The Apopka Community Redevelopment Area Board (CRA) made a rare appearance at City Hall last night, and approved what may be the biggest motion to come before it in years. By a 6-0 vote, it moved forward a developer's agreement that lays the foundation for starting the long-awaited City Center project in Apopka.
After the CRA vote, the City Council followed suit and voted 5-0 in favor of the agreement.
"This is a big step forward for the city of Apopka," said Mayor Joe Kilsheimer. “Ten years ago we bought this land to build a City Center. This was Mayor Land’s vision to build a City Center and I wish he were here to see it.”
Commissioner Kyle Becker has only been on the City Council for 86 days, but captured the importance of this vote on a Facebook post after the meeting.
“I’m feeling very excited about the future of Apopka,” he wrote. “This is a big step tonight, but the job is far from over. Work now turns to ensuring our future continues to be rooted with elements of our past, and we proceed responsibly to ensure an economically viable community for years to come.”
The biggest pushback for this project is the continuing saga of the Highland Manor and its unknown fate. Becker posted his reverence for the Manor and his belief the Council will continue to search for an appropriate solution.
“I very much appreciated the calls/e-mails of concern and support, and will do all I can to ensure the current Highland Manor is treated with the respect she deserves.”
During the meeting, Commissioners Billie Dean and Doug Bankson grilled developer Jeff McFadden of Taurus Southern Investments.
“What have you all decided to do with the Highland Manor?” Dean asked McFadden.
“That hasn’t changed since last week,” McFadden responded. “It isn’t in our plans right now. But the City will have a minimum of 18 months to decide what to do with the house. But we are open to suggestions on what to do with the house. I wouldn’t rule out a solution.”
"That house is one of the few historic places we have here in Apopka,” said Dean. “The building is over 100 years old, and it seems to me you could work out some sort of configuration to incorporate the Highland Manor into this City Center.”
“I think there are some solutions, but it has to get smaller,” said McFadden.
Bankson embraced the idea of the Manor getting smaller, and questioned McFadden about those possibilities.
"If it was reduced in size from its current footprint, is that something you can look at?" Bankson asked. “I think in January in your original presentation you had made it the centerpiece of the project. And that’s one of the biggest responses I’ve gotten from people as commissioner. There’s a lot of emotion attached to this house.”
A five-story hotel could be the first business to open at the City Center, according to McFadden. The design would incorporate an architectural style known as “Florida Vernacular” in an effort to maintain the historic character of Apopka. In addition to the hotel the Center would feature wide sidewalks, public gathering places and a boardwalk. A central parking area plus smaller parking lots are envisioned.
Taurus is proposing to have a minimum of 30,000 square feet of restaurant space which would include two stand-alone restaurants. The rest of the Center would contain a variety of retail businesses. Some of the business types mentioned included; day spas, a grocery store, coffee shops, bakeries, and dentists.
The approval by the CRA Board and City Council moves forward the process that began with a proposal in August of 2015, and formal negotiations that began in January of 2016.
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