Developer sues after Apopka blocks affordable housing development, insists on ‘luxury’

APOPKA, Fla. — A Central Florida developer has filed a lawsuit against the City of Apopka, alleging that a restriction put on property within the city’s “crown jewel” mandating housing for wealthy individuals violates the Florida Fair Housing Act.

Southwick Commons, Ltd, a subsidiary of Wendover Housing Partners filed the lawsuit on Thursday after city leaders blocked a planned affordable housing project on the City Center site, which broke ground earlier this year.

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The plans called for a 195-unit workforce housing complex on a portion of the property close to the Hilton Garden Inn and Highland Manor. The developers said they received more than $10 million in government loans to develop the property to serve lower-income families, and the city certified that their project followed the city’s land use regulations, including abiding by the restriction against subsidized housing.

However, city leaders voted down the permit for the project in May, citing their desire to see luxury units on the site – something that was written down in the development agreement since the project was first proposed in 2006.

“We’re looking for luxury,” Mayor Bryan Nelson said. “We’re looking for people that can walk to our downtown and get a cup of coffee, and they don’t mind spending $4 or $5 or buy a beer after work or whatever.”

Another council member echoed his sentiment, explaining that subsidized housing could threaten the values of market-rate homes nearby and the feel of the community. Both comments were cited in the lawsuit.

Reached by email Friday, Nelson said he had no issues with affordable housing, just not on that property.

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“We have only one site in the entire city of Apopka that has a Developer’s Agreement (DA) that restricts multifamily housing from being subsidized,” he wrote. “All other properties that are in the city of Apopka with the proper zoning have no restrictions as it relates to affordable housing.”

While activists cheered the possibility of more density being added to the famously spread-out corner of the county, they criticized what they called coded language used by the city’s leaders and their desire to reserve the property for the wealthy.

“Luxury is kind of a coded term for what our neighborhood is defined as and who is excluded from it. We see that most with affordable housing,” Orlando YIMBY leader Maddi Lynch said. “‘Those kinds of people don’t belong in luxury neighborhoods,’ as though they will change the character [or] lower the value.”

Lynch began discussing mixed-income housing, a relatively new trend in city planning that incorporates units for different income levels within the same building.

Many cities require new developments to be designed that way. The concept was included in almost every major project in Orlando’s Creative Village, which is being marketed as a new high-end section of downtown.

“We want communities that are mixed income because we want lots of different kinds of people in our urban centers,” Lynch explained, adding that businesses needed places for workers to live. “That what is what makes a healthy community.”

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The Southwick Commons is asking the court to eliminate Apopka’s exclusionary language so it may continue developing the property.

Apopka’s city attorney said he had not been served with the lawsuit as of Friday afternoon and could not offer a response to the claims it made.

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