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Gopher tortoise advocate speaks at City Council against RSR selling conservation area

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By Reggie Connell, Managing Editor

Kim Buchheit is an Apopka resident, a licensed professional land surveyor with 38 years of experience interpreting deeds and matters of title, and an advocate for the protection of gopher tortoises, their habitat, and conservation lands. For the most part she has stayed out of the three-way land swap between the City of Apopka, the Rock Springs Homeowners Association and the Golf Group, owners of the RSR golf course lands.

"I originally thought that the future of the defunct Rock Springs Ridge Golf Course was just an RSR issue," she said. "But since there is a City of Apopka real property asset that has been said to be essential for this deal, all City of Apopka taxpayers and residents should take an interest."

Buchheit made her remarks at the Apopka City Council meeting Wednesday.

"In previous meetings, we have heard the Mayor and City Attorney say that there is nothing going on here", she said. "But that does not square with the City's official website. You can see this for yourself. If you go to the City of Apopka website - Select Community, Select Rock Springs Ridge, Under Coming Soon, the second bullet-point says, Three-Way Agreement with Dello Russo, City of Apopka, and Rock Springs Ridge."

The City of Apopka website - Rock Springs page

"The website clearly indicates that an agreement is in the works and the City of Apopka is a party to it," said Buchheit. "Something smells fishy. There needs to be some accountability for the conflicting information and confusion that persists and continues to be perpetuated on the City's official website. If someone made a mistake on the website, let's get an explanation and correct the error."

Gopher Tortoise Conservation Area

She also has significant reservations about the RSR Homeowners Association's attempt to sell the 51-acre parcel known as the gopher tortoise conservation area.

"I have provided a few documents to the Clerk for you from my preliminary research. You can read these items for yourself. I'll walk you through a few highlights," she said to the City Council.

Among the documents and observations made by Buchheit were:

  • The RSR HOA took title to the Conservation Parcels in 2005. Conservation Easements that were created in 1998 and 2002 are referenced in Deed. All restrictions run with the land and transfer to Successors and Assigns.
  • For the 51 Acre Conservation area, basically, the restrictions say that you can't build on the land or disturb wildlife habitat. Parties can request to release the Conservation Easement, according to a process administered by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
  • FWC's Policy for Easements and Releases is eight pages.
  • FWC has no obligation to agree to the Release.
  • Avoiding and Minimizing impacts must be considered. And replacement Land must be proposed. Additional compensation may be required and up to 3 times the area may be required for replacement land depending on the quality.

"In reviewing the materials that the RSR HOA has published on their website and from discussions with residents about what was provided before they voted to sell the 51 Acre Parcel…The Conservation Easement Restrictions and ramifications of complying with FWC's Easement Release Policy were completely disregarded. The bottom line is that the true cost of "the deal" is not being considered and the financial analysis is flawed from the start."

And like others on the City Council, she is calling for a more official hearing on the subject before the RSR HOA moves any forward.

"If the RSR Golf Course deal is going to be "updated," whatever you want to call the discussion, it needs to be on the agenda so we can all have a fair chance to express our concerns."

And despite the skepticism and criticism, she is in part, supportive of the golf course lands not becoming another housing development.

"I am in favor of maintaining green space and I personally support community efforts to prevent increased density in RSR or anywhere else that we have defunct golf courses in Central Florida. Decisions at every step must be based on sound financial analysis and consideration of all relevant issues rather than a quick decision based on incomplete or misleading information."

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