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CLERMONT, FL-Lake County commissioners are considering making an eleventh-hour attempt to buy the controversial 1,433-acre, 350-foot-high Sugarloaf Mountain tract, 25 miles west of Downtown Orlando. The county failed to to buy the dirt a year ago.

Now elected officials have 12 days to make a purchase offer to the Orlando families of retired banker Willoughby T. Cox and former Miami property owners Karick and Stephen Price.

Commissioners want the land for a public park but the owners have been trying to develop the property, either themselves or through third parties, for the past 10 years as a planned $1.2 billion, mixed-use enterprise.

If they can convince the owners to sell before Oct. 30, Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet will not have to rule on a disputed five-year development order extension given to the owners by a state judge in July.

Residential activist groups and environmentalists want Bush and the Cabinet to overturn the judge’s ruling and bar the owners from further development activity on their own land.

The owners hadn’t received an offer from Lake County up to GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline. The county previously estimated the 1,433 acres had a fair market value of about $7 million or $4,885 per acre (11 cents per sf).

The dispute between residents and the developers has been raging, on and off, for the past 17 years. The Prices have owned 500 acres of the 1,434-acre property for 60 years, initially developing the dirt as an orange and grapefruit grove.

Cox-Karick had envisioned a mountain-top community of 2,259 single-family homes; 175 condominium units and apartments; two 18-hole golf courses; and an undetermined amount of commercial and retail.

At one planning juncture, the developers considered building 200,000 sf of commercial and 100,000 sf of retail but protests from environmental and residential groups convinced them to scale down the effort. The planned buildout is 20 years.

Sugarloaf Mountain has been used for decades by area bikers, hikers, picnickers and for other outdoor recreation uses. It’s the highest peak in Lake County. But there are no paved roads leading to the site and no water, sewer or electrical hookups immediately in place for a large-scale residential/commercial undertaking, environmentalists argue. For that reason, They contend the location should remain a natural, non-commercial site for public enjoyment.

The owners maintain they still have the property under contract to sell or develop and denying them a development extension order at this time would be a financial hardship.

An investor group headed by John Reaves, a former University of Florida quarterback, was interested in the deal at one time. Reaves couldn’t be reached by GlobeSt.com at publication deadline.

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