For the past three years, the Rock Springs Ridge Homeowners Association has tried to strike a deal to bring the RSR golf course lands back to its residents. It's been a struggle, to say the least, but after announcing a new contract to swap the 51-acre gopher tortoise conservation area for the golf course lands, a new roadblock has emerged.
Through a public records request, The Apopka Voice has learned that The Golf Group, owners of the RSR golf course lands, has been cited for multiple code violations and amassed fines totaling over $1.7 million and still climbing.
The notices were sent between March and October 2022, with fines as high as $7,500 per day and ongoing at $4,000 per day.
According to the APD, some of the violations have been brought into compliance, while others are still out of compliance. The violations fell into two categories: the golf course lands and the restaurant/clubhouse formerly known as the Tavern.
Among the violations associated with the golf course lands were:
Among the violations associated with the restaurant/clubhouse were:
With a large fine outstanding, some properties still not in compliance, and the meter running at $4,000 per day, it might be expected that the APD or City of Apopka may want to make an example out of the Golf Group, but so far it's allowing for a level of grace.
"We're going to treat them like any other property owner," said Lieutenant Stephan Brick of the APD, who is the Code Enforcement Manager. "I have a duty and a responsibility to the city and the citizens. And, you know, I will work with anybody and try to come to a fair, equitable solution. We have to be consistent with what we've done in the past, and we routinely negotiate with people who ask for reductions."
Gary Mc Sweeney, the director of the RSR Homeowners Association, said that the Golf Group would have to resolve the liens/violations before the swap can take place.
"We concluded our Exchange Agreement with the Golf Club at the end of August. We have yet to receive approval from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission nor the City of Apopka relative to the conservation land approval or Comp Plan, Zoning and PUD related changes. Once all is completed, we will own the golf lands outright and will disclose our plans and complete negotiations with all parties as soon as possible. The party owning the golf lands will settle any violations on those lands prior to any ownership exchange."
Although the amount and time of non-compliance may seem extreme, Brick says he has dealt with individuals facing larger fines and longer periods of non-compliance.
"I've got one from 2019," he said. "I've got a case from 2013, 2015. 2017. But a lot of these are homestead. So they're exempt. I've had properties where they're not making any progress, or the property owners, and usually a business, is not responding or the the officers within the company are not responding or not communicating with us. And they're not addressing the the violations. So there comes a point where it's, it's futile, and the fines are just so high that we will go ahead and initiate foreclosure actions. And most of the time in the past, the initiating the foreclosure action gets somebody's attention. And then we go from there."
According to Brick, deciding to begin a foreclosure process would involve an administrative decision potentially involving the police chief, city attorney, city administrator, or the mayor.
But because the Golf Group stays in contact with Brick, he is optimistic the code violations and fines can be resolved.
"They've been in communication," he said. "They've also called for regular inspections, they are working towards not just the sale, but getting the property in compliance."
Brick also cites the previous tenant for leaving the restaurant/clubhouse in poor condition.
"They just walked away from the place and left it mismanaged," he said. "The propane tank was was dug up, and then it was taken away and the restaurant was closed down because they could no longer order food or pay the employees. The place was left in shambles and it wasn't cared for... there was no air conditioning. When a building is not kept up, it just starts to deteriorate. There's quite a bit of work."
According to Mc Sweeney, the land swap between the RSR HOA and the Golf Group is scheduled to close in March 2024.