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Long-awaited workshop on RSR Golf Course, Harmon Road, gopher tortoise lands announced by City

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By Reggie Connell, Managing Editor

The waiting is over.

After months of speculation, mystery, drama, and unknowns, the City of Apopka announced a workshop on its website scheduled for November 2nd, 6-8 pm at the Apopka Amphitheater to discuss the details related to the RSR Homeowners Association's attempt to purchase the RSR golf course lands. Among those details will be the city-owned Harmon Road property, the communication tower that currently sits on that parcel, and the 51-acre property on Kelly Park Road also known as the gopher tortoise conservation area.

Its concise announcement reads:

"The Apopka City Council will hold a workshop to discuss the purchase and sale of the Rock Springs Ridge Golf Course, the Kelly Park property, and the Harmon Road property.

Please Note: There will be no official action taken at this workshop."

There are a lot of questions to be answered in this two-hour workshop. Among them:

Should the City of Apopka sell the Harmon Road property to the RSR HOA, to the highest bidder, or not sell at all?

How much will it cost to move the communication tower, or to upgrade it at its current site?

Should the RSR HOA sell the gopher tortoise conservation area, or create a recreational district to raise the funds to purchase the golf course lands?

How difficult will it be to free itself from the multiple easements on that 51-acre parcel?

It seemed like a simple process back in April when Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson presented an offer originated by Robert Dello Russo, the owner of the Golf Group, which owns the RSR golf course lands.

Here is the 238-word flyer handed out at the meeting:

Rock Springs Ridge Golf Course Offer

A proposal from Bob Dello Russo to swap the golf course property for the following:

2102 Harmon Road - appraised value $1,842,000

2139 Harmon Road - appraised value $643,000

Total - $2,485,000

*** one drawback City would need to replace a communications tower on the 2102 Harmon Road property

The city would lease back the golf course to Rock Springs Ridge (RSR) Homeowners at $6,000/month until RSR can secure a loan or bond through a Recreational District

While the property is being leased to the HOA, the homeowners can elect to create a Recreational District (RD) in order to bond the purchase of the course from the City which would show up on your tax bill each year. While the City has title to the golf course property, the City may administratively amend the Future Land Use Map designation of the golf course from Residential to Recreational in order to preserve its current use as a recreational amenity. Such a land-use map amendment would also include administratively amending the designations for the other Residential uses in order to have the map designations of the remaining parcels correspond with the existing residential density of the Planned Development.

Cost to each of 1320 RSR homeowners for 20 years at 3.5% $132/year

Cost to each of 1320 RSR homeowners for 30 years at 3.5% $102/year

If RSR were to rebuild the golf course, the City could initiate a TIF for five years which would generate about $315,000 to help pay for golf operating costs.

And on that sunny April evening at the Apopka Amphitheater, Nelson laid out the proposal, took questions, and even called for a poll of the audience's opinion, to which he received raucous applause from the 500 RSR residents in attendance.

But a lot has happened since April.

In June, Dello Russo died adding uncertainty to the deal.

Also in June, it was learned in an interview by The Apopka Voice that Commissioner Alexander Smith, also an RSR resident, would vote against the purchase (as a resident) because of the unknown costs.

The 51-acre gopher tortoise conservation area was introduced by the HOA as a funding alternative to a recreational district.

It was learned that a conservation easement was attached to the gopher tortoise lands and would be difficult to lift.

The estimated costs of moving the communications tower were announced at a City Council meeting.

Multiple alternative offers were made for the Harmon Road property, on average double the appraised value of $2.5 million - the price offered in order to close the three-way land swap.

There are a lot of questions to be answered, and a lot of details to be clarified at the workshop, but it's an event many on the City Council have been calling for since April.

"I’ve advocated since last April for having a public meeting that’s open to everybody so they can share public comments for this specific piece of business," said Commissioner Kyle Becker."...putting all the facts on the table… is there even a deal yet for the 51 acres? Have they gone through the process of changing the conservation easement? What’s the cost of the communications tower moving away from Harmon? Should we sell Harmon for $2.5 million or $6 million? All of these things have to be discussed in an open forum.”

Commissioner Diane Velazquez is also looking forward to the workshop to bring clarity to this three-way land swap.

"For the great part of this year, the Rock Springs Home Owners Association has proposed a purchase of the defunct golf course to its residents from the current owner, the Golf Group. This proposal has been discussed with the residents, meetings have taken place, to include a vote, and to date, no formal presentation or application has been made to the City of Apopka. This is where I think the suggestion of a “Public Workshop” is a welcomed vehicle that can establish a solid path and a solution for the parties involved.

As an elected official of the city council and a resident of RSR, it’s very important to me that I help the residents of RSR find a solution that they are in agreement with, and at the same time be fair to the residents of Apopka that have expressed and are interested in the outcome of this proposal. As Apopka grows, the responsibility of finding solutions to issues of this nature falls both on its residents and the City Council."

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