Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Development of Golf Club in Cape Coral handicapped

By Brian Liberatore • • July 23, 2008

Plans to turn a former Cape Coral golf course from green fairways into shops and condos appear trapped in deep rough.

With an apparent lack of support from elected officials and city staff, the owners of the defunct The Golf Club have abandoned plans — for now — to turn the 175 acres into retail space, offices and condominiums.

But exactly what will happen to property and whether it will ever see life again as a golf course are still up in the air. The course, which closed in July 2006, seems destined to remain an overgrown field for at least the next several months.

“We’d like to see it back as a golf course,” said Henry Heerlyn, whose home backs up to the course. “Personally, I wouldn’t be opposed to a park. But the problem is the city has no money.”

The owners are reaching out to the city and residents in an effort to find a compromise that keeps their investment profitable. Over the next week, the company will be looking to form a committee of city officials, elected representatives and neighbors to hammer out ideas for the site, according William Nolan, a consultant for the owners, who are doing business under Florida Gulf Ventures.

“If the community is unhappy with what goes there, it fails,” Nolan said. “The worst thing we could do is build it and they don’t come.”

While open to discussion, a group of surrounding residents, who helped drive resistance to the land use change, shows few signs of bending.

“We’re going to stay fast. We want it to be developed as an 18-hole golf course,” said Joe Mazurkiewicz, owner of BJM Consulting. Under the name Save Our Recreation, neighbors hired Mazurkiewicz, a former Cape Coral mayor, to represent their cause.

An assessment from the city in early 2007 set the land’s value at $28 million for residential uses and about $13.8 million for use as a golf course. The county set the land’s taxable value at $2.8 million this year — $2 million less than two years ago.

Since 2005, the group has paid about $165,000 in property taxes, plus cost of maintaining the property. Heerlyn said the grass on the course is mowed fairly regularly.

Gladys Banderas, who lives next to the course, said she was frustrated by the progress of the course.

“The view now, it’s bad” she said. “When we moved here 12 years ago, the view was very nice.”

Despite the residents’ accusations, the course was mismanaged, Nolan said, adding that the property is not profitable as a golf course.

The course’s owners indicated the club had accumulated a $3 million operating debt in the five years leading up to its closure.

“The bottom line is it just doesn’t work,” Nolan said. People won’t pay the greens fees high enough to keep the property afloat, he said.

The course had been open since the 1960s, was the Cape’s oldest course and a centerpiece of recreational and social activity. It hosted the 1972 NCAA men’s golf championship and numerous other events.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission was set to hear a request today from the group to change the zoning. City staff had recommended the commission vote against the change. Members on City Council have echoed the sentiment in recent meetings.

Dolores Bertolini, who represents the district, came out against the mixed-use development plan. Bertolini said she would have liked to see the project go before the planning commission and the council where it likely would have been shot down.

“It’s a continuing saga of what do we do with this property,” Bertolini. “Unfortunately the poor residents of that are left in abeyance.”