ORLANDO-Golf legend Arnold Palmer plans to develop two 18-hole championship golf courses atop the planned Sugarloaf Mountain mixed-use project in rural Lake County, 25 miles west of Downtown Orlando.

Palmer is talking with Tampa broker and former pro quarterback John Reaves who has had the 1,433-acre property under contract for two years. Reaves played with the Tampa Bay Bandits in the defunct United States Football League in 1985.

Palmer and Reaves couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline to learn if the 72-year-old Palmer, a multimillionaire, will also have an equity interest in the entire project or will build the courses himself at an undisclosed estimated cost.

But a recreational land-planning group’s estimator in Orlando tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity class A courses that qualify for national and international tournaments usually are constructed for about $50,000 per hole. That would put the Palmer project alone at $1.8 million.

The disclosure of Palmer’s plans by Cecelia Bonifay of Akerman Senterfitt Eidsen, the lawyer for Orlando property owners Willoughby T. Cox and Karick Price, comes as environmentalists and other activist groups hope to persuade Gov. Jeb Bush and his Cabinet to rule against the venture on Oct. 30 in Tallahassee.

The commercial-residential enterprise has been planned for 17 years at a projected buildout cost of $1.2 billion and a construction timeframe of 20 years.

Cox-Price received a five-year development extension on the project in July from a state judge. Project foes want Bush to overrule the judge’s decision and bar the owners from further development on their own property since they haven’t turned a shovel on it in 10 years.

If the governor stops the project, Palmer’s plans would be sidelined. Lake County commissioners then would try to persuade Cox-Price to sell the tract to the county for a public park and recreation area. The Florida Public Land Trust appraised the 1,433 acres in 2000 at $7 million or $4,885 per acre (11 cents per sf).

Cox-Price couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline to learn the Reaves contract price or if the property owners would even consider selling their land to the county. A longtime area land broker tells GlobeSt.com a sale to the local government is unlikely, particularly at 11 cents per sf.

“If I were a betting man, I would say the governor is going to let the extension on the development order stand, which means the Palmer deal would go ahead with the Reaves investment group,” the Orlando broker tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

Cox-Price 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. The developers dropped the commercial/retail aspect after residents besieged elected Lake County officials to reject the project completely last year.

When the county pulled the plug on the venture, the developers appealed to the state. Administrative Judge Donald Alexander, a Bush appointee, overturned the county’s ruling.

The dispute between residents of nearby Montverde, Fl and Clermont, FL has been raging for the past 17 years. Karick and Stephen Price, formerly South Florida property owners, have owned 500 acres of the 1,433-acre property for 60 years They initially developed the dirt as an orange and grapefruit grove. Cox, a retired banker, partnered with the Prices 10 years ago.

South Lake county residents are especially incensed with the project since existing zoning allows the construction of only one home per five acres. With that ratio, the Sugarloaf property owners would only be able to build 287 homes, instead of a total 2,434 units, residents maintain.

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