The site of the now axed Automall along Orange Camp Road.

Whatever happened to the Automall, a multistory car dealership planned on the border of Lake Helen and DeLand?

Well, currently, the plan is for houses instead of cars.

The Lake Helen Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission took a dim view of the proposed plan to amend Lake Helen’s comprehensive plan to allow the project once known as the Automall to build more than 400 residential units instead.

The Automall was always an unusual project, partly in DeLand, and partly in land annexed into Lake Helen. The idea was to build retail and other commercial development on DeLand’s side, while Lake Helen would host up to 11 car dealerships. After much ballyhooing (at one point, DeLand sued Lake Helen), the details were finalized.

But then, the COVID-19 pandemic happened.

Attorney Rob Doan of Cobb Cole, who represents I-4 Automall developer Brendan Hurley and I-4 Automall LLC, told the Lake Helen City Commission in April 2021 that the Automall project was dead.

The only thing that makes financial sense, Doan argued, is residential: a mix of apartments and town homes. 

According to a financial report ordered by Lake Helen, the value of the residential project could be up to $90 million, providing half-a-million in added ad valorem taxes yearly, and adding 1,000 people to Lake Helen’s population of roughly 2,900. 

First, however, Lake Helen’s comprehensive plan, the guidebook for the city’s planning, would have to be amended. As of now, the only thing the property can be is auto sales and related uses.

Convincing the PLDRC is the first step, although the PLDRC is merely an advisory board of volunteers. The Lake Helen City Commission will make the final decision.

The developer faced an uphill battle at a Lake Helen PLDRC meeting Jan. 23.

“The one thing that we were counting on is this commercial area to help relieve some of the tax pressures that we have to impose on our citizens,” PLDRC member (and Mayor Cameron Lane’s wife) Teresa Lane, said. “Why would you not put all of the commercial on Lake Helen’s side, just out of respect?”

Doan said the commercial tenants or buyers will call the shots.  

“Well, who should pay for it? Because here’s the problem: It’s not us who decides what the retailers and the restaurants and the gas stations want, or what they’ll pay for,” Doan replied.

Hurley outlined the struggles he has had.

“My name is Brendan Hurley. I’m the misfortunate owner of this property for seven years now,” Hurley said. “Unfortunately, disastrously, COVID came along, and one by one by one by one, all of my contracts fell through — every single one of them. It was a disaster. There is no single person in this room that would want that Automall to be built today.”

His tale continued.

“I hired an expert firm, an internationally acclaimed real estate firm to market this property from everywhere, all the way to Dubai, and anybody in between, that would buy this property, and we have not been successful with any type of buyer, other than the multifamily,” Hurley said.

The current plan for the project, now titled “Orange Camp Pointe,” would have two developers creating 152 two-story town homes and 300 apartment units, that could be in buildings up to five stories tall.

Hurley and his attorney took issue with a staff report by city planner John Patterson, of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, who was hired to produce a recommendation based on the residential plan. 

Patterson’s recommendation was to deny the request for several reasons: The Lake Helen Police Department would have to expand, millage rates would remain high because of a burden on municipal services, and the development would be out of scale with Lake Helen. 

In the report, Patterson wrote, “From a developer perspective, this change is beneficial, as it would bring maximum financial return in the current residential real estate boom being seen across the country. However … this text amendment would allow development which, from an economic perspective, would not be in the public welfare of the citizens of Lake Helen.”

Doan answered.

“I can tell you this, Mr. Hurley gets every possible penny and everybody that buys this dirt: If they overpaid by 50 percent, he’s still going to have lost a significant amount of money on this project,” Doan said. “I don’t think we’re supposed to be opposed to people getting a return on their investment in America.”

Hurley added his perspective.

“I keep hearing well, we’d much prefer to have commercial,” Hurley said. “Well, I’ve done the math, and I just did it on my phone: If you put four restaurants in there and a hotel, you would get less revenue, ad valorem, than you would from the single multifamily building, not including the town homes. And that’s a fact.”

He continued, “What we should be complaining about with Lake Helen is, my bag of gold is too heavy. That’s what should be happening here. There is no boom in real estate. It’s very challenging there. There are deals falling backwards all the time. And I’m fearful that this is going to be one of them if something doesn’t happen, and there isn’t some indication of a possibility of it actually happening.”

Hurley’s passionate pleas were to no avail. The PLDRC voted 5-1 to recommend that the Lake Helen City Commission deny amending the comprehensive plan to allow Hurley to proceed with residential development.

The City Commission’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Thursday, Feb. 9. Potentially, the Automall-now-housing plan will be on the agenda. 

City administrator takes fire

Brendan Hurley didn’t mince words in criticizing Lake Helen City Administrator Lee Evett’s involvement in the Automall development.

Hurley estimated that he has lost the equivalent of Evett’s annual salary, $170,000, every month.

The losses, Hurley said, were exacerbated by Evett’s mishandling of paperwork, and misrepresentation of paperwork requirements, causing delays, a charge Evett denied.

“I’m passionate about this, because I’m the guy that’s had to pay the bill. And I’m one of the largest taxpayers in Lake Helen, I might add, and I’m paying his $170,000-a-year salary. Who else in Lake Helen is making $170,000 a year? Not me. I’m losing that in a month,” Hurley said.


  1. So he made a stupid investment in an auto mall that no one wanted, and now he wants to develop that area into more houses, which no one wants, and cry about the hundred of thousands of dollars lost – let me get out the tiny violin.


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