Thursday, October 01, 2009

Cape sued over golf course stand

Owners wanted mixed-use facility

By Brian Liberatore • • October 1, 2009

The owners of a defunct golf course want Cape Coral taxpayers to bail out their investment.

A group of investors operating as Florida Gulf Ventures is seeking millions in damages from the city after the City Council decided they couldn’t build a mixed-use facility on the former The Golf Club.

The 175-acre course in south Cape has been closed since 2006.

Those familiar with the case say the suit is more likely part of a hardball negotiating strategy as the investors look to sell the course to the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency.

“I believe their strategy will be to use (the suit) as a hammer to bang local elected officials into abandoning any hopes of preserving the golf course into perpetuity,” said Joe Mazurkiewicz, a consultant representing a group of nearby residents. “It’s completely expected.”

A seven-page lawsuit filed Monday in Lee County Circuit Court claims that the course “could not (in 2006) or in the foreseeable future” be operated as a golf course without losing money. And because city zoning says the property can only be used as a golf course, park or sports field, the government is preventing any “reasonable economic use” of the property.

“The argument is that the effect of the city’s regulation in effect is taking (the course) for public purpose,” said Michael J. Ciccarone, a Fort Myers attorney who filed the suit for Florida Golf Ventures.

After unsuccessful attempts to sell the course, the investors have pushed the city to change what can be built on the property. City planners, council members and community members rejected plans for a multi-use development claiming there wasn’t adequate infrastructure and it didn’t fit in with the heavy residential nature of the neighborhood. Neighbors around the course insist it must remain green forever.

That’s not fair to the owners, said Randy Thibaut, CEO of Land Solutions in Cape Coral.

“As a golf course it doesn’t work,” Thibaut said. “If nobody is going to buy it, you have to find some other use of the property. You can’t hold the owner hostage.”

But Fort Myers developer Ross W. McIntosh pointed out that the high-density, mixed-use development proposed by the owners never made sense in the location.
“It has no access, no exposure,” McIntosh said. “You don’t usually build high density, mixed-use in the middle of a block.”

McIntosh said the developer should look toward a compromise, something along the lines of moderate or low-density housing.

The owners bought the course — Cape Coral’s oldest — in 2006 and closed it shortly afterward. They have about $9 million invested in the property, court records show. The property is assessed by Lee County for $2.8 million.

The owners, who originally wanted over $20 million for the property, haven’t specified how much they’re looking for in damages, but Ciccarone said, “I think it’s generally understood that it’s in the millions.”