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CLERMONT, FL-Sugarloaf Mountain, a controversial planned mixed-use enterprise in Central Florida, just got more controversial.

Land brokers and independent urban planners in a position to know tell GlobeSt.com LandMar Group LLC of Jacksonville, a successful 14-year-old subdivision developer, has surfaced as the managing partner of Tampa developer John Reaves’ investment consortium.

LandMar, in turn, is an affiliate of Charlotte, NC-based Crescent Resources LLC, a national office developer and the real estate development arm of Duke Energy, the North Carolina utility firm that unsuccessfully tried to build a $180-million electricity plant east of Eustis in 2001. Residents convinced local government leaders to reject Duke’s rezoning application.

LandMar’s principals confirm their affiliation with Crescent on their website. Edward E. Burr, who founded LandMar in 1987, is the firm’s CEO. Roger F. Postlethwaite is the chief operating officer. M.G. Orender, is president of Hampton Golf Inc., a LandMar affiliate. LandMar became a Crescent affiliate in 1999.

The Reaves group had planned a first-quarter 2004 groundbreaking on a $1.2-billion project that would include 2,259 residences, at least one 18-hole championship-designed golf course and an undetermined amount of retail and commercial space. The original development plan by previous owners Willoughby T. Cox, a retired Orlando banker, and the Karick Price family of Miami and Orlando, envisioned 200,000 sf of commercial and 100,000 sf of retail.

But the Reaves Group missed its self-imposed, first-quarter deadline this year and have set no further tentative construction starts, brokers intimate with the project tell GlobeSt.com. However, the investors have followed through on an action that is expected to generate opposition again from local residents in south Lake County where the project is located. According to industrial real estate brokers who monitor applications submitted to the St. John’s River Water Management District–one of the most powerful environmental agencies in Central Florida–LandMar has asked the District for permission to use 600,000 gallons a day of good drinking water from the Florida Aquifer. The water would be used to irrigate the proposed 18-hold golf course and other related landscape projects at Sugarloaf Mountain. The LandMar’s water-use application has a deadline of Aug. 28 for residents to submit written opposition against the water-use application.

The Reaves group is also racing the clock to begin some preliminary construction this year, area planners not directly associated with the project tell GlobeSt.com. The reason: Sugarloaf Mountain’s second five-year development order, granted by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2001, expires in 2006 and can’t be renewed for a third time.

The Cox and Price families have owned majority interests in the Sugarloaf Mountain tract for 25 years. Area land brokers tell GlobeSt.com the families bought the former citrus grove land for no more than $5,000 per acre or about 11 cents per sf. But they sold the 1,434-acre site on the highest peak in Central Florida (350 feet) in 2002 to the Reaves group for an estimated $19.4 million or about $13,500 per acre (31 cents per sf), according to area brokers in a position to know.

Prior to doing the deal with the Reaves group, Cox-Price had offered Sugarloaf Mountain to Lake County government for $25 million or $18,000 per acre (41 cents per sf). But the county declined because they didn’t have the funds to go through with the deal.

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