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Apopka Range War: Wendover pushes back on City's handling of Southwick Commons development


The feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families took place in the Appalachian Mountains between 1863 and 1891. The fight attracted nationwide attention, ignited generations of bitter grudges and resentment, and included not only police intervention but also that of governors and the Supreme Court.

In Apopka, there is a range-war of a different sort.

The Hatfields and McCoys in this saga are Wendover Housing Partners and the City of Apopka - namely Mayor Bryan Nelson. The skirmishes took place in an Orlando courtroom and Apopka City Hall, but the primary battlefield is a little 12-acre plot of land on the corner of East Sixth Street and South Alabama Avenue. The City sold it to Taurus Investment Holdings in November 2021 for $1.92 million. Taurus sold it a few days later to Wendover for $3.25 million. Wendover planned to build Southwick Commons, a 195-unit $52.8 million affordable housing project.

But a funny thing happened on the way to its completion. 

Somehow, Taurus and the City of Apopka were not aware of the project being affordable housing and blocked Wendover from moving forward.

Southwick fought back in court and won.

But then Nelson went to Tallahassee to get Wendover's funding pulled.

Now, almost two years into the drama, there is still no resolution.

Wendover COO Ryan von Weller took a turn during public comments at the City Council's May 17th meeting to berate the City for keeping the development from moving forward. His expectation was to discuss the project during the meeting as an agenda item.

"I appreciate you giving me the four minutes since your staff apparently unilaterally determined was not really an agenda item this evening," Weller said. "So thank you for your time. I want to start off by reading a state statute... it is unlawful to discriminate in land use decisions or any permitting or development based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, familial status, religion, or except otherwise as provided by law, the source of financing of a development or proposed development. Your city has already been found to be discriminating in land use decisions based on the statute. In the 23 years since the statute was adopted, Apopka is the only municipality in the entire state with the gall to challenge this very clear directive."

After Weller exceeded his four-minute time allotment for public comments, Nelson interrupted and gavelled down Weller until he finished his remarks.

Not adding Southwick as an agenda item was not the only surprise Wendover experienced. A letter from Apopka Community Development Director Jim Hitt about "fake" balconies also caught them off guard.

In his letter, dated May 16th to Wendover, Hitt writes:

"After reading your previous email and discussing the plan status with staff and the DRC, we’ve decided on the following course of action, which coincides with your email:

As of the latest City Council meeting on May 3, 2023, the current plan still had a few items that the developer team is working to clean up, but it’s still the MDP.  City staff brings CSP to City Council just for presentation and information, not approval, per the DA.

As you mentioned in your email, the balcony issue is not something that Council should be deciding on.  Therefore, in accordance with the LDC, this issue AND interpretation is mine and DRC’s to decide.  At this last  Wednesday’s DRC meeting (5-10-2023), the DRC voted unanimously to deny the substitution of a Juliet Balcony for a normal, outside-usable balcony.

I’ve attached the balcony definitions and uses sheet (from Wikipedia) that I had sent before.

It’s very interesting to note that a French Balcony or Juliet Balcony is also described as a false balcony.  Made for safety, not actual use.

What is a Juliet balcony vs. a balcony?

Juliet balconies are false balconies or railings on the outer plane of a window opening. Juliet balconies give the appearance of a balcony while not protruding off the building.

Since the original DA amendment intended to include balconies (and porches), I continue to require them for all units.  I have not altered this stance since that first request by City staff to include them.

I’ve endeavored to get this behind us, but the delay is not on our part.  The plans have always been reviewed in the normal time allowances.  The sooner the MDP site plans are updated and demonstrate a truly useful space for a balcony, the sooner the DRC can approve them."

In response, Weller questions most of Hitt's facts, particularly about the "fake" balconies. IN a letter also dated May 16th, Weller writes:

"I believe your correspondence is riddled with several inaccuracies. You cite Wikipedia as definitive source material on a balcony’s definition. Wikipedia is a community-edited document that has no bearing on your city code or any other legal agreement. This clearly erroneous source states, “Juliet balconies give the appearance of a balcony while not protruding”. Please take a look at the drawing below that CLEARLY shows our proposed balcony protruding off the building.

This drawing, along with the full set of architectural drawings for this development, has been in your office for weeks now. If you had bothered to take even a cursory look, you would see the below drawing included. You keep insinuating that we are proposing a Juliet balcony to circumvent your staff’s personal interpretation of “balcony essentially”. We are not. A Juliet balcony may have been proffered as a potential solution back in 2022, but we have certainly not maintained that position. Our balcony is not “Juliet” or “French” by any metric. It has a door that opens to it. It protrudes from the building. If the term “Juliet” is mentioned in any of our documents, it is an unintentional remnant and will be removed. We have scoured the documents and do not see that reference, but it may be there by mistake.

You go on to assert, 'At this last Wednesday’s DRC meeting (5-10-2023), the DRC voted unanimously to deny the substitution of a Juliet Balcony for a normal, outside usable balcony.' I was at this meeting, as was counsel. We do not recall a formal vote of any kind taking place on our submittal. Please provide meeting minutes, audio, or video or a roll call vote being taken on this issue. Otherwise, please retract this statement formally.

Finally, in an email dated 5/8/23 to staff and the applicant team, you state, “Balcony - As part of the Development Agreement for the project, the units were also supposed to include balconies, and at this time, they are only proposing a Juliet Balcony. P&Z staff does not believe it follows the intent of an outdoor functional open space. 

Despite your assertion that staff and/or others have not unduly slowed this project, I vehemently disagree. We formally request that the balcony item be heard by City Council tomorrow evening, 5/17/2023 and that this project’s full review of all remaining drawings is undertaken simultaneously."

Wendover founder and CEO Jonathan Wolf also questioned the City's process as it applied to the Southwick development.

“We are deeply disappointed with the actions, and inactions, the City of Apopka is taking regarding Southwick Commons. The City is flagrantly ignoring an Orange County Circuit Court ruling by continuing to inhibit the permitting process for this affordable housing community – all while the Court is still considering a pending motion to determine the amount the City will have to pay for damages and legal fees.  Leading up to and during the City of Apopka’s Council Meeting on May 17th, staff, on record, purposely misinformed the City Council on multiple items pertaining to Southwick Commons’ permitting efforts. This seemingly coordinated attempt to delay our permitting and approvals is in direct conflict with Florida Statute 760.26 and the newly adopted Live Local Act.” 

No, it may not be a shooting conflict like the Hatfields and McCoys, but the animosity between these two groups is apparent. And the next round is tentatively scheduled for the June 7th Apopka City Council meeting. Hopefully, the two parties can come to a resolution before the matter returns to further litigation. The last thing Apopka needs is a modern-day range war.

Wendover Housing Partners, Southwick Commons, Apopka City Council, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson, Apopka City Center


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

  • MamaMia

    Coming from Ocoee heading toward Winter Garden, there where the old drive- in movie was torn down, there are some nearly new apartments. The sign states Winter Garden Luxury Apartments. They.are fairly tall apartments, but their balconies are nice. Some have potted plants, and outdoor type chairs on them. They look very nice. I don't think they are the Juliet balconies, according to what I am hearing, that the Juliet balconies are more like a ledge, to look like a balcony. What would be the purpose of those? I don't know who the builder was of the ones at Winter Garden. When I saw them being built, I had my doubts, as to what in the world, were they going to look like finished, but they do look very nice. They are very close to the road, and railroad tracks. Looks way too close to the railroad tracks! IMO

    Friday, May 26, 2023 Report this

  • wheresthepopcorn

    Can't wait for the next commission meeting!

    Friday, May 26, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Wheresthepopcorn, I find the chaos, and all the entire scenario sickening, of the current council meetings. Can't say I enjoy, or look forward to watching and listening to it, anymore. I listen, to keep up with what is going on in the city. I long for back to the days, when Mayor Land kept it going like it should be, in the city council meetings. He gaveled people too, and also would stop arguments by different people, and tell them, "enough", you will be removed, if you keep on, that we are not going to have this here, end of story. Of course people called his administration a regime. He would not of put up with a lot of this stuff that has been happening, like arguing with the attorney, disrespecting him, and saying F***you, and the other commissioners disrespecting him, and the staff, as well. that is for sure. He stopped some by gaveling and saying this is a civil matter, and not business for up here. I heard him say and do that to two people, screaming up there at each other calling each other liars. Mayor John Land ruled!

    Friday, May 26, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Hatfield's and McCoys? Mayor Nelson won an axe throwing contest once, so he might start throwing the gavel, the next city council meeting ...haha LOL

    Friday, May 26, 2023 Report this

  • Richard

    There is a simple resolution. What does the City of Apopka Land Development Code define as a balcony ? If it does not define a balcony, you cannot use Wikipedia lol. Stop with costing the taxpayers with litigation money and give them the permits before we get sued again. Take this as a learning experience, and amend the LDC the way staff and the community want it. Yes involve the community in any LDC changes. Because staff obviously doesn’t know.

    Friday, May 26, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    About the Hatfield and McCoys.....former State Representative, Jennifer Sullivan, used to have town hall meetings at Apopka City Hall for people to visit, and meet with her about their concerns of state happenings. I went to visit her, to let her know my concerns that the state is overburning our state's forests, too often. I didn't expect to make much of an impact, none the less, I tried. Jennifer Sullivan didn't show up, but her aide was there, and I talked with her about my concerns She was a nice young lady, and I read her name tag, and she was a Hatfield, and I remember kidding her about being a Hatfield. We had a good laugh...lol

    Saturday, May 27, 2023 Report this

  • Nodcenter

    Shame on everyone in this process. This development is meant to raise the up the neighborhood, not bring it down. Building Low income apartments in this depressed neighborhood will only bring it down further. This will completely destroy the City Center. Everyone knows it, including Wendover. This is another political stunt, and Reggie's continued attack on the Mayor at the expense of the citizens of Apopka. Apopka is trying to rejuvenate downtown Apopka, to make it a place that people want to be.

    Let me ask this question. Why is Wendover so insistent on building Low income housing in an area designated for luxury apartments? Why is anyone supporting them on this?

    Saturday, May 27, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Nodcenter, I will try to answer your last paragraph question, because done of the city's representatives will answer on here. I would literally fall out if they did. Wendover gets funding, big $$$$$$, to help finance the low income apartments, from the state. I could be wrong, but with luxury apartments, I believe the funding source to build, would come from Wendover's private investors. Anyway, it is always, whatever the mayor wants, there are those who want the opposite, good or bad, just to be in opposition of the mayor....that's why.

    Saturday, May 27, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Taurus Group is the one that made out like a rose, by flipping the land so fast, after purchasing it from the city. I think it was about 2 days later, that they sold the 12 acres to Wendover, over double the purchase price from the city. Yeah....Wendover wanted a site that was highly walkable, and bikable, and near bus lines, near grocery stores, and other amenities. That is what they saw as great for their apartments. They didn't want to stick the apartments on the outskirts of the city, where there was nothing for their apartment dwellers to access. Got to keep in mind, both sides visions.

    Saturday, May 27, 2023 Report this

  • Richard

    Nodcenter, as hard as they try it will never be a viable, walkable downtown center. When you throw a Winn Dixie and a chain restaurant in the mix with apartments and one of the busiest intersections in Central Florida, the vision has been lost. There was a 2025 Visioning Plan that was completely discarded by this administration. Thus we will have apartments, parking lots, grocery store, and a traffic nightmare with all the tenants living in the apartments on Alabama and 6th Street, and the apartments that will be built between the Winn Dixie and Dairy Queen.

    Sunday, May 28, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    That vision plan is in a big book at the Apopka Library, if anyone wants to look at it, that hasn't. Mayor K wanted a walkover across 441, and a gateway, "Welcome to Apopka" to join the two sides together as one city center. Like the crossover walk we have now at Dunkin Donuts, or similar to that one. I went to the visoning meetings. They had our citizens writing down our ideas of our visions for a city center, what we liked, and what we didn't like, but that company from south Florida, already had their plans made. It was just a formality to ask what we, the citizens, wanted. Orange County is putting in 2 million, I understand, along with the state, for these affordable low income apartments. It was on an Orlando Sentinel article from Feb. 2023. I could see some of the article, but not much, because I don't subscribe anymore to the Sentinel. Wendover is also building low income apartments in Pine Hills. The Coalition for the Homeless lady spokesperson, said she was excited, and had a waiting list, and could fill all of the units, that is what she said. 195 units...I think that was from a Sentinel article too, because I previously read it, awhile back. Also Mayor K discussed eminent domaining peoples' properties near the city center, if the city needed additional land, or a possible parking garage or other expansions. Facts.

    Sunday, May 28, 2023 Report this