Log in
Rock Springs Ridge

RSR Homeowners Association Board's claim of having conservation easement released runs counter to FWC's response


Is the Rock Springs Ridge Homeowners Association Board close to finalizing a deal to swap the gopher tortoise conservation lands on Kelly Park Road for the golf course lands owned by the Golf Group? Has the conservation easement on the gopher tortoise lands been removed?

If you listen to the RSR HOA, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson, or City Attorney Michael Rodriguez, it would appear this deal is moving forward. But according to the FWC, they have a long way to go.

And without the easement being lifted, the land swap cannot advance.

At a November 15th HOA meeting, RSR Board member Michelle Chase said the land swap was near closing.

"So we do have an update on the golf course," Chase said. "So currently, the attorneys are working on the contract, so they are officially moving forward. From here, my understanding is it's going to move very quickly. The turtle easement has already been approved for removal. So that part is done. So it's just a matter of getting the offer contract from the Golf Group. Hopefully, it's very similar to the LOI, but they did all the due diligence. So we don't know yet, but I do know that that much as far as the easement is already approved to be removed very quickly. So once we get the sales contract and it's signed, the next step will be they will submit their development plan to the city of Apopka. And if the terms are the same as the LOI, as soon as the preliminary approval is given, we will close in 30 days - early February or March."

But according to the FWC, not only is the conservation easement not approved for removal, but no application or even an inquiry from the RSR HOA or the Golf Group has been received by their office.

"I have not received an easement release package for consideration of release for a Rock Springs Ridge easement from Michelle Chase or anyone else," said Katherine (Gentry) Richardson, Ph.D., who is the Gopher Tortoise Program Coordinator at the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation for the FWC. "No one from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission [the Agency holding the interest in the real property] has issued any approvals or assurances since no applications have been made."

About a month later, on the RSR NextDoor social media page, Chase responded to a question about the land swap.
"At the last 2 HOA meetings, we did share factual updates. One was that the Golf Group is moving forward with us. Last week we did attend a meeting at city hall to learn the zoning process and ways to protect the PD. Several great suggestions were discussed as to how to allow density on the 51 acres, how to ensure that number is capped and how to direct the density to one location the 51 acres. As of today, we are waiting on the official sales contract offer. Once received, we will schedule a HOA meeting and share it with the community."
Nelson's remarks at the December 7th Apopka City Council meeting seemed to confirm what was discussed at the meeting the day before between City officials, members of the RSR HOA Board, and The Golf Group.

"We're trying to put it together," said Nelson. "We are getting close to some kind of agreement [between] the golf course owner [and] the RSR HOA, and we should have something to look at... maybe by the end of the year. So basically, nothing's really changed. It's just how we do it. It's the 51 acres that they'll develop in a swap for the golf course land. I think there's some money to change hands going toward the HOA. What we're trying to do is come up with a conservation easement over some of the golf course lands to mitigate the turtles that are on the 51 acres."

Rodriguez reiterated Nelson's summary.

"So the HOA has proposed that a portion of the golf course area, which is not going to be used for golf purposes in the future, will have a conservation easement placed on it, which will prohibit any type of construction... any type of anything," said Rodriguez. "And that area that will be subject to the conservation easement will be the receiving area for the relocated gopher tortoises."

Rodriguez also referenced the idea of providing City-owned land for the potential mitigation process.

"There is also the possibility of a portion of City property [that] can also be used for... we would be using some area that's ours to have a receiving area as well," said Rodriguez. "So the total acreage of receiving area would be consistent with what the state needs to be the receiving area for any gopher tortoises that are found and then relocated, pursuant to state regulations."

But mitigating lands that are already deeded as conservation easements goes far beyond finding a parcel to move gopher tortoises. Here is just a part of the easement's language:


"Acceptance of conservation easements by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is a transfer of property rights intended to protect and conserve habitat for wildlife in perpetuity. Perpetual easements are commonly provided for mitigation and conservation purposes to offset impacts. When a landowner grants FWC an easement, it is understood that the transfer of title interest is permanent and that both parties to the easement understand the intent is for permanent conservation. As stewards for wildlife, FWC accepts these permanent easements, understanding that the habitat will be permanently protected from development or as otherwise specified in the easement."

But Richardson took it to another level of difficulty as it applies to the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Area on Kelly Park Road.

"The purpose of the easement in question was to ensure that protected and/or uplands preserve areas shall be used as conservation areas," she said in an email to The Apopka Voice. "This easement was recorded in 2002 as a way to mitigate for taking of gopher tortoises before the current relocation permitting process was implemented. Under the current relocation permitting process, tortoises must be relocated out of harm’s way from development to permitted recipient areas instead. The only time a gopher tortoise easement has been “reversed” is when an ITP (Incidental Take Permit) was voided, and no action was taken under that permit."

But in this case, an ITP does not apply.

Richardson had a short response about how many times the FWC has reversed an easement.   

"In our experience, it has been rare."

The second half of Chase's post on NextDoor was a response to a meeting called by Nelson on December 13th by email to a select group of RSR homeowners, only to be canceled the next day.

"The Mayor's meeting is not only premature but the place of the HOA to discuss with the residents," Chase said. "We appreciate the Mayor wanting to share information, however, it should be factual, as discussion ideas are just that. We have been told a sales contract will be sent to us next week. If we receive [it] next week, we will schedule the HOA meeting, possibly just before or after Christmas. Should the terms be acceptable and voted by the majority of the board at that time, very shortly after execution, the application to rezone and allow density on Kelly Park (51 acres) will be submitted (probably January if all goes smooth). There are many rumors floating already, such as the city is giving us Anton. The city is not giving RSR or the golf group Anton. Anyone is welcome to reach out to us if there are any questions. Happy Holidays."

The Apopka Voice sent questions to the RSR board about the easement and the meeting Nelson called, and then canceled:

1. Can you provide [a] document that confirms "the turtle easement has already been approved for removal"?

2. Can you send any correspondence with The Golf Group that confirms they are moving ahead and are close to sending you a contract or the actual contract?

Chase responded to the first two questions by citing the protocol for a public records request.

"Thank you Reggie for reaching out," Chase said. "As you are probably aware, there is a records request procedure/policy for members of the association to obtain official HOA documents. I am not the custodian of HOA records."

3. What updates or news did Mayor Nelson receive from you (the board) that caused him to call a meeting with residents?

4. What new information did Mayor Nelson receive to then cancel the meeting the next day?

Chase's response? Ask Nelson to tell you what the board told him. 

"The Board is appreciative of Mayor Nelson and his staff for their willingness to answer board questions and assist in scheduling the appropriate personnel to assist us when requested," Chase said. "He should be commended for his continued follow-up in his Apopka communities. You will need to reach out to the Mayor for his responses, as I cannot answer for him or manage his schedule." 

Editor's Note: The Apopka Voice sent a follow-up email to Chase and the board shortly after her responses to the first set of questions:

1. To follow up, are you acknowledging that there is a document from the FWC or the State of Florida clearing the 51-acre parcel from [conservation] easement status?

2. What did you [the board] tell Mayor Nelson that made him call for a meeting... or are you saying he called it based on his own knowledge without any updates from the board?

3. Why did he cancel the meeting [the next day]? Did anyone on the board suggest the cancellation?

Neither Chase nor any other RSR Board member responded to the follow-up questions by the time of publication, which was 24 hours after the email was sent to them.

Rock Springs Ridge, City of Apopka, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson, The Golf Group, RSR HOA Board, RSR Golf Course


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here