new community buildings and hosted sporting events.
There are also numerous Development Commissions and Chamber of Commerce boards (like Southlake County and Claremont) that assist with workforce development – a significant issue across the country.
Another collaborator is the Lake-Sumter State College which is assisting students in transitioning between educational institutions – namely between high schools and colleges.
Looking into the future, the mayor optimistically reflects on what has occurred within the last five to six years.
“I can’t fathom what this city is going to become. I believe Groveland, Florida, is still a bit of a secret, and I want to let everyone know about it,” concludes Mayor Wilson.
AT A GLANCE
What: a bustling town with impressive natural amenities, modern appeal, and a strategic location
Where: Lake County, Florida
Lake Apopka Natural Gas District – www.langd.org
Since 1959, we at Lake Apopka Natural Gas District (LANGD) have provided safe, reliable, and cost-saving natural gas to a customer base that has expanded to over 28,000, and we have grown by an incredible 38.5% over the past five years, making us the fourth-fastest growing municipally owned natural gas system in Florida.
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