Saturday, March 24, 2007

Prioritize current residents

Cape Coral Breeze

Saturday, March 24, 2007

To the editor:

In an article the other day regarding the possible changes to the Executive Golf Course, Alex Le Pera was quoted as saying that people cannot “buy a view.” I beg to differ. In many areas of this country it is illegal for one homeowner to block the view of another. Building codes and landscaping regulations are in place to protect rights. The rights of the current residents are protected rather than the rights of the new potential resident.

I believe that Realtors always say location, location, location is the most important issue directly bearing on the value of a property. Purchasing property with a view directly affects the value of that property. If I buy a house that overlooks another house, as so many do here in Cape Coral including mine, I know that I will pay less for that property. If I purchase a house or vacant land with a golf or water view the land is priced significantly higher than the lot with no view. The Daily Breeze prints this fact of life out for us as we read the real estate section of the newspaper.
Do I want the city to have to purchase all property built around a “view” when the owner of the view decides they can no longer make a profit from the land in its current state? I don’t think so. However, if I had a home on a golf course, and had paid a premium for a property with that view, I would be unbelievably angry and upset. It is not fair or reasonable to build behind those houses. Those homeowners would be cheated out of the proper value of their homes. I’m sure that there will be enormous legal difficulties if we proceed in that direction. There is a heck of a difference between the quiet of a golf course and the noise that a group of condominiums, a public park, or a sports field would bring into an area.

Cape Coral has been the butt of jokes about foolish rules and regulations for the 20 years that I have lived here. Couldn’t we use this situation to our benefit rather than an addition to the jokes? We are supposed to be living in Paradise; if we are, then we obviously must respect the property rights of our current residents above the rights of future development. Should this mean less development? No, just smarter development.

I understand the situation that the landowner is in, too. He is stuck with land that does not pay its way for him which is an awful burden. Couldn’t we reduce the misery of both the homeowners and the landowner at one time? The use plan should have to include real protection for the families who live around the current golf course. There should be a large, green heavily planted area that will increase the size of backyards of all the homes involved. If we take away value we should replace that value. Property values should be kept the same. Directly behind this wooded area should be a high sturdy wall that is faced with stone, so that it will be very attractive. In place of the golf course, the homeowners would get a larger property, very heavily planted with native plants, and a wall behind. Although there won’t be that golf course view, the residents will have received an actual concrete benefit to replace the one lost. Include extending the residents’ current sprinkler systems to this plan as well. There will be those who complain, but I think actual compensation in the form of additional property and plantings should be agreeable to most.

Then, with reasonably happy residents in place, we can address the landowner. Let him build expensive and elegant condos using low or medium rise buildings. Strangers should not be looking down into your backyard.

We should address another problem for everyone in Southwest Florida at the same time. Specify they use native plantings only to work to everyone’s benefit with water savings. Never give the building tax breaks; give him or her ease of building breaks. Allow the builder to have more leeway than the average builder has now. Do much quicker painless permitting with no compromise to safety. This would be for design and density issues only. Hire more workers to accommodate this process.

It must be remembered at all times that Cape Coral is being developed for its residents. Developers will eventually finish building and leave, but residents will be living here for the long haul. Show that we respect our residents; changes happen but with a strong focus on an actual concrete benefit for impacted residents, we prove that we are Paradise indeed.

By doing this we will reassure our current residents that the city is sincere in caring for their wellbeing. With quicker permitting we will also show developers that the city is a good place to build. Actually, it would be a wonderful marketing tool; tell the world that we encourage development that respects the rights of current residents.

Sunny Dowling

Cape Coral

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Local golf courses take it on the chin

By Pete Skiba

Originally posted on March 19, 2007

Call it a bad time for local golf courses in Cape Coral and at Lee County’s Burnt Store Marina.

Intending to build homes on Burnt Store Marina’s Golf Club, Will Stout’s Realmark Cos. ran into zoning problems.

The possible profits and fees from condominiums could have kept the course viable, Stout said at a meeting with residents Thursday at Burnt Store Presbyterian Church. Instead, Stout closed the course because it cost him about $1.1 million to keep open since he bought it Dec. 31, 2005.

Stout said there were only 157 active club members.

“If we cannot build homes on the golf course, we will just step back and leave it alone,” Stout said. “We will instead concentrate on the development of the marina.”

The plan includes new restaurants, shops and condos. The Lee County Department of Community Development opposed the golf course development by handing Stout a ruling that the agricultural zoning would not allow any residential development in the golf club’s 100-acre area. Ten-unit condominium buildings could be allowed around the golf course.

The ruling went to the Hearing Examiner on appeal Feb. 20. It could be decided in three weeks, a Hearing Examiner spokeswoman said.

“No matter what the Hearing Examiner decides, that is the end of appeals,” said Joan LaGuardia, county department of community development spokeswoman.

If Stout wanted to continue he would have to go through the process to change the land use and then the zoning, a process that could take more than 3 years he said. Stout has offered to rent the course for $1 a year to anyone who can come up with a plan to keep it running.

“I’ve only been here since November but there are people here who want to get together to keep it open,” said Burnt Store Marina resident Adis Flores. “If I have to join the club I will. We are trying to come up with a plan.”

Another group, calling itself The Real friends of Realmark, plans to support the company's plans to bring a hotel, condominiums, shopping and other community amenities to the marina.

“We were saddened by the golf course closing, but we believe Stout’s plans to bring a first rate marina area to our home is wonderful,” said Burnt Store Marina resident Bob Akers, 71. “He has the business skills to make it happen.”

Golf course trouble

The Burnt Store Marina Golf Club closing comes after Cape Coral’s The Golf Club closed July 31 because it’s owners said they could no longer make a profit due to lack of play.

The course is up for sale for over $20 million. Cape Coral City Council has discussed buying the property but not necessarily keeping it as a golf course.

At nearby Cape Coral Executive Golf Course, owner Mike Hayes has said he needed more than $1 million in restorations to keep his course running.

To pay for improvements on the more than 40-year-old course he would like to sell five acres and build 60 condos, Hayes said.

Neighbors opposed the plans at a meeting at New Hope Baptist Fellowship Church on Nicholas Parkway on Thursday.

Facing opposition from neighbors, Hayes said he pulled his request for a land use change from the Planning & Zoning Wednesday agenda.

“I don’t want to make the same mistake The Golf Club made,” Hayes said. “They spent millions on renovations and then had to charge to get the money back. My course is small and no amount of members could pay for the renovations.”

There might be another way to save his course, Hayes said.

He is willing to wait until January before he puts the request back to Planning & Zoning. “I’m just trying to save my golf course, I don’t want the condos either,” Hayes said.

“Some of the neighbors think they can come up with a way to do it without the sale and condos.”

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Burnt Store Golf course conversion plans


Another Lee County golf course open to the public and in close proximity for Cape Coral residents closed its gates Thursday, and development plans are in the making.

The Burnt Store Marina, with its own public golf course, is located on Burnt Store Road, just south of the Lee-Charlotte county line.

It’s the latest course to announce a closure or major undertaking affecting golfers.

Less than a year ago, The Golf Club at 4003 Palm Tree Blvd. in Cape Coral closed.

This week, residents around the Cape Coral Executive Golf Club gathered to discuss a proposed change in land use that would allow condominiums to be built on the site.

The privately owned executive course is open to the public. The owner is seeking the change to build up to six three-story buildings, with a total of 156 residential units, and 317 parking spaces. This would cover 9.75 acres in the middle of where the course now offers a view of the greens.

Business issues are driving each of the decisions.

The reason given for closure of the Burnt Store Marina Golf Course is financial. In a March 15 letter to the residents, the developer and owner, Will Stout, president of Realmark Group, says the public course has not brought in the revenue needed, resulting in great losses. He wrote, in part:

“Many of you who are golfers have made it clear that your personal preference is to play the other, newer and more challenging golf courses in the immediate area. This fact is underscored by the realization that only about eight percent of Burnt Store Marina community residents presently are members at the golf club, and that number is declining.”
Stout, who also is the developer of Cape Harbour at the southern end of Cape Coral, indicates in the letter he plans to work with Lee County to turn the golf course into an area of “attractive waterfront retail shops, first-class hotel accommodations, additional boat storage, more restaurants and other desirable improvements around the marina basin.”

A new concept

This is similar to what Stout developed at Cape Harbour, where community events have already started to happen in its own “downtown” of shops and restaurants.

This emerging Cape Harbour community has many pleasant small shops offering everything from art to fashion, as well as places to grab a snack or dine, a marina and other amenities.

The trend in community development has been to create small “towns” within a large city, making the residential development practically self-sufficient with businesses filling many of the shopping needs of people living there.

Another trend is for communities to include their own courses.

Craig Dearden, chief operating officer and chief financial officer for Realmark Development, said the use of older golf courses has steadily declined over the past 10 years because so many more complicated and challenging courses have been built.

According to Dearden, the only way to cover operational costs is to offer the course in equity form, including it in the purchase of the residence, “like another swimming pool,” he said, or in annual dues.

“We had no ability to bundle,” he said. Burnt Store Marina has been in existence since the 1970s.

In his letter to the residents of Burnt Store Marina, Stout also wrote:

“As most of you know, the course (which has been open to the public) was originally designed over 30 years ago as an ‘executive course’, very short by today’s more challenging golf course standards. Many of you also know that, over the years, the golf course has been significantly under utilized by both the community residents and the public at large. This has resulted in substantial operating deficits which are increasing each year.”

New courses more attractive

There are three reasons why the older courses are closing, according to PGA Master Professional Steve Anderson, director of Instruction for Greentree Resorts in Lehigh Acres.

Age is one reason, and one of the three courses owned by the Greentree company also is closing, next month.

The Admiral Lehigh Golf Club is more than 30 years old. It was built as an executive course, which is shorter, and it is closing because not enough people are playing it, according to Anderson.

“So many new courses are opening,” he said. “They have been adding three or four every year. In 2007, there will be five or six more. We have more than 150 courses in Southwest Florida, in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Bonita, Naples. There are too many courses and too much competition. That’s one reason.”

New technology is the second reason.

“They have a new kind of grass, the very best green, and the most modern clubhouse, so much nicer, larger,” Anderson said. “To a lot of people, the 30- to 40-year-old courses are not so attractive.”

The final reason is financial.

“The third reason is that the owners can make 10 times more money if they can put condos and houses and commercial properties, instead of what people pay in green fees. Nobody wants them to close, but nobody (owners) can make enough money for the golf courses to stay open,” he said.

As a golf pro, Anderson receives statistics, which he shared. He said 1998 and 1999 were the best years for golf, 1999 being the all-time high.

“The last three or four years, it has been dropping each year by 5 percent,” he added.

Anderson said it started after 9-11, and the fear of flying had an impact. A not fully recovered economy also is a factor.

Aging players drop out

Cape Coral historian Paul Sanborn, who opened the Cape Coral Country Club in 1967 and was the general manager, provided his opinion. He said there are more closures, yet, throughout Lee County.

“And in Lehigh Acres and in Bonita Springs,” he said. “It was the oldest course, the one in Lehigh (closing next month). The only thing I would think is the increase in the cost of labor, pesticide, equipment, technology. I think people complain about the (high) cost of playing, but maintenance is very expensive, and they (owners) are not meeting revenues from players to compensate for the cost.”

Could interest be dwindling among the younger generation?

“I think there is a great interest in golf,” Sanborn said, “but the older generation, like myself, we stop playing, and the younger generation, they help their children with the Little Leagues.”

The cost of playing golf also is beyond reach for many younger players with children. Sanborn mentioned a recent advertisement offering play for $110 — and that was a “special.”

One avid golfer is Cape business owner James Bondy of The Letter Box Inc.

He said it is unfortunate that the people who bought these parcels of land for a golf course do not make enough revenue to at least break even.

Bondy is a member of the Royal Tee Country Club, but he used to play at The Golf Club, which has closed.

“It should be retained as a golf course,” he said of The Golf Club, “because there is just so much land available. If they turn that over for residential buildings, we are losing the land forever.”

He acknowledged that could happen.

“There is more tax revenue if they get apartments,” Bondy added.

Meanwhile, many homeowners near these courses are not happy with prospective changes.

Officials are tendering the idea of allowing some type of development at The Golf Club but neighboring homeowners are resistant to the idea.

Abutting property owners also are resistant to the proposal to change the land use at the Cape Coral Executive Golf Club.

Residents met Thursday to voice their concerns and formulate a plan to quash the proposal, which would change the land use from “parks and recreation” to “multi-family residential” on the city’s land use map.

“We’re little peons here trying to be one voice and let the city know,” said Colleen Simon, a homeowner on the golf course’s perimeter earlier this week. “I love Cape Coral, but I don’t want it to be Cape Coral, concrete city.”

That request will be reviewed Wednesday, March 21, during the Cape Coral Planning & Zoning meeting at 9 a.m. and again at the April 24 city council meeting, both to be held at city hall.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Residents fight to save Cape executive course

Originally posted on March 15, 2007
By Don Ruane The News Press

Cape Coral residents fighting to save one golf course are being asked to help save another from development.

Colleen Simon, who is leading the effort to save the Cape Coral Executive Golf Course at 1006 S.E. 4th Place, has asked for support, said Save The Golf Club leader Mary Neilson.

A meeting to show support is scheduled for 7 tonight at the New Hope Baptist Fellowship Church at 431 Nicholas Parkway. The church is between Cultural Park Boulevard and Santa Barbara Boulevard.

Executive golf course owner CKJ Enterprises Inc., is asking the city to change it land use map to designate the course as a place for multi-family uses instead of parks and recreation. CKJ wants to build condos on the property.

The city’s planning and zoning commission will hear the case next Wednesday at 9 a.m.

"I believe the outcome of this hearing and subsequent events will have a direct and profound impact on The Golf Club," said Neilson's e-mail this morning. The Golf Club is Cape Coral's oldest golf course. It closed in July and is up for sale.

Residents who live around the course want to keep the 175-acre land as a golf course or as a park.

Meeting Tonight RE: Executive Golf Course

Hi All,

As you have probably heard, a developer is in the process of acquiring the necessary changes to zoning in order to build condos on part of the Executive Golf Course in Cape Coral. The developer has already made it to P & Z with the Hearing for Adoption scheduled next Wednesday at 9 a.m. in council chambers. I believe the outcome of this hearing and subsequent events will have a direct and profound impact on The Golf Club.

Colleen Simon, leading the opposition in order to save the Executive golf course has asked for our solidarity. Please show your support by attending a public meeting tonight. I urge you all to attend. Don't forget to tell your neighbors. I'll see you there.

Tonight; Thursday March 15th
Time; 7 P.M.
Place: New Hope Baptist Fellowship
431 Nicholas Pkwy (From Cultural it's on the right before Santa Barbara)


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cape golf course asking for land use change

Originally posted on March 13, 2007

The owner of the Cape Coral Executive Golf Course plans to ask the city to change the land use designation for almost 10 acres from parks recreational to multifamily.

The result could be 156 condominiums at the course.

Calling a meeting for 7 p.m. Thursday, golf course neighbors plan to oppose the change. the meeting will be held at th New Hope Baptist Fellowship, 431 Nicholas Parkway.

The meeting is open to people who live near the golf course, golfers who play at the course and the public.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Cape Coral should work to restore Golf Club

I am in general agreement with Councilman Hair (Feb. 24 guest opinion) that the city of Cape Coral should acquire The Golf Club, although for use as a golf course (I'll get to that in a moment).

First of all, the city should by all means acquire this choice piece of real estate that is an integral part of our history and culture; regardless of what civic use we eventually make of it. It sits in the middle of a neighborhood landlocked by single-family homes. Cape Coral is subdivided into thousands of home sites, offering little opportunity for assembling even an acre of land for public use. Many of our quarter-acre lots are worth $500,000. This 175-acre parcel can probably be bought for $17.5 million, only 1Ú10 the per-acre cost of land for homes.

Chuck Noll, legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach, always drafted the best athlete available, regardless of his needs at any particular position, and that strategy worked pretty well for him and his football team. Applying that logic, I would call on all of the golfers in Cape Coral (and everyone who lives here for that matter) to unite behind our mayor and council in buying The Golf Club. Then, later on, we can decide how to use it. Even if we golfers don't end up with a golf course, the deal is still a winner; we get a beautiful amenity.

Buying The Golf Club is a no-brainer if there ever was one. Make that our highest priority.

I do disagree with Mr. Hair's assertion that "[e]conomically, a golf course will not work." Prior to its current administration, this layout had one of the highest rounds-per-year of any course in the county. We local golfers just didn't get along very well with Mr. Siler and his partners. They didn't do a very good job running it (in our opinion) and we voted with our feet. Lee County has 3,000 holes of golf. Cape Coral has 54 of them, or 2 percent of the total, but we have 25 percent of the county's population. Most of us have to leave Cape Coral to play golf. Isn't there something wrong with this picture?
Guest Opinion: Andy Ask
Originally posted on March 01, 2007

The additional 18 holes of golf are badly needed in Cape Coral.

My idea would be to shrink the golf course footprint to a par-66 executive length layout. We old duffers are getting short off the tee but long in the pocketbook. Keep us off the roads and toll bridges. Keep us and our money in Cape Coral. With a smaller golf course, there should be room left over for walking and bicycling around the perimeter. Maybe we can bring back lawn bowling and bocce. Maybe we can even bring back the alliterative Cape Coral Country Club name.

Let's buy The Golf Club. Now, before it's too late. Then figure out what to do with it.

— Andy Ask is a 15-year resident of the Cape Coral Yacht Club area (and says he's a gawdawful golfer).