Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A heartfelt thank you to all

Dear neighbors & friends,

Thanks to all of you able to attend the meeting yesterday. The statement we made was clear and respectful.

Please take a moment to email our council woman, Mrs Bertolini to thank her for hosting the town hall meeting. Also the mayor and council members. If you were able to watch the end of the meeting last night it was made very clear they are NOT in favor of changing the land use.

They also did not roll over (voting NO) to the developer seeking to build commercial amid residential (zoned AG) homeowners on Sand & Janis. They listened intently to the 7 or 8 residents who spoke and voted no to the zoning change. Imagine 400 of us taking our turn at the mike if that day ever arose.

The council should help the homeowners now by sending a clear message to the Siler group that across the country owners have to sell businesses when they can't afford them and take their losses.

Lastly, I encourage you all to be patient and wait it out, government seems to be on our side. Our city leaders need to understand we are willing to wait for Siler to reduce his price in order to find a buyer to keep the course. Our only request is to keep it fire safe & mowed.

Thank you all again.

Kindest Wishes,

Council, residents debate future of The Golf Club; council member’s proposal to use property for a park, limited development runs into resistance

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 — Time: 1:19:17 PM EST

By DMITRY RASHNITSOV, drashnitsov@breezenewspapers.com

Several council members expressed their views on what to do with The Golf Club property, but only Cape Coral Mayor Eric Feichthaler got a round of applause from more than 150 people in attendance during Monday afternoon’s city council committee of the whole meeting.

“I am not in favor of changing the land use anywhere in the golf course property with the exemption of in or around the clubhouse,” Feichthaler said. “Too add more residential stock is the last thing we need.”

District 1 Councilmember Tom Hair began the discussion with a proposal to “grant limited development rights on part of The Golf Club in exchange for the dedication of the remaining land as a central park.”

Hair showed a map constructed by him and his daughter outlining what possible residential or commercial development could look like with green space acting as a buffer zone between current residents and the proposed shops and houses.

“I suspect some of you don’t like my idea,” Hair said to the crowd in council chambers. “The surrounding residents get a vast improvement over what they have behind their houses now.”

Hair said the city could use the added biking and jogging paths, and tax revenues from the developed land would increase profits for the city and surrounding homeowners would see the value of their property shoot up.

“All I’m saying is this is one idea in the spectrum of ideas,” Hair said. “This is more high-end stuff. This is clean commercial.”

District 4 Councilmember Dolores Bertolini presented the results from the town hall meeting held last week where more than 200 residents said they wanted a resort hotel with convention center and championship golf course on the property. Those same residents wanted to see a public-private development partnership when it came to the land.

Hair insisted the resort hotel idea is not feasible.

“A couple of developers have looked and wanted to take a pass on it,” he said.

Bertolini and Feichthaler refuted his arguments.

“My first instinct would be to preserve the entire property as a green space,” Bertolini said. “A vote on a hotel-convention center and golf course is the proper direction. Somehow the private sector needs to make this happen.”

Feichthaler said the city needs to help prove the process along.

“We need to direct staff to begin looking for a possible buyer,” he said. “We could become a premier destination hotel and golf course.”

Most of those in attendance live in Banyan Trace, 4005 Palm Tree Blvd., and wore green construction paper on their lapels to show unity in the fight to keep a golf course in their yards.

“That’s why we bought there, because it was a golf course,” said Glenda Henderson, who said she is prepared to sell her condominium and move if any type of development occurs on the property. “That is the main attraction for people in Cape Coral.”

One resident is willing to let the property sit vacant for 10 years instead of putting anything else on it.

“We will wait as long as it takes,” said Terry Thomas, a four-year resident of Banyan Trace. “There should have been a guarantee that the golf course remains a golf course.”

Thomas disagrees with Hair’s assessment on the current condition of the land.

“It’s nice to sit there and relax,” he said. “People are using it as a park today. It’s not sitting, it’s not abandoned, it’s not a blight.”

Thomas said every day he sees people fishing in the lake, taking walks down the old fairways and skateboarding on the sidewalks.

Feichthaler suggested a former professional golfer could afford to come in, buy the area and restore it back to its glory days.

“It can be the social center of our city that it was many years ago,” Feichthaler said.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Cape limits its help to golf course owners

By Don Ruane
Originally posted on February 26, 2007

Assistance from the city's economic development office is all the help Cape Coral will provide to help the owners of The Golf Club find a buyer.

The course closed in July and the owners have been unable to reach a deal with anyone yet to sell the course.

Mayor Eric Feichthaler proposed the city do more to help find a buyer, but he ran into opposition.

The search should be done by the owner, but it is in the city's best interest to get something going, Mayor Eric Feichthaler said. "We need to take some sort of proactive stance to make something happen."

“I don’t agree the council for the city of Cape Coral should be the real estate agent,” Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini said.

The mayor said he doesn't want the city to be the real estate agent.

"We have not given staff adequate direction in this matter,” Feichthaler said. "All I'm trying to do is give the staff a little direction.

The staff already works with potential buyers, City Manager Terry Stewart said.

Feichthaler also opposed changing the regulations to allow the course to become a residential development.

“I am not in favor of changing the land use anywhere on the golf course property except for the area around the clubhouse,” Feichthaler said.

The property is owned by Florida Gulf Ventures LLC, which has been trying to sell the property. The course closed last July and was mired in debt. It was the first course in the city, with its first players teeing off in 1961. The course once was a center of social and business events as well as a place for golf.

“The owners are asking too much for the property if there are no private sector buyers willing to come in,” Councilman Chris Berardi said.

Residents Ray and Dee Borkowski, who live along the sixth fairway, said they agreed with the mayor’s proposal.

There are more than 200 hotel rooms downtown and plans for hundreds of condos, said Dee Borkowski, 76.

“I would think a golf course would be a big draw for selling all of those condos,” Dee Borkowski said.

“The city needs some sort of recreation for all the people coming down here,” added Ray Borkowski, 80.

The asking price of around $23 million is too high for the city to consider, according to Councilman Tom Hair. However, he proposed the city try to acquire enough land around the course to create a park-like buffer with jogging and biking trails.

His proposal also would allow the development of shops near the clubhouse and the construction of condominiums on the golf course side of the buffer.

“We need to come up with an idea to make this place look nicer than it is now. Right now it’s a dump,” Hair said.

His plan would raise the city's income from taxes and improve the value of surrounding homes, Hair said.

Bertolini said she is opposed to Hair's plan and thinks it is too expensive to develop.

Bertolini said she prefers a solution favored by residents at last Wednesday’s townhall meeting on the topic.

Residents said they wanted a combination of city and private sector financing to develop a hotel, convention center and golf course.

Many residents hoped the city would buy the course and keep it for golf or for a city park. The council ordered two appraisals to help it decide what to do.

The appraisals set a value at $28 million if it is used for residential purposes and about $13.8 million if kept as a golf course.

Resident Brian Whitehouse still hopes the city will buy the property and restore the course to its “past grandeur,” he said in a Feb. 22 letter to the city.

“Should you chose not to, it will go down in history as the biggest mistake our city council ever made,” Whitehouse wrote.

Cape council to discuss plans for golf course

Originally posted on February 26, 2007
This afternoon could prove to be a pivotal moment in the future of Cape Coral's first golf course.

City council members meet at 3 p.m. to discuss whether the city should buy all or part of The Golf Club.

The Golf Course discussion will be held during a workshop session. No votes or public input is taken during workshops. But the council could direct the staff to take action on any consensus reached during the workshop when the council meets in regular session at 5:30 p.m.

The city's options include waiting for the current owners or a new owner to bring forth a proposal. Or the city might partner with a private developer to work out a plan.

The Golf Club closed last July after becoming mired in debt. The first golfers to play there teed off in 1961.

More than 200 residents indicated on Feb.. 21 that they want the city to find a private sector partner and create a combination hotel, convention center and golf course.

Mayor Eric Feichthaler proposes a golf resort developed by a high-end hotel chain.

Councilman Tom Hair proposes the city buy enough of the course to create a green buffer area with bike and jogging paths between adjacent homes and the course. The remainder of the course could be developed with shops and condos by a private investor, according to Hair.

But The Golf Course isn't the only topic that could draw an audience today.

Also on the workshop agenda are discussions on expanding Four Freedoms Park and the proposed master plan for the Cape Coral Yacht Club.

Tonight's regular meeting agenda includes making a decision on starting the design work to provide water, sewer and irrigation lines in the Southwest 6 and 7 areas.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Meeting of The Whole PLAN TO ATTEND


• What: City council workshop
• Topics: The Golf Club
• Where: City Council Chamber, City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.
• When: 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26
• Public input: Not permitted, but meeting is open to the public

Guest Opinion: Thomas Hair

Here's a plan for Cape Golf Club
Create a public park, with limited housing

Originally posted on February 24, 2007
I write this column to explain my thoughts on the fate of the Golf Club, hoping it will be beneficial in spurring a productive and non-adversarial discussion on the issue. During Monday's Committee of the Whole Cape Coral City Council meeting I intend to bring forward a scenario I feel offers the best possible near-term solution to the currently untenable situation. I come to this conclusion based upon a simple fact:

Economically, a golf course will not work. It did not work for the present owners and it will not work for any potential buyer at a price the current owners are willing to sell for.

After numerous and lengthy discussions with the current owners I have come to realize that they are unwilling to sell the property at the golf course appraised value of $13,775,000. This is a number I find too high and they find too low.

If we tried to move forward with condemnation the land would, by law, revert to its highest and best use. That only makes the land more expensive and also makes it unlikely grant money could be used to help offset the cost, not to mention condemnation in this situation would be a gross abuse of governmental power. So, this puts us at an impasse where the land could quite literally sit for years. If that were to happen it would have a negative impact not only on the surrounding property owners, but on the entire city.

The city needs additional quality park land and to keep this property on the tax rolls, we all need to see this blight removed from our midst, and the Golf Club owners need the support of city residents and a plan of action from council.

Therefore, I propose that we move forward with a cooperative agreement between the city and the owners to create a large-scale linear park containing bike and jogging paths that would run the entire perimeter of the property and some interior spaces while allowing limited development of several residential enclaves within the proposed park along with some shopping or dining at the site of the original clubhouse. I think of it as a mini-Babcock Ranch proposal where we retain large amounts of open space, so as not to crowd the surrounding homeowners, while also providing for recreation that will benefit all of our citizens.

These residential enclaves would allow the owners to cleave off and sell the remaining land to the city at a greatly reduced cost while giving them the peace of mind they need to move forward. We get our central park, we increase the tax revenue on the remaining land, we get new dining and shopping venues, and the Golf Club owners are satisfied as well.

If this plan, or something similar, emerges as a consensus during our discussions on Monday, then I would suggest that council direct the city manager to enter into formal discussion with the Golf Club owners to negotiate the details of implementing this plan. I have requested that the owners' representative prepare a proposal that meets their expectations while satisfying ours and he has agreed to do this expeditiously. With both sides working toward a common goal we should be able to come to a solution that satisfies all involved. I subscribe to a Navy adage I paraphrase here, "A good solution today is preferable to a perfect solution some indeterminate time in the future."

Thomas Hair represents District 1 on the Cape Coral City Council.

Proposed hotel not workable, Cape told

Golf Club owner offers alternative plans

By Don Ruane
Originally posted on February 24, 2007
Based on experience, trying to build a hotel, convention center and golf course at The Golf Club won't work, the course's owner said Friday.

Business people have looked at that, said Scot Siler of Florida Gulf Ventures LLC.

"There's no interest. The economics of that don't work," Siler said.
But Cape Coral City Councilman Tom Hair's idea for the city to buy enough land for a buffer zone for homeowners and to let the private sector buy and use the rest for shops and restaurants might work, Siler said. More specific details and price negotiations are needed before commitments can be made, he said.

Park land, though, costs more than golf course land, Siler added.

The city's role in the land's future is on Monday's 3 p.m. workshop agenda for the city council.

More than 200 residents said at a Wednesday town hall meeting they prefer the hotel-convention center golf-course project. The residents also wanted a combination of city and private funding to pay for their project.

The 175-acre course closed last July.

Mayor Eric Feichthaler said he wants a developer such as a high-end hotel chain to buy the land, add a convention center and keep the golf course. "I want to have a discussion on how best to achieve that goal," Feichthaler said.

"We've always wanted to work with the city," Siler said. "The sooner we can share a vision and make it happen the better it is for the whole community."

He has acknowledged the course's role in the city's history. It was the first golf course in Cape Coral and its clubhouse was a center for social and business occasions.

Two appraisals were ordered by the city to help the council decide whether to buy the course. They set the land's value at $28 million for residential uses and about $13.8 million for use as a golf course.

The Lee County School District wanted it for five schools, but when the public protested in 2005 it pulled its offer of $26 million.

The course on Palm Tree Boulevard is nearly surrounded by single-family homes.

Lois Hohman, who lives east of Del Prado Boulevard, asked Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini by letter last week to invite the district to buy the property. Parents and the district would benefit from the cluster of schools, she wrote.

"I feel strongly that our city should not be involved in the sale or development of the former golf course," Hohman wrote. "All of the residents of Cape Coral are involved, because any decision involves not only the tax money for initial purchase, but also a continuing expense that I feel will be pouring money into a losing proposition."

Thursday, February 22, 2007



• What: City council workshop
• Topics: The Golf Club
• Where: City Council Chamber, City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.
• When: 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26
• Public input: Not permitted, but meeting is open to the public


Majority want The Golf Club to be hotel, course; meeting uncovers growing consensus among residents for future of property

By DMITRY RASHNITSOV, drashnitsov@breezenewspapers.com

A loud, standing room only crowd mostly agreed The Golf Club needed to stay a golf course with a hotel and convention center added on, during a town hall meeting on Wednesday night.

Of the more than 250 people in attendance at the meeting called by District 4 Councilmember Dolores Bertolini, less than 20 took a dissenting opinion.

“It would be very nice if they had a hotel there with all the amenities,” said Mildred Murphy, a 20-year resident of Cape Coral. “If you look in the southeast area of Cape Coral there’s hardly any open space.”

Bertolini was surprised by the large crowd — even once joking the fire marshall may come in and ask people to leave — but she was even more shocked those attending came to a consensus.

“I was first shocked that that many people came out and I was surprised in the end that they could all come together because they seem to be fractured with so many ideas, and they all came together on that one issue,” Bertollini said. “The mood has changed a little from the way it was last year. Last year they didn’t want anything there but the golf course. Now they are saying they would like a convention center, hotel, et al.”

Most residents who got up and spoke in the very densely packed Cape Coral Association of Professional Realtors building supported keeping a golf course in some facet, whether it came with a hotel or not. Also, those in attendance agreed the city should have a hand in the development and form a public private partnership.

City of Cape Coral Economic Director Mike Jackson said he is not allowed to disclose any information about negations between a business and the city.

“Private businesses do their business in private,” Jackson said. “In reality this is between the seller as a private sector person and the marketplace. Nobody can force them to do anything.”

City Manager Terry Stewart did allude to a possible private developer coming in to purchase the land for a hotel/golf club resort.

“There has been someone that has expressed an interest,” Stewart said. “We cannot tell you who it is. That would be a wonderful thing to happen, that would probably help solve all these dilemmas.”

Ten-year Cape resident Fred Nuzzy thinks the city can make some money off of buying the land and then reselling it to a resort developer.

“I’d like to see it stay as a country club,” the homeowner whose property is 500 yards from The Golf Club said. “Also if they’re selling part of it off, so the city isn’t responsible, put a hotel in there. I think that would add to the value of the property and also offset some of the cost of running the club.”

Nuzzy said he would have no problem with the added traffic associated with a destination resort.

One person in the minority thought the city would make a big mistake if it went with the majority of the citizens.

“I wouldn’t want to see the city do that, I don’t think that’s the chief criteria for this development,” said Phil Parsons, a 5-year resident of the Cape. “Just a golf course would be a mistake to do with the city funding. They should use it as a park for kids and general recreation.”

Parsons, who lives near the Midpoint Bridge, thinks people would benefit more if the land is left undeveloped.

“This city doesn’t have enough parks at all for general recreation,” Parsons said. “I understand people want a golf course. There’s gotta be a way to do both.”

Bertollini will take the results of the town hall meeting and present them to the other members of the city council during the committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 26.

She said it’s time for the city to do its part to resolve the matter.

“We have to do something or the land sits there and everyone loses the value on their home,” Bertollini said.

Meeting of The Whole


• What: City council workshop
• Topics: The Golf Club
• Where: City Council Chamber, City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.
• When: 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26
• Public input: Not permitted, but meeting is open to the public


Keeping Golf Club green key to plans
Cape meeting aired ideas for closed course

Originally posted on February 22, 2007
Two separate but similar proposals for the city of Cape Coral's future involvement with what once was its oldest golf course are set for discussion by the city council.

Both call for a public-private partnership to keep some green space on the The Golf Club, a 175-acre city landmark.

Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini, backed by more than 200 residents residents who attended a townhall meeting she hosted Wednesday night, intends to tell council that residents want a combination hotel, convention center and golf course.
In a memo earlier Wednesday, Councilman Tom Hair said that he will propose a city-owned, 100-yard-wide perimeter of green around the former golf course with housing and a restaurant on the inside.

The council has a 3 p.m. workshop scheduled for Monday to talk about whether the city should get involved in the privately owned property. No vote is scheduled.

Bertolini met with residents for about 90 minutes at the Cape Coral Association of Realtors building at 918 S.E. 46th Lane.

So many people showed up for Bertolini's meeting that the fire department stationed a ladder truck outside the building as

a precaution. City Manager Terry Stewart stopped the meeting at one point, declared the crowding dangerous and gave evacuation instructions just in case.

Bertolini said she underestimated the turnout when she booked the meeting room.

Other council members did not attend the session, citing concerns about violating the state's Sunshine law. The law prohibits them from discussing matters they might vote upon with other council members outside of official meetings.

Resident Paul Elia, 80, and Save the Golf Club founder Mary Neilson agreed with Bertolini that the session was productive.

"I got to learn about the feelings of other people. Most of the people here tonight have feelings like mine," said Elia, who prefers a golf course.

"It's a good step forward. We've got people talking again about the future of The Golf Club," Neilson said.

Hair's proposal is likely to keep the conversation going.

The buffer in his plan would be a park with bike and jogging paths. Restaurants and condominiums would be allowed within the perimeter of the park, Hair said.

"If we can squeeze half the land out of them for $4 million or $5 million, that would be the way to go," he said. The course is owned by Florida Gulf Venture LLC.

His proposal isn't perfect for people who live next to the course but would help the whole city, Hair said.

"We're not doing it just for them. We're doing it for everybody. We can't have an eyesore in the middle of the city," he said.

The city council agreed last year to have two appraisals done before making a decision on whether to buy the property. One appraisal said the land is worth $28 million if it is put to residential use. The second said it's worth $13.8 million if used as a golf course.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Updated: More than 200 people attending golf club meeting
Originally posted on February 21, 2007
7:31 p.m.

During a show of hands poll, the audience overwhelmingly backed a use that includes a hotel, convention center and golf course.

The audience also indicated that a combination of city and private investment should be used to acquire the property.

Bertolini is thanking the residents for attending the townhall and urged them to attend Monday's 3 p.m. workshop.

The council will probably set another date to make a decision about its course of action.

7:27 p.m.

Several residents are asking the course be converted to a park.

Resident Helen Glover said the city should consider how times have changed.

“There are drugs. There are predators. If we’re going to open a park of such a large area it better be well guarded for our children,” Glover said.

Some participants talked about different to acquire the costs.

People who own property along the course might buy an additional piece of land, suggested Palm Tree Boulevard resident Pablo Banderas said.

State laws would make it very expensive for the city to acquire the land, Stewart said.
Courts usually set the price at the highest and best use, which would be residential, Stewart said.

An appraisal requested by the city looking at the property for residential uses set the value at $28 million.

7:03 p.m.

“It is a council decision. It’s a community decision. We have to wrestle with the dollars,” Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pohlman said.

Parks can increase property value, he said.

“I stand ready to work with the council and this community to determine what can be done,” Pohlman said.

The city will need another golf course for the public when the city builds out, Pohlman said.

There are grants worth as much as $6 million that the city could apply for, Pohlman said.

The meeting is being interrupted to resolve fire safety issues.

Access paths are blocked, by the audience, creating a dangerous situation, City Manager Terry Stewart said. Fire fighters are stationed just outside the building to help if something happens, Stewart said. He is giving people instructions on how to evacuate.

No one is being asked to leave.

7 p.m.

Two men with opposite views energized the audience.

“The golf club should remain a golf course,” said a man in a red shirt, who drew applause.

"My question to use is where do you think we’ll get the money to buy this,” Bertolini said.

Another man came forward and said, “As a taxpayer I would not like to revitalize the golf course. It could be revitalized for schools,” His comments drew loud opposition from the crowd.

Bertolini reminded the audience everyone has a right to their opinion and that she might stop the meeting if unpopular opinions are not respected.

6:33 p.m.

The Cape Coral fire department is not allowing any one else into the building, which has reached its capacity. More than 200 people are in the room.

Bertolini said a fire inspector is on his way and may ask some people to leave. Members of the audience are squeezing closer together to clear the aisles.

6:30 p.m.

More than 150 people are packed in the Cape Coral Association of Realtors building for tonight's townhall meeting on the future of The Golf Club.

Extra chairs are being set up, but people are still standing around the edges of the room.

5:58 p.m.

Councilman Tom Hair plans to present a proposal at Monday’s city council workshop to create a 100-yard-wide buffer owned by the city around the course to protect adjacent property owners and allow development elsewhere on the property.

The buffer would be used as a perimeter park with bike, and jogging paths. Mixed use development would be allowed within the perimeter park, Hair said.

3:36 p.m.

A large turnout is expected at tonight's townhall meeting on the future of The Golf Club in Cape Coral.

The 6:30 p.m. meeting was called by Cape Coral Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini, whose district includes the property. The city is trying to decide whether it should try to purchase the 175-acre property for use as a golf course or a park. The council is expected to talk about the club next Monday.

"I want to hear from the residents. I want to present everyone's views. There are varied opinions," Bertolini said.

Many residents around the edge of the course want the city to buy it and keep it as a golf course. They protested in 2005 when the Lee County School District tried to buy the course and use it for five schools. The district withdrew its offer.

"The residents of Cape Coral remain determined to preserve this treasure for today and generations to come. The daily emails and phone calls I receive prove to me their commitment has not wavered," said Mary Neilson, who organized a group to save The Golf Club.

Bertolini said she has heard from many residents. Some are environmentalists who want to keep it green space, Bertolini said. Another person suggested calling the school district to see if it is still interested in the land for schools.

Tonight's hearing is being held at the Cape Coral Association of Realtors building in Club Square. The address is 918 S.E. 46th Lane. go to news-press.com for updates throughout the meeting.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007



Hosted by; Dolores Bertolini

Where; Cape Coral Association of Realtor Building (rear entrance)
918 SE 46th Lane (Club Square)

When; Wednesday February 21, 2007 6:30-8:30



Guest Opinion: Burt Saunders
The News Press Monday February 19, 2007

Florida Forever needs more money for future
We're losing the battle to development

No one disputes the fact that Florida's population will continue to grow rapidly. More land will need to be developed to meet the housing, transportation and other needs of this growing population. If we do not do more to preserve our natural environment, we risk losing those wonderful environmental assets that have attracted all of us to this great state. For 17 years, Floridians have benefited from one of the nation's greatest conservation programs, Florida Forever, with many beautiful areas of Florida protected, forever, from development.
But times have changed. Today, Florida Forever is actually losing the battle to rapid development. The current $300 million annual budget today buys only a fraction of the land that it did in 1990. That's why it is so important that we at least double Florida Forever funds to $600 million annually.

Florida's population is approaching 18 million, and that number is expected to double in the next 50 years. A recent report, "Florida 2060: A Population Distribution Scenario for the State of Florida," published by the nonprofit 1000 Friends of Florida, outlines what Florida will look like in 2060, if we do not do more to protect our environmentally sensitive areas. The conclusions of the report are startling.

Southwest Florida is booming, and is expected to be completely built out by 2060. This will cause an almost continuous band of urban development along the southwestern coast, with population spillover into adjacent inland counties.

We welcome economic growth and the diversity of life that makes Florida so great. However, we must make sure that we do not degrade irreparably our quality of life. We need to provide more access to our beautiful beaches, lakes and rivers. And we need to help young and old alike discover "natural" Florida through parks, trails and open spaces. An increasing population equals more development and less land available for preservation.

I am proud to have been involved in passing the original Florida Forever Act when I was a member of the House of Representatives. However, we need to acknowledge that today's program is not adapting to the current needs of our rapidly growing state.

We need to better preserve today's land for tomorrow's Floridians. Accelerating the budget for the next 10 years — to $600 million from $300 million — will do that.

Florida Forever is ingenious in two ways: through the documentary stamp tax, it ties funding for land protection directly to real estate transactions. Development, in essence, pays for conservation. In addition, Florida Forever recognizes that the special places we buy today will also benefit future generations. Through bonding, future Floridians and future park users help pay for these environmentally sensitive lands.

As ingenious as it is, Florida Forever is simply underfunded. Land prices continue to rise, and with 1,000 people moving to Florida each day, the amount of space we have for recreation, or for simply enjoying nature, is dwindling. Groups including the Trust for Public Land, Florida Recreation and Parks Association, and The Nature Conservancy have documented that billions of dollars will be necessary to protect the acreage necessary to balance the population growth that we know is coming.

It is imperative that we act now. The dip in real estate prices is temporary. If we don't take this opportunity to increase Florida Forever funding and purchase future parks and natural areas now, they will be lost forever. You can support this by calling or writing to legislators to voice your concern for the future of Florida's natural environment.

— State Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, represents District 37

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Fate of closed golf course to be discussed at town hall meeting


Two large trucks full of chicken and ribs stood at the entrance as people crowded into the newly built clubhouse. The champagne poured, and for that New Year’s Eve night in 1967, the few residents who purchased memberships attended the opening of the Cape Coral County Club, the new golf course constructed in the middle of a not-so-densely populated town.

“It was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous,” recalls Grace Raso, whose husband Joe became the first club champion that year. “We didn’t even have to pay anything in the beginning.”

Now-a-days it should be celebrating it’s 40th birthday, but Cape Coral’s first premier facility sits vacant, a shadow of its former self.

“It tears me apart,” said Paul Sanborn, the first general manager of the course. “It was always so beautiful and now it’s devastating.”

The property sits on Country Club Road between Palm Tree Boulevard and Wildwood Parkway where many homes and condominiums overlook the once lush greens
It’s current owner, Scott Siler, closed the property down in December 2006 after incurring almost $4 million in losses in the five years he owned the property. It was owned by the Avatar corporation before that, which purchased it from Gulf American Land Corporation in the late 1970s.

District 4 Councilmember Dolores Bertolini will hold a town hall meeting from 6:30-8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Cape Coral Association of Realtors, 918 S.E. 46th Lane, in Club Square. to discuss the possibility of the city of Cape Coral purchasing the land.

Recently, the city council funded two appraisals of the value of the land. The city also completed a feasibility study with four possible options for use of the property.

The council will consider all these options during a workshop meeting set for 3 p.m., Monday, Feb. 26.

The first appraisal, completed at the end of December 2006, calls for the city to pay $28 million to the current owners of the property and use the land for, “the highest and best use of the site.” This option recommends the property for vacant residential development, “due to the high demand for land in the Cape Coral and Southwest Florida Market.”

The second appraisal came in last week and estimated the value of the land at $13.8 million if a golf course reopened on the property. This estimate also includes the potential to develop a resort hotel.

The feasibility study conducted in mid-December gives four possible options to fully use the land. They are:

n The city purchasing the entire property and operating it as a park or golf course.

n The city purchasing the property by selling surplus lands in other areas to help finance the sale.

n The city owning and operating a golf course on the land, with the private sector developing a resort hotel.

n A private entity purchasing the land and developing a resort hotel and golf course with city incentives.

With a city divided over what to do with a big, open space, the memory of better days is fading into the sunset for the once pristine greens.

“It was a sales tool to sell property in Cape Coral,” Sanborn said. “The course was in excellent condition, always.”

In 1972, the National Collegiate Athletics Association held its championship tournament at the club. It was the first time they played it in Florida, and future golf legends Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw teed off as part of the field. Over the years, many junior golf tournaments graced the greens and Ladies Professional Golf Association founder Patty Berg used to play rounds under the sun.

John McAlary, whose backyard has touched the driving range on the course for 23 years said he wants the club to return to its full form, but without the city at the helm.

“They haven’t been successful at Coral Oaks, so I don’t think they have the ability to run a profitable golf association,” McAlary said, referring to the city-run golf course in the northwest Cape. “They buy it, and then you lease it to somebody who is in that business, and you give them tax benefits or whatever.”

The property is currently not for sale on the open market. Siler said he is giving the city time to decide what it wants to do with their appraisals, but thinks the golf club has run its course.

“We think it’s time to do something else with the property,” Siler said. “Its failed as a golf course, and the city staff agrees.”

Mayor Eric Feichthaler, who used to shoot the pars with his grandfather, said he would like to keep it a golf course, but without the use of city funds.

“Our No. 1 priority is to find a private developer to purchase the course,” Feichthaler said. “I would feel uncomfortable using taxpayer dollars for such a facility.”

District 2 councilmember Richard Stevens said that it’s mostly those who live on the property that would like to see it re-open as a golf course.

“For the people who live right on it to keep hammering us about purchasing it to keep it a golf course, well they should get together, find out what the cost is and divide it up and buy it,” Stevens said. “ I see no reason for the city to spend a lot of money when we have other projects to build. Future generations might say we missed a great opportunity.”

Still, some long for the simpler days when the property was all they knew.

“We lived in that golf club every single day,” Raso said. “Now, I haven’t even driven by it in a while.”

The book “The Other Side of the River” by Betsy Zeiss sums up the feelings of the time towards the opening of the recreational marvel.

“Membership in the attractive Cape Coral Country Club had an unbelievably modest price tag, and saunas numbered among the features in a spread that offered the usual amenities of golf, tennis, swimming, a restaurant and a bar. The Landscaping, to top it all off, was magnificent.”

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Town hall meeting regarding future of The Golf Club

When: Wednesday February 21st, 2007

Time: 6:30-8:30

Where: Cape Coral Association of Realtors
918 SE 46th Lane, Club Square

Sponsor: Cape Coral Council-women Dolores Bertolini

Alert your neighbors and friends. Please plan to attend.


Appraisals to be discussed
Golf Club options topic of town hall meeting

By Don Ruane

Originally posted on February 15, 2007

An appraisal of $13.7 million for The Golf Club might entice Cape Coral officials to purchase its second golf course.

Neighboring residents, who have watched home values drop since the course closed in July, would favor such a move.

But what residents might not like is that a second appraisal puts the value of the land at $28 million and says its best use is for residential development.

The appraisals were released Monday evening at the City Council meeting. Council had asked for the appraisals to determine whether or not the city might be interested in buying the 175-acre property, which once was an 18-hole golf course, driving range and clubhouse.

City council member Dolores Bertolini wants to know what residents think. She has called a town hall meeting for Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Cape Coral Association of Realtors building in Club Square.

“Now that we have the appraisals it's come down to the time to make a decision,” said City Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini, who called the meeting for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Her district includes the course.

“The residents really need to have their views presented before the committee of the whole meeting,” Bertolini said. “I want to see if the climate has changed.”

The city council will discuss the property at 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26.

Southeast Eighth Avenue resident Vincent Parella, 69, said he wants it to be a golf course or a city park.

“If run properly it can be run very competitively,” Parella said. “Everyone’s been quite upset about it. The longer it goes on the greater the cost is going to be to reopen it as a golf course.”

The course, which closed July 31 because of mounting debt, was the home of the city’s first golf course. The first rounds of golf were played in 1961.

Owners tried to sell the course two years ago, but a $28 million deal with the school district fell through after neighbors complained about the plan to put up to five schools there.

The appraisals

Allied Appraisers and Consultants Inc., which prepared the report on the higher of the two appraisals, said building homes there was the best use, but noted a drawback to putting single-family homes there.

“The problem with this use is the value of the surrounding single-family homes and condominium units could be impaired because of not being located on the golf course,” the report said.

The other appraisal report, prepared by Stewart & Co., looked at the property only as a golf course and set the value at $13.8 million. It also said:
“While at the right price it may be possible to continue operation of the golf course without utilizing the course in conjunction with some other development, profitability is problematic,” the Stewart report said. “It would be more likely to be successful if the owners of the golf course were able to develop additional residential units on the site, or reopen the course as a membership course in conjunction with some other large residential development with the Cape Coral area.”

The appraisal amount includes about $5.8 million that will be needed to restore the course and the clubhouse.

A 2006 city staff report said renovations would cost $8 million to $10 million.

The future

The best thing is for a private developer to create a golf resort that would draw people to the city, Mayor Eric Feichthaler said.

Price will determine the city’s interest, Feichthaler said.

“If it’s in the top teens or early 20s range we would have to seriously consider going to referendum for it,” Feichthaler said.

Scott Siler, a partner in Florida Gulf Venture LLC, which owns the property, and Bertolini have met four times about the course's future.

“We made no offers. None whatsoever. We were waiting for the appraisals to come back,” Bertolini said. “It’ll be the council’s decision which way we want to go.”

Siler said he’s willing to talk with the city once officials have studied the appraisals.
No other deals for the course are pending at this time, he said.

The appraisal values are about the same as previous ones, Siler said. He hasn’t read them both and declined to comment on them.

Two previous appraisals set values of $28 million and $30 million. The Lee County School District tried to buy the property in 2005 for $26 million, but withdrew the offer in the face of protests by adjacent residents.

A 2006 report produced by the city’s economic development office said an acceptable price for use as a golf course would be $12 to $14 million.City economic development director Mike Jackson offered the city’s assistance to Siler and anyone interested in buying the course.

“If he wants something from us, he should give us a call,” Jackson said.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Appraisal Is In

Now hear this!


Two appraisals ordered by the city set the price of The Golf Club at $28 million if it is going to be used for residential uses and $13.8 million if it is to remain as a golf course.

The Golf Club closed last summer after accumulating too much debt.

The appraissals were received late Monday afternoon and will help shape the city council's decision on whether to try to buy the course, which wasa the city's first golf course.

"We don't know. We have to make that decision. I suggest we all step back and peruse," Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini said.

Staff and Bertolini are working on recommendations about how the city should proceed with the appraisals. Some residents want the city to buy the course and keep it as a golf course.

Residents should be included in the decision making process, Bertolini said.

"You need to come out and let us know what your thoughts are," Bertolini said.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

City Council to discuss the Golf Club Feb 26th

Hi All,

The Golf Club has been placed on the agenda for discussion at the Committee of the Whole.

Date; Monday February 26th at 3:00

Place; Council chambers at City Hall.

Mark your calendar and plan to attend. Please tell your neighbors and friends who may not have access to a computer. See you there.


Thursday, February 01, 2007


Residents ‘chip shot’ concerns to mayor; Golf Club’s future highlight of meeting

By DMITRY RASHNITSOV, drashnitsov@breezenewspapers.com

As a 17-year-old he took his first swing at The Golf Club. On Wednesday Mayor Eric Feichthaler listened to residents tee off about its future.

The head of city government held the second town hall meeting of his tenure with an abundance of questions geared towards one of Cape Coral’s oldest pieces of property.

“It’s the first place I ever golfed with my grandfather,” Feichthaler said. “When it’s not in our control, it has been a challenge.”

The closed course is owned by private investors who are trying to sell the land in upwards of $25 million, according to Feichthaler.

He would eventually like to see the area turned into a destination resort hotel and golf course that would bring tourism to the city.

“We are working very hard to find a developer to come in and restore the course and put something nice there that can be a benefit to the residents,” Feichthaler said. “We would not like to see 700 houses spring up on the golf course. My number one priority is to keep it an open space.”

The audience members gave a large round of applause to show they were in agreement with the mayor’s comments.

“Of course we’d like to see a golf course — possibly a golf course with a luxury resort hotel would be OK or a park would be great for everyone to enjoy,” said Mary Meilson, a resident who lives near the course. “We just want some closure. We just want something to be done.”

One issue brought up that caught the mayor off guard discussed an arts facility planned several years ago.

City Manager Terry Stewart explained the planned building located near city hall is no longer feasible for the arts facility because costs of construction had tripled.

Still, Feichthaler said, more needs to be done to bring the arts into town.

“What we don’t think about a lot is the cultural void we have in the city,” Feichthaler said. “We really don’t have the culture the city our size should have.”

The mayor said he wants to see smaller theatres built in the downtown area and a larger venue, possibly through a partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University.

“We do need to focus on partnering with someone like FGCU to build a real theater facility,” Feichthaler said. “To me people are looking for culture whether its baseball or ballet. It would have had an enormous economic impact.”

The continuing battle over the high cost of utility assessments managed to creep into the items discussed with several questions.

Joan and Rick Sadlowski, of Cape Coral, were concerned about younger homeowners in the community not being able to afford the large fees.

“We have a family member who is just starting out, how can they afford to pay $30,000 or $40,000?” Mrs. Sadlowski asked.

Feichthaler shared their concerns, having recently had to pay his own assessments as well, but he wanted people to know there are options, including paying off the fees over a period of 20 years.

About 80 people showed up to the two-hour question and answer session.

“It was great,” Feichthaler said. “The turnout exceeded what I expected. The questions were excellent.”