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Playing hardball with the Golf Group makes sense for Apopka and Rock Springs Ridge

No company should amass $2 million in fines without consequences


There is an ongoing drama playing out in Apopka that involves millions of dollars, thousands of homeowners, acres of environmentally fragile land and wildlife, and years of frustration for a local community.

But it's a rather long and somewhat complex story, so please stay with me.


Mayor Bryan Nelson stood alone on the Apopka Amphitheater stage in April of 2021 and made a bold statement:

"As you all know, I got elected three years ago," he said. "And ever since then, we've been trying to set up an arrangement to get Dello Russo out of Rock Springs Ridge."

Nelson was referring to Robert Dello Russo, the owner of the Rock Springs Ridge Golf Course (through a corporation called the Golf Group). According to Nelson, Dello Russo proposed trading city-owned property on Harmon Road to the Golf Group in exchange for the Rock Springs Ridge Golf Course lands.

According to Nelson, Dello Russo made multiple offers to sell the golf course for asking prices ranging from $5-8 million before making this unique land swap offer - two city-owned properties on Harmon Road that appraised for $2.45 million, well below what Dello Russo had set for a sales price previously. After the swap, the City would lease the golf course back to the RSR HOA until it could organize, form a Recreational District, and buy the lands back from the City for the same price.

Win, Win, Win? Not so fast.


A few weeks after the amphitheater meeting, multiple offers came in on the Harmon properties for over $6 million. This made it clear the City could not swap those parcels for the equivalent value of $2.45 million.

(Editor's Note: Robert Dello Russo died in 2021, but the Golf Group continued its negotiations to sell the RSR golf course lands.)

In November of 2021 there was a second meeting at the amphitheater, primarily to put a public end to the deal.

Then-city attorney Michael Rodriguez made this statement, which essentially spiked the three-way swap involving the City.

"The Harmon Road property is not openly on the market, and any swap or purchase of the property would require a City Council vote. The City would not be involved in that swap [between the HOA and the Golf Group]. That is a private real estate transaction, and the City would have no say. The City would entertain any application for redevelopment as it would entertain any application from any property owner."

Kurt Ardaman, an attorney for the RSR Homeowners Association, speaking at a later City Council meeting in 2021, interjected the only leverage point the Golf Group perceives to have and continues to use - a potential lawsuit.

"The reason we're doing this is we've got strong support from the residents," said Ardaman. "If the City does not like the deal, you can say no. We are working diligently with the owner of the golf course lands, who believes they have far more rights even if it has to file a suit. They think they can develop several hundred units on golf course property."


Three years later, at the April 17th, 2024 City Council meeting, Commissioner Nick Nesta recommended that properties with over $1 million in code violation fines be foreclosed on.

"I think formalizing some type of policy that says once a residential property hits a million dollars in fines, and as long as it's not a homesteaded property... if it doesn't have any other liens or clouded title, then we start the foreclosure process," Nesta said. "And everything else will start at $1.5 million."

Apopka Police Chief Michael McKinley pushed back on the black-and-white standard, preferring the current policy.

"We do have a process," McKinley said. "A lot of times, it's 'what are the violations?'... some of our public safety issues that we do need to proceed with the attorney (foreclosure) and move on. Some of them aren't necessarily a risk to the community for public safety or anything else. And those may be put off to the side."

Through a public records request, The Apopka Voice learned that there are currently 160 code violation cases totaling over $48 million, nine of which are over $1 million. According to City Attorney Cliff Shepard, there are eight foreclosure cases related to unpaid code violation fines in his office, ranging from $100,000 to $4 million.


I took a long time to lay out the backstory, but it's important because I'm calling on the City and the Apopka City Council to make a bold move. It's not a particularly political move. In fact, I think all five members of the Council may find common ground.

In September of 2023, The Apopka Voice learned that the Golf Group owed the City over $1.5 million in code violation fines on its RSR Golf Course properties and abandoned restaurant and was not in compliance on many of those properties. Then, in a recent follow-up records request, it was learned that the properties were now in compliance, but the fines grew to $2.1 million, with no payments made against the total.

This is from a company inflating its asking price on abandoned golf course lands in one of Apopka's biggest communities, threatening to build several hundred units on those lands and scaring the RSR community. Then, when confronted with the current agreement that only allows for 17 more houses to be built, it threatens to sue the City.

We are taught how to deal with bullies at every stage of our lives, from kindergarten all the way up to adulthood and in business. I'm not offering up any sort of sage advice when I say you don't give in to their demands. You look them in the eyes and stand up to their threats.

In his discussion with Nesta about foreclosure guidelines, McKinley said he wanted discretion over who gets foreclosed on. I agree. I trust Chief McKinley, Lt. Steve Brick, who heads the code enforcement department, and his officers to make the right decision on these matters.

But is this the type of business you want to give that discretion to?

The Golf Group isn't exactly a corporate partner of the community or even a friend to Apopka. They are more akin to a Viking raiding party that plunders Rock Springs Ridge and then comes back looking for more spoils in the form of a one-sided deal or a lawsuit.

It's time for Code Enforcement, the Apopka City Council, and the RSR Homeowners Association to push back on the Golf Group with the authority and leverage it possesses. That starts with filing for foreclosure.

Yes, I have been critical of the RSR HOA Board in many columns, and for good reason.

They have been less than forthcoming with its residents about the state of this deal on many occasions. They are trying to break an environmental easement with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) that is listed as perpetual, which would ultimately harm the environment and the gopher tortoises that live on that land.

But most of all, the plan isn't going to work, and the FWC basically told them so when they sent a 57-page site visit report listing a multitude of reasons the alternative site for the gopher tortoises wasn't appropriate.

Here is the FWC's opening statement in the report:

"The site was assessed for gopher tortoise suitability by comparing the minimum site suitability criteria (i.e., permitting potential) included in the Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines (April 2023) for gopher tortoise recipient sites to the existing conditions of the proposed replacement lands. It was determined during the site visit that there is not permitting potential at this time for the Rock Springs Ridge Golf Course in its current state. It was also determined that the proposed replacement lands are not the same habitat type or habitat that supports the species for which the easement was originally given, are not contiguous to the affected parcel, and do not include habitat in the same condition as the easement habitat, or better."

My criticism stands for the reasons listed, but I share common ground with the RSR Board on one important issue - I want RSR to get its golf course lands back, too.

Withdraw from this latest contract (which was supposed to close in March 2024) with the Golf Group so that they have no options remaining but to either settle with the City or sell for a reasonable price.

I doubt RSR will ever get a golf course to replace the one they lost unless they are willing to spend a lot of money. But starting a recreation district and buying the golf course lands from the City, I believe, is achievable. I hope RSR proves me wrong and builds a new course, but creating 300 acres of parks and bringing back a restaurant wouldn't be a bad alternative.

I know what some of you reading this might be thinking. Why should the City invest time and effort in helping out one of the richest communities in Apopka?

It's simple.

If the Golf Group were to let go of the land and RSR were to pay the $2.1 million for it, that would leave Apopka with a windfall, which could be used for any number of projects that would serve the entire community. It could be earmarked for a homeless shelter, annexing South Apopka, improving Camp Wewa, repairing the reclaimed water pond on Golden Gem, or adding firefighters and police officers.

In this scenario, everyone wins.

The City gets $2.1 million. The RSR HOA gets to take a victory lap by successfully regaining control of the golf course land. The RSR community gets to breathe easy, knowing no one will ever threaten them again about building developments in their community. The gopher tortoises get to keep their homes. Even the Golf Group can claim victory, no longer having to deal with the maintenance of 300+ acres and the headaches the golf course has caused them.

But the first step is for the Apopka City Council to pull the trigger on foreclosure and the RSR HOA to withdraw from its doomed contract with the Golf Group. Amassing over $2 million in unpaid fines simply cannot go unanswered.

The Golf Group, Apopka City Council, Rock Springs Ridge, RSR Homeowners Association, RSR Golf Course, Opinion, How long has the RSR Golf Course been for sale?


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Nodcenter

    Reggie you left somethings out. Let's start in the middle. The FWC said the pan wouldn't work, but did not say there was no way for a plan to be created that would work, so another plan has been submitted, that addressed the issues from the first plan. The FWC also said that "the gopher tortoise" area is in violation, mainly because of the neighbors to this area. You forgot mention this because you are always writing for 12 of those neighbors, that have encroached into this "habitat."

    You also forgot to mention that Nick Nesta is the one that solicited potential buyers of the Harmon Rd property after he learned of the deal. The same Nick Nesta that has intentionally worked to undermine anything the RSR HOA board does.

    RSR has a deal, it is a private deal, that does not put the City at risk. It gets control of the golf course lands back in the hands of RSR. It ensures that those 12 will not have a homeless encampment in their back yards, and that the City will not turn the 300 acres into a homeless area.

    Wednesday, May 8 Report this

  • EAndersonPhoto

    Politics, politics. Life would be so simple if the dang politicians would stop bullying us. I include the current RSR HOA board. Reg I like your proposal and here is hoping the City moves forward.

    Happy Days,

    Papa Ed

    Monday, May 13 Report this