Your Florida Daily: The Rolling Hills of Montverde

Note: This story is originally a special episode of the News 6 podcast Your Florida Daily. Tap the player above to listen.

As WKMG Hits the Road, there’s one message we’ve heard over and over from Lake County residents: growth will demolish the small-town charm in Montverde.

Located in the 34756 ZIP code, Montverde sits about 30 minutes west of downtown Orlando along the shores of Florida’s fourth largest lake, Lake Apopka.

Tradition says the name Montverde means “Green Mountain,” which might seem like a strange name for a town in flat Florida, unless you’re familiar with the long sandy ridge (known as the Lake Wales Ridge) that forms a spine in the center of the state.

This ridge is what gives Montverde some beautiful rolling hills.

“You almost feel like you’re in the North Carolina mountain side,” says Tavares Mayor Bob Grenier, who also serves as Executive Director of the Tavares History Research Center. “A lot of people don’t know that Florida is hilly. I mean, even Mount Dora and some of the surrounding areas are the highest elevations in the state of Florida.”

This pocket of Central Florida is in the middle of a transformation.

In less than a lifetime, rural towns are turning into sprawling mega developments connected by busy highways. This growth is disturbing for many people who call Lake County home, including Grenier.

He points to the Live Local Act, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2023, as one the reasons Tavares, Montverde and other communities are in a constant battle with developers.

It creates a statewide program that requires county and city governments to allow residential developments to be built in non-residential zones if it provides at least 40% affordable housing units for at least three decades.

“They’re trying to take the power away from the city councils and (tell us) how to design and layout their own town,” Grenier said.

The town of Montverde was incorporated on May 18, 1925, on the site of an early Native American settlement. American settlers established themselves in Lake County by growing hardy crops, like grapes.

“Because they lasted, unlike freezes which hurt the citrus industry. A lot grapes were were tolerant, except there’s one thing that they really didn’t know much about — disease,” Grenier said.

The grapes were first planted in 1921 and at its height, the town was shipping out 2,000 boxes of the fruit annually, according to the Lakeland Ledger.

When the vineyards were wiped out by disease by the 1930s, growers turned to watermelons and citrus, which were freighted out of town via railroad depots.

Montverde has remained somewhat of a sleepy town, even as development continues creeping in.

“Montverde is one of those nice little hidden spots that I love in the rolling hills. Personal opinion — I’d hate to see it change from what it is right now.”

Grenier says he hopes the county won’t budge on zoning rules that would allow for more homes to be built in one area.

“I hope [Montverde] just stays true to the small town charm because they could be one of the last communities based on history that can keep that small town charm. I fight it every day in Tavares. Are we going to lose it? Yeah.”

Check out our other stories from Montverde by clicking here.

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