CLERMONT, FL-Sugarloaf Mountain, one of the oldest and most controversial planned mixed-use ventures in Central Florida, is back on the table as landowners Willoughyby T. Cox and Karick Price prepare to meet in January with Tampa investor John Reaves to map the project’s first development stage since it was conceived 10 years ago.

In the controversy’s newest wrinkle, Lake County commissioners have decided not to appeal Gov. Jeb Bush’s Oct. 31 decision. That ruling gives the landowners another five years to develop the enterprise, either with Reaves or another third party. The previous five-year development deadline expired this year.

Reaves, a former quarterback at the University of Florida and later with the Tampa Bay Bandits in the defunct United States Football League (1985), has contracted to buy the 1,433 acres from Cox and Price at an undisclosed sum. A development strategy by Reaves and his associates was awaiting the county’s appeal decision. That hurdle has now been passed.

The planned $1.2 billion venture is in a high-profile public recreation area in south Lake County, 30 miles west of Downtown Orlando. At 355 feet high, the tract is the tallest pile of dirt in Central Florida. Environmentalists have fought the venture since 1992.

Lake County land brokers familiar with the Sugarloaf Mountain area, which once housed profitable citrus groves, tell on condition of anonymity the Reaves contract is for at least $20,000 per acre or a total $29 million.

The Florida Public Land Trust, a conservation group, appraised the land three years ago for about $7 milion or $4,885 per acre (11 cents per sf). Area brokers largely discount that appraisal as being unrealistic in today’s booming industrial marketplace.

South Lake activist groups now are talking about offering Cox and Price $11.5 million or $8,025 per acre (18 cents per sf) if the landowners will break their contract with Reaves. couldn’t reach Willoughby, Price or Reaves at publication deadline for comment on their next development strategy.

The county’s strategy, however, is clear. Commissioners will try to soft-peddle their desires to have Cox and Price reduce the number of planned single-family and multifamily units, already approved by the state, to about 700 from the original 2,434 units.

That action, however, is hardly realistic or profitable from the property owners’ viewpoint, brokers intimate with the developers’ desires tell on condition of anonymity.

“These people (Cox and Price) have put considerable time and money into this venture and they at least want to come out of it with something to show for their efforts,” an Orange County real estate lawyer not associated with the Sugarloaf project tells condition of anonymity.

Besides the shelter component of the project, Cox and Price had also planned 175 condominium units and two 18-hole championship golf courses. Orlando golfer Arnold Palmer has contracted with Reaves to build the courses at an undisclosed development cost.

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

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