Lake County property appraiser, developer at odds over hay field

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LAKE COUNTY, Fla. —

A controversy in Lake County is the latest in a long-standing tug-of-war between Florida landowners and county property appraisers.

A developer said a hay operation inside an upscale retirement community, Lakes of Mount Dora, is a legitimate farming venture and should get a tax break.

The county property appraiser disagrees.

Lakes of Mount Dora is a pricey 55-plus community. In the back of the subdivision is what the developer describes as a hay farm.

"To qualify for an (agricultural) exemption, you have to be a bona fide commercial agriculture product, and this is not," said Michael Prestridge, of the Lake County Property Appraiser's office.

The property appraiser's office is locking horns with Medallion Home over a tax exemption.

Medallion hired a farmer to grow and bale hay on its land in order to qualify for an agriculture tax break of just more than $30,000.

While the county said the 140 acres is not a farm, officials with the city of Mount Dora believe there has been farming going on, and they want it to stop.

"We've issued them, basically, a cease-and-desist order last year, that no agriculture activity is supposed to occur there at all," said Mount Dora city planning director Mark Reggintin.

Reggentin said neighbors have complained about the dust.

The developer plans to eventually build homes on the vacant land, but in the meantime, has appealed the property appraiser's ruling to a value adjustment board magistrate.

Both sides said there is a considerable amount of money on the line.

The case is expected to be resolved in the next few weeks.