In November, the City of Apopka sold a little over 12 acres of land on the corner of East Sixth Street and South Alabama Avenue to Taurus Investment Holdings for $1.92 million. It was in accordance with Taurus' contract to create the Apopka City Center. Taurus sold the property a few days later to Wendover Housing Partners for $3.25 million. Wendover planned to build Southwick Commons, a 195-unit $52.8 million affordable housing project.
But the plans for the Apopka City Center included luxury apartments, not affordable housing. Somehow Taurus, Wendover, Orange County, and the City of Apopka were unable to get on the same page about the specific intent of this project.
At its May 4th meeting, the Apopka City Council voted 3-2 against giving Wendover changes to the developer's agreement that would allow it to build Southwick Commons. Mayor Bryan Nelson, Commissioners Doug Bankson, and Nick Nesta voted against, while Commissioners Alexander H. Smith and Diane Velazquez voted in favor.
At the June 15th City Council meeting, Wendover essentially appealed the decision to the City Council, and got the exact same result - a 3-2 decision against the appeal.
Wendover's response? See you in court.
Christine Moore, the Orange County Commissioner for District 2, believes the entire process could have been handled better, and predicted a lawsuit as its outcome.
"This was an avoidable tragedy," Moore said on her Facebook page in May. "Taurus and the City could have advised Wendover against the project prior to the county and state investing $10.7 million public money in the project... we won’t get any luxury, workforce, affordable, or any new housing in downtown Apopka for a long time. And the best builder in Central Florida has been burned. I’m grieved."
And while Nelson thinks that affordable housing is important, the City Center has a different approach in mind. Nelson believes that luxury apartments will attract an income bracket that will also patronize the City Center, while an affordable housing resident may not.
"Are they going to go to Starbucks and buy a $4 cup of coffee? Are they going to go to the food hall and and buy a couple of beers and a taco? We're looking for people that can walk to the bar downtown and don't mind spending $5 for a beer after work. I think that's the intent."
Nelson also pointed out that no other parcel in Apopka has this type of luxury distinction.
"This is the only only property in the city of Apopka that has this kind of an agreement," he said. "The only one that you could pick that we could turn you down. If it's zoned for apartments, you can put affordable housing anywhere in the city of Apopka. We only have one place in Apopka that affordable housing is not permitted under the developer's agreement."
Wendover included, in its lawsuit, that the city had previously approved their plans which included housing for workers and lower-income families. Wendover is asking the court to strike down the language forbidding affordable housing in the area.