CLERMONT, FL-Lake County commissioners have never had a formal vote or even a discussion on a suggestion by environmentalists who would like to see the county end a 10-year development controversy by buying the 1,433-acre Sugarloaf Mountain tract and use it as a public recreation area, government staffers tell on condition of anonymity.

Political sources who stay in touch regularly with the commission tell that even if Lake County elected officials had voted to buy Sugarloaf, there isn’t sufficient funds to make the purchase, even with grants from the financially-strapped state and non-profit organizations such as the Florida Trust for Public Land.

“These people are just whistling Dixie,” a political consultant following the controversy tells on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jeb Bush’s staff today drafts a recommendation on the controversial development status of the property which is 25 miles west of Downtown Orlando. Bush is scheduled to rule on the issue by Oct. 30.

Anti-development groups want the governor to overturn a state judge’s ruling in July and bar commercial and residential development at the rural site which stands 350 feet above sea level and is Central Florida’s tallest piece of raw real estate.

Administrative Judge Donald Alexander in Tallahassee gave the landowners a five-year development extension after the owners’ nine-year development order expired. Lake County earlier had rejected the extension request, as previously reported.

While commissioners have started no formal talks on the possibility of buying the dirt, officials at the Trust for Public Land, a non-profit land-conservation group, confirm they have contacted Orlando land owners Willoughby T. Cox and Karick Price to discuss possibilities of a sale.

But published accounts that suggest the trust formerly appraised the 1,433 acres for about $7 million or $4,885 per acre (11 cents per sf) are inaccurate, real estate lawyers not associated with the controversy but who are following its progress tell on condition of anonymity. They suggest the dirt’s value would be at least twice the published figure.

Meanwhile, Tampa broker John Reaves and an investment group have the land under contract to buy at an undisclosed sum. Reaves, Cox and Price couldn’t be reached by at publication deadline to learn whether the contract is still valid.

Sugarloaf Mountain overlooks Lake Apopka between Country Road 561 and County Road 455, near Clermont and Montverde, FL in south Lake County.

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