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.”