Osceola County settles lawsuit with developer over Hanover Lakes project

Osceola County Commissioners this week unanimously approved a settlement with the developer of Hanover Lakes that allows the 543-home boating community on Alligator Lake to proceed without delay.

The vote came Monday, less than two months after the principals of Hanover Capital Partners sued the county over its actions in the spring aimed at halting the planned boat lift and boat ramp.

In their May 26 complaint, Hanover Lakes Partners argued that the county had illegally singled out the project, costing the developer $100,000 a month in losses and a potential $16.5 million in damages. The lawsuit also accused the county of violating Florida Sunshine laws and refusing to turn over public records, including commissioner emails related to the project.

Hanover Vice President Steve Orosz told GrowthSpotter the county never filed a response to the complaint, but rather immediately sought to settle the case.

"We were pleased that everyone understood the situation and that we were able to amicably resolve the dispute in a way that it's a win-win for the county and the developer," Orosz said. 

The dispute with the county delayed the project by roughly eight months, Orosz said. Hanover suggested making the boat ramp site a public park as a proactive solution to address the county's environmental concerns, he added.

As part of the agreement, the county will buy the boat lift site for $625,000 (to be paid over five years) and will issue park impact fee credits totaling $533,000 to the developer. 

Hanover President Bill Orosz had voluntarily removed the Alligator Lake boat ramp and reduced the boat lift from a double-lift to a single-lift back in March, in hopes of allaying commissioner concerns over the environmental impact to the lake.

Commissioners voted 3-2 on March 20 -- against the advice of their county attorney -- to reject a developer agreement with Hanover for the project, even though the county had already approved the Preliminary Subdivision Plan and Site Development Plan -- and even though it was fully permitted by the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The March 20 vote came in front of a packed room of Alligator Lake-area residents who opposed the project and supported a moratorium on all new construction on the chain of lakes. The settlement, by contrast, was a last-minute addition to Monday's consent agenda and was approved with no discussion or public input.

Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr., who lives on Alligator Lake, was a driving force behind a new county ordinance regulating boat lifts, ramps and marinas that was approved Monday. He told GrowthSpotter back in March that he wanted to stop any more projects like Hanover Lakes from being approved.

"It's called keyhole development – where a developer has hundreds of acres of uplands and they have a small sliver of land on the lake where they put in a boat lift to provide access to hundreds of boaters," Hawkins said. "I don’t think it’s good development, and I think it’s a disservice to those who actually own lakefront property."

Steve Orosz said his group would resume horizontal construction immediately at Hanover Lakes, and should be completed during Second Quarter 2018. The community will be constructed over five phases with the first two phases concurrent. 

Orosz said he doesn't anticipate a huge public demand at the park, since it would offer no direct access to Alligator Lake. And it shouldn't impede homeowners' access to the lake.

"The park will have a pavilion with picnic tables and a small public parking area," he said.  "The park will maintain native vegetation, and will be a nice amenity for the community."

The boat lift will have the capacity to transfer about 25 boats per day from the community's 45-acre internal pond to Alligator Lake. Hanover vice president Matt Orosz said the family is confident the amenity will be a major draw for the boating community -- especially in light of the county's new restrictions on boat lifts and ramps. 

"It should be more than sufficient capacity to handle demand," he said. "It's a unique component, and there's not going to be much of it going forward, so it will drive demand."

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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