Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Community shows support for CRA’s golf course proposal

By GRAY ROHRER, Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The desires of many homeowners near the former Cape Coral Golf Course could become a reality if the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency can pull off a plan to buy the course.

Under the CRA plan, the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of open spaces, would act as an intermediary buyer, acquiring the course from the current owner, Florida Gulf Ventures.

More than 250 people packed the city council chambers Tuesday to hear the plan, and the vast majority supported the idea.

Mary Neilson, head of the Save the Golf Course group, tried to rally the support of the people.

“Everyone in favor of this plan stand up,” she said, as nearly every person in the audience rose to their feet.

The fate of the golf course has been up in the air as Neilson and others fought Florida Gulf Ventures’ plans to develop the land.

In July, representatives from Florida Gulf Ventures pulled an application from the Planning and Zoning Commission to switch the course’s land use from parks and recreation to mixed use.

In order for the CRA to purchase the course, however, the surrounding area would have to be incorporated into the CRA.

The area proposed for annexation by the CRA is bounded by Southeast 33rd Terrace on the north, Southeast First Place on the west, Cape Coral Parkway on the south, and the combination of Southeast Fifth Avenue, Southeast 43rd Street, Southeast 11th Place and Southeast 10th Avenue on the east.

John Jacobsen, executive director of the CRA, was quick to point out that residents’ tax rates will not increase if they are incorporated into the CRA.

“Your tax rate is not affected whether you are in or out of the CRA,” Jacobsen said.

The CRA’s budget revenues come from Tax Increment Funds. In other words, when an area is incorporated into the CRA the taxes assessed on the increase in property values year over year go to the CRA.

With home values plummeting in the Cape during the current housing crisis, CRA officials are counting on a rebound in the housing sector to finance the purchase of the course, but also say state grants will be used to pay for the land.

“It is not only the TIF that is going to be used to buy this land,” said Frank Schnidman, an advisor to the CRA.

Schnidman said between $3 million and $4 million would be available in the form of state grants to go toward the purchase. That would nearly double the CRA’s current budget of $5 million.

Negotiations between TPL and Florida Gulf Ventures have not yet begun, so the exact price of the 177-acre golf course is not known.

“We have to get them to come to the table and get them to negotiate,” Councilmember Dolores Bertolini said.

She also pointed out that the CRA is going to have to call the golf course a “nasty word” in order to move its plan forward.

“You’re going to hear a nasty, nasty word, and that word is blight,” Bertolini said.

Essentially, the golf course, which has not been maintained since Florida Gulf Ventures shut it down two years ago, must be declared a blighted area to be incorporated into the CRA.

“Once we identify blight it allows us to come up with an extension and a plan for alleviating the blight,” Schnidman said.

If the area is taken into the CRA, the city will not see a boost to its tax rolls if property values increase as it would now, but Bertolini said preserving the golf course would be for the good of all the residents.

“Everyone benefits if we preserve the 180 acres of land than if it was just some brown area. If we don’t go forward we have no options, we’re at everyone else’s mercy,” she said.