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RSR Homeowners Association Board calls special meeting to deal with FWC's warning about developing the gopher tortoise conservation area


The Rock Springs Ridge Homeowners Association Board has called a special meeting to deal with a letter it received from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) warning them against having discussions related to the development of the gopher tortoise lands.

Previously, the RSR board was in open negotiations with The Golf Group to swap the gopher tortoise lands (the 51-acre land on Kelly Park Road) for the RSR golf course lands.

In an email to RSR homeowners, the RSR HOA board wrote:

A meeting by the board for Monday night:

Rock Springs Ridge Homeowners Association, Inc.
Association News
Posted by Community Manager (Jennifer Jordan) on Mar 08, 2023 1:48 pm

Special Board Meeting - Monday, March 13th at 5pm

Please be advised that the Board of Directors will be holding a Special Board Meeting on Monday, March 13th at 5pm at the Tavern located on 625 Rock Springs Blvd, Apopka, FL 32712.  See below note from the HOA Board President: 

Dear Homeowners,
Our HOA Board is calling a special meeting to discuss the February 3, 2023 letter from Florida Fish and Wildlife and to take required action as directed by FWC.  Sorry that we could not give you more advanced notice, but action is required immediately.

Burt Fairchild, President.

It was also posted on an outdoor calendar on the RSR property:

The Rock Springs Ridge HOA Board called a special meeting for Monday, March 13th
The Rock Springs Ridge HOA Board called a special meeting for Monday, March 13th

According to the FWC, the letter, dated February 3rd, was received by Inframark, the RSR HOA Management Group, on February 21st.

In its letter to Fairchild, the FWC was clear that it wanted RSR to end any negotiations involving the gopher tortoise lands.

"Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff received notice that the Rock Springs Ridge Homeowners Association is involved in discussions related to the development of ORA-085 (the gopher tortoise conservation area)," wrote Jennifer Goff, Deputy Director
for the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Lands for ORA-085 were acquired with funds received through the FWC Mitigation Park Program and granted a perpetual conservation easement to the FWC with the intent of permanent conservation. As such, the FWC intends to maintain its interest in the permanent conservation of ORA-085.

Perpetual conservation easements are an important tool for conservation, and release of a perpetual easement requires a thorough evaluation of the mitigation being proposed in exchange."

The February 3rd letter followed a November 2022 site visit by the FWC that turned up multiple violations on the gopher tortoise lands.

In the 18-page document, the FWC wrote:

"The purpose of this site visit was to evaluate damage from a retaining wall collapse and conduct opportunistic compliance monitoring of three of the four Rock Springs Ridge easements (i.e., ORA-054, ORA-036, and ORA-085) (Figure 1)," the FWC writes in the report. "The retaining wall borders several parcels within a development outside of Rock Springs Ridge HOA that falls adjacent to ORA-036. After Hurricane Ian, the retaining wall collapsed and fell within the boundary of conservation easement ORA-036 (Figure 2). Without repair, the retaining wall will likely further collapse into the easement and cause additional impacts to the protected habitat. The extent of soil erosion from the retaining wall collapse necessitates the use of heavy equipment to repair the retaining wall (Figure 3). It is not feasible to repair the retaining wall from the adjacent parcel; instead, the repair will require temporary access to the easement. A potential route of access through ORA-036 for heavy equipment was evaluated during the site visit, and it was determined that no tortoises or burrows were present within the area at that time."

Several other compliance issues were identified and discussed during this site visit:

  • A lot has been cleared within easement ORA-036, where fencing, a swimming pool, and a pool cage have been constructed. Cleared habitat has been sodded with nonnative turfgrass

  • Large amounts of household trash and debris are present

  • Concept plans to develop 273 additional housing units within ORA-085 have been presented to the city of Apopka. Perpetual conservation easement ORA-085 prohibits development.

  • Public access and off-highway vehicle (OHV) use within easements ORA-036 and ORA-085.

  • Subdivision of 6 lots within easements ORA-036 and ORA-085 apparent along Sand Wedge Loop.page1image60003968page1image60004160

  • An entrance to a potentially occupied gopher tortoise burrow was obstructed by a survey marker within ORA-085. Numerous other burrows within this easement were also marked with orange flagging tape.

  • Lack of habitat management within (420) Other Hardwood and (421) Xeric Oak has resulted in unsuitable habitats through most of the easements. The introduction of invasive species within ORA-085 has caused significant habitat degradation.

    "The majority of habitats within easement ORA-054, the western area of easement ORA-036, and the eastern area of easement ORA-085 have succeeded in closed canopy successional hardwood forest due to the failure to implement habitat management. This habitat is not suitable for gopher tortoises, and neither tortoises nor their burrows were observed within successional hardwood areas. Still, significant patches of suitable habitat remain where mowing appears to have occurred on a regular basis. These patches demonstrate that the easements offer conservation value, and the application of remedial steps discussed in this site visit form can help realize the full conservation potential of these properties."

Despite the urgency expressed by the FWC, Fairchild seemed optimistic about working with the FWC to release the easement of the gopher tortoise lands.

"On Tuesday, February 21st, 2023, Rock Springs Ridge HOA held our regularly scheduled monthly Board meeting attended by Rock Springs Ridge homeowners," Fairchild said to The Apopka Voice. "At this meeting, several announcements were made regarding our RSR community (subjects of which Rock Springs Ridge homeowners have a vested interest in).  Since you have asked, you may share the following RSR homeowner information with your readers based on the following announcement made at our last HOA Board meeting: "Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) will work with the Rock Springs Ridge HOA, Esler Golf Designs, LLC, and the Golf Group to review and approve the creation of a new and significantly improved Gopher-Tortoise Conservation Area from that currently located on the 51.13-acre Kelly Park Road property (i.e., the land area known to FWC as ORA-085 referenced in Ms. Goff's letter).  If the proposed solution is acceptable to the State (FWC), a new Gopher-Tortoise Conservation Area will be submitted to the FWC for review and approval.  Once State Approval has been secured, an Application to the City for Project approval will follow. So as you can see, Rock Springs Ridge HOA will soon be sending a mitigation proposal to FWC, and FWC will then have to decide if the easement release request we submit for ORA-085 will be approved."

The meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 13th, at 5 pm at The Tavern property - 625 Rock Springs Boulevard.

Rock Springs Ridge, RSR Homeowners Association Board, The Golf Group, Gopher Tortoise Conservation Area, FWC, RSR


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

  • MamaMia

    The soap opera continues.....

    Thursday, March 9 Report this

  • Richard

    Truly the greater concern should be for the Blue Sink natural spring. If the city allows this to happen, it will further threaten our Rock Springs Run and Wekiwa River. John Land protected those areas from further development. Stop this now Nelson and Planning Commission.

    Thursday, March 9 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Richard, The state agencies have control over releasing conservation easements for development. If the state approves the land to be developed, where the tortoises are now, then it would go before the planning commission, and finally go before the Apopka City Council for approval. Mayor Nelson and the planning commission of Apopka cannot stop this now, as you call for. It goes to the state agencies for approval or rejection.

    Thursday, March 9 Report this