Plan moves to City Council vote next Tuesday
Before a crowd of approximately 300 residents at the VFW/Apopka Community Center on Wednesday night, the Apopka City Planning Commission voted unanimously to move the Signature H Property Group’s New Errol project to the next stage of its approval. In a process that took over two hours to complete, the Planning Commission watched as City Staff and the Signature H Group gave presentations describing the project, and then listened as one attorney and 10 residents spoke during public comments.
Erik Whynot, an attorney with the law firm Garfinkel Whynot, P.A., and representing the Errol Estate Property Owners Association (EEPOA), gave a 15-minute presentation in which he pointed out parts of the project’s plan that he and the EEPOA believes have evolved from their original promise.
“Generally speaking the EEPOA supports the vision of Signature H, but there’s a difference between the marketing that Signature H does and the documents. With these types of large projects, the devil is in the details.”
The EEPOA, which represents 2,000 residents – over 80% of the Errol homeowners according to Whynot, pointed specifically to the construction of a spine road designed to alleviate construction traffic away from the major thoroughfares in the Errol community. According to Whynot, this road was supposed to be constructed first.
“Initially, the spine road was to be complete before any of the construction would be started,” Whynot said. “We don’t want Errol Parkway and Golf Course Drive to be the only construction throughways. The spine road needs to be completed in order to relieve traffic congestion on Errol Parkway and Golf Course Drive that will definitely result in the development stages of this project. There is a significant concern for safety and pedestrians for those roads as a construction entryway.”
Dale Fenwick, an Errol resident and former publisher of The Apopka Voice, was concerned that the golf course had been taken off the plan that the City was to approve.
“Like most people here tonight, I support the Errol project,” he said. “However, my support is not without reservations. The developers garnered support by spending two years promising us that they were going to renovate the golf course and build a clubhouse before the first home was sold. It was a bold promise, but without it, you wouldn’t see the support you see here today. Unfortunately, the golf course was taken out of the Master Plan three weeks ago, and because it is off the plan, I don’t know if the City can hold the developer accountable for their promise, but I encourage you to find a way.”
The vast majority of the audience was in favor of the New Errol project, and many wore the t-shirts distributed by Signature H showing their support. And of the 10 public comments, most made positive remarks about the project.
“I did not plan on speaking tonight,” said Apopka resident Barbara McLeod. “But I have seen Errol go up and down for the last 25 years. We have no options. No one is knocking on our door to make our land and our golf course and our area better. Our options are knee-high weeds, snakes, and rats. I understand that there are people being impacted by the changes, and I’m sorry for that, but it’s only a handful. If we don’t do this, you can kiss all of your property values goodbye.”
Another longtime Errol homeowner agreed with McLeod.
“I’ve been a resident for 19 years and I’ve seen a lot of projects come through and they all have failed for various reasons,” said Tom Watson. “The plan before us seems very reasonable, well thought out. It’s a major project, and I think it’s the last best hope for Errol Estate. It’s an unbelievable piece of property like no other in the area. I support this project and I hope everyone will. I hope it will be successful.”
After public comments, the Commision, which consists of seven non-elected members that prepare and make recommendations to the City Council on the City’s Comprehensive Plan, land use, development plans, and rezonings, voted 7-0 to approve the plan.
“We’re very pleased and honored that the Apopka City Planning Commission has unanimously approved and recommended our plans for New Errol and Staghorn, as we are truly excited to get to the next step of City Council approval and begin groundbreaking on the new projects, beginning with the golf course,” said Helmut Wyzisk III, vice president of Signature H Property Group, the developers of New Errol and the Staghorn Club & Lodge. “This is a clear signal that the community understands the revitalization that this property needs and has the confidence in what our extensive and experienced team has put forth to turn New Errol and Staghorn into an exciting, beautiful, and thriving development for not just its residents, but for the entire city of Apopka as well.”
According to Signature H Property Group, it has presented at multiple meetings showcasing its development plans for a completely redesigned 18-hole golf course; a brand new clubhouse and lodge featuring restaurants, bars, retail shops, a boutique hotel, water park, new luxury residences, an assisted living/post-acute care rehab facility, public spaces, parks and walking trails.
“We feel this unanimous vote reflects the amount of time, effort, and community relations that Signature H has put into this well-envisioned plan to make sure it not only brings much-needed amenities to the area but also that they fit seamlessly into the existing neighborhoods as well as possible,” said Larry Klein, a partner with Signature H and 30-year resident of Apopka and Errol Estate who released a statement through Signature H.
“Signature H has put together a most impressive team of planners, designers, and building contractors and has spent countless hours talking directly with Errol residents to understand their needs, their concerns and their overall excitement about where we’re headed.”
The project now moves to a special City Council hearing on April 27th, and the likelihood is that the New Errol project will face a stiffer challenge with them if the August 24th, 2017 meeting is any indication.
The City Council was cautiously optimistic at that meeting and voted 4-1 to approve the Ordinance (2581) on first reading, which moved the project to a state review. In November of 2017, the state approved the Signature H New Errol plan and moved it back to the City for final approval.
But before the City Council vote in August, there was significant skepticism and hard questions asked of Signature H.
“For us the responsibility here is… I kind of feel like I’m the father whose daughter’s heart has been won and now we have to have “the talk”,” said Commissioner Doug Bankson at the August meeting. “It is our responsibility to be skeptical. Are there any holes? Because this is a big issue… this is tremendous. Anyone who sees this would want this to come to Apopka. We would love to work together on this. But the big question is can you produce?”
Commissioner Kyle Becker also displayed a significant amount of doubts toward Signature H. He was also the lone dissenting vote.
“If this were an emotional response, I would be in favor of it. The idea, the concept, the plan… I say great. My challenge is there is no history of performance and no history of facilitating talented teams like they say they need for this project to succeed. They’re entering a business that in their own language is a dying business. So you add risk on top of the fact they have no history with these projects. There is no disclosure of who the investors are or how much the property is worth. They have no plan for who will run these assets when they are actually in play, and the value of the property is speculative based on future land use. With all that said I just don’t have a level of confidence.”
Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer was pleased by the research done by the commissioners and expressed an interest to move forward.
“I think all of the elected officials on this Council have done their homework, and I think all of the questions asked are valid questions. I think the process that we’re going through is about finding safeguards and we’ve got three more cracks at this to get it right before they are allowed to proceed.”
Tuesday night at 5:30 PM will be that next crack for the City Council at the VFW/Apopka Community Center, located at 519 South Central Avenue in Apopka.