ORLANDO-Surgarloaf Mountain stands 323 feet tall near Clermont–hardly a mountain at all by global standards, but in table-flat Central Florida, the site stands out like a beacon.

Now the estimated $1 billion commercial-residential venture planned for Surgarloaf for the past nine years may evaporate because the developers still aren’t ready to turn the first spade.

The project’s owners, the Price family and former banker Willoughby T. Cox Jr., are fighting to get a five-year extension on a mandatory state order for a Dec. 18 ground-breaking. Without the extension, the developers say they will have no other options but to walk away from the project for good.

That would satisfy area residents and environmentalists who have fought the enterprise since it was announced in 1991. They argue the planned 2,434 home development with two golf courses and 120,000 sf of commercial space is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Arnold Palmer’s golf course-building company is an investor in the project.

Lake County commissioners will consider the developers’ request at a Sept. 26 public hearing. Local politics has clouded the path of the project since its inception. A close vote is expected, either approving or rejecting the ground-breaking extension order.

Real estate and political sources who have followed the venture’s travails over the years figure commissioners Bob Pool and Catherine Hanson, a realtor, will vote for the extension. commissioners Richard Swartz and Rhonda Gerber, longtime foes of the project, will vote no, but both are retiring from the commission Nov. 21.

Newly-elected Jennifer Hill, backed by local home builders, replaces Gerber. Either Debbie Stivender, a developers-backed candidate, or Gena Swartz, wife of Richard Swartz, will take over his spot. Swartz and Stivender meet in an Oct. runoff race. Stivender and Hill are considered pro-Sugarloaf backers. The fifth commissioner, Welton Cadwell, remains a question mark.

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