After the city of Apopka was sued for denying an affordable housing project, a judge sided with the developer and determined that the city was violating state statutes by not allowing the product on land reserved for its city center.
In the months that followed that December court ruling, the city still has not granted permits to Wendover Housing Partners for its 192-unit Southwick Commons project and the mayor has launched an effort to strip the project of its state funding. Now, the Altamonte Springs-based developer is threatening more litigation.
The Florida Housing Finance Corporation approved $10.8 million in loans and tax credits in 2020 for Wendover’s Southwick Commons project. That included $7 million from the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) program. According to state documents, the project calls for five units to be set aside at 22% of the area median income, 30 units at 30% of the AMI, 120 units at 60% AMI, and 45 units at 80% AMI.
The loan commitments were set to expire Dec. 29, but Wendover was granted a six-month extension to complete the underwriting because of delays from the city. Now the June 29 deadline is coming up, and Wendover can’t get their loans without a permit.
“In order to meet our funding deadline, we need permits prior to June 15, 2023,” Rebecca Wilson, an attorney representing Wendover with the Lowndes Lawfirm wrote in an April 7 email to city planning staff. “If the city continues to delay and deny the (master development plan) we will have no choice but to add damages caused by delay as an additional claim to this litigation.”
On April 25, Mayor Bryan Nelson sent a letter to the state housing agency asking that they “do the right thing” and deny Wendover funding for its project.
In the letter obtained by GrowthSpotter, Nelson points to a development agreement the city inked with an entity titled Taurus Apopka City Center LLC in 2020. The agreement stipulates that all residential apartments or townhomes within the city center shall be developed as luxury or upscale rental or condominium dwellings and shall include the following features: ability to access Wireless High Speed Internet Access in the units, balcony or porch, walk-in showers, energy-efficient appliances, full-size washer and dryer machines.
Nelson said in the letter that Wendover purchased the land from Taurus a full year after going under contract to buy the property.
“Wendover had the opportunity to look at the Developer’s agreement and the luxury amenities that are required. They either failed to read the document or worse figured they could intimidate the city into caving on the luxury amenities that are spelled out in the developer’s agreement,” the letter reads.
It continues: “The City Center is our crown jewel of Apopka with restaurants, shopping, and even an upscale supermarket in the planning stages for this 34-acre site. Wendover could flip the property to one of several luxury apartment builders eager to build on this site and pocket more than a million-dollar profit.”
Nelson states in the letter that the city lost in court on the issue of subsidized housing but the rest of the developer’s agreement which includes luxury amenities remains intact.
The developer asked to change the language of the developer’s agreement to allow Southwick to move forward, but the commission denied the request by 3-2 vote.
“We in Apopka fully support Affordable Housing and we are working with Orange County to bring a 103-unit single-family and duplex community to the Apopka community,” Nelson wrote. “We are just asking that you, the Florida Housing Authority, do the right thing and deny Wendover Housing the funding for this project if they continue to whittle away at the design elements which could result in an inferior product in the city under the guise of affordable housing.”
He requested in the letter that the FHFC board remove a consent agenda item from its Aug. 28 meeting regarding the Southwick Commons project. The agenda item related to a waiver filed by Wendover requesting that the total number of units be changed from 195 to 192. The item was not removed from the board’s agenda.
Ryan von Weller, chief operating officer with Wendover Housing Partners, used public comment time during Wednesday’s city commission meeting to reference the letter and lambast city leadership for stalling the approval process for the project.
At the May 3 meeting, Wendover Housing leaders requested that the project be put on the agenda of the May 17 meeting. It ultimately wasn’t.
One matter that needs commission approval is the design of balconies for the affordable housing units.
Von Weller referenced state statute that forbids discrimination in land-use decisions whether based on race, national origin, gender, disability, religion or “the source of financing.”
“Your city has already been found to be discriminating in land-use decisions based on this statute,” von Weller said, referring to the December court ruling. “In the 23 years since this statute was adopted, Apopka is the only municipality in the state of Florida with the gall to challenge this very clear directive. Is it the city’s objective to go to court again for delaying permitting of this project? If our permitting process for Southwick Commons continues to be delayed, injunctive relief will be sought.”
As for the mayor’s letter to the state’s housing authority, von Weller called it an example of “outlandish and egregious” overreach.
State statute “is designed to stop nonsense like this at the commission and resident level regarding affordable housing and your mayor took it upon himself to lobby against this.”
Wilson with Lowndes said in the April 23 email to city staff that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has opened an investigation into the city’s handling of this project
At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Nick Nesta noted that the commission voted on May 3 to have this item placed on the May 17 agenda.
He moved to have it brought forward at the next meeting, scheduled for June 7.
“This kind of plays into the narrative of the applicant,” Nesta said. “We are slightly delaying this now that I can directly see. Let’s not delay this any longer.”
Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at (407)-800-1161 or dwyatt@GrowthSpotter.com. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.