Sunday, July 30, 2006

Land's future hazy now that school interest cooled

By Jason Wermers
Originally posted on July 30, 2006

The Lee County School District has kept on buying land after backing out of a $26 million deal to purchase The Golf Club last year.

Did the loss of 175.2 acres and the potential for five schools hurt the district?

"It did not figure in the (construction) plan at all," Superintendent James Browder said. "It was something that came to us. It kind of blindsided us."

In essence, the district didn't really lose what it never had, he said.

In June 2005, The Golf Club agreed to sell its property to the school district. But a strong backlash by neighbors prompted the district to back off.

"I'm not willing to have that piece of property be the thing that splits our community," Browder said. "That's a city of Cape Coral issue, and I will fully support what the city of Cape Coral decides to do with regard to that property."

But the city, currently, has no plans to buy the property for parks, schools or any other use, city spokeswoman Connie Barron said.

Mayor Eric Feichthaler, emphasizing his role as an elected official, said he would do what he could to keep the property a golf course.

"But it is a private seller, and we cannot dictate what they do," he said.

Since pulling the deal off the table, the district has more than made up for the land it would have acquired from The Golf Club. The district bought four properties totaling 185.5 acres for $26.6 million.

It also acquired 9.8 acres at 1426 Del Prado Blvd. N. in exchange with Lee County for about 7 acres near Mariner Middle and High schools. The county plans to put a new library branch near Mariner, while the district plans to build a permanent home for Alternative Learning Center West, a school that serves as a last chance for troubled middle and high school students.

Elinor Scricca, chairwoman of the Lee County School Board, agreed with Browder that The Golf Club is a Cape Coral issue, not a school district issue.

She would not say the district has no interest in the property.

"I wouldn't rule that out as I wouldn't rule out the purchase of any land where a school may be placed," Scricca said.

Browder said the land would be used for schools only if the city bought the property and approached the district with a proposal.

"It would be a situation if the city opted to purchase the property and create some parks and such, and they felt we could be a positive partner in that," he said.