Thursday, October 01, 2009

CRA suspends plans to buy golf course

Negotiations temporarily on hold; site’s owners have filed suit against the city over denial of land use change


Florida Gulf Venture, the owner of the Golf Club of Cape Coral, has filed a lawsuit against the city over the municipality's refusal to approve a land use change.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, is based on the premise of inverse condemnation, or when government decision impacts private property but fails to compensate.

Florida Gulf Ventures is now seeking compensation from the city in the Circuit Court of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit.

"Their contention is that we aren't allowing them to use the property the way they think it should be used," said Mayor Jim Burch. "My position is simple: That the property had a land use on it for many years."

Burch couldn't go into too much detail on a pending lawsuit, but said in his opinion the lawsuit is a procedural move.

The Community Redevelopment Agency has been issued a copy of the complaint, even though they aren't party to the lawsuit. According to John Jacobsen, executive director of the CRA, the agency's plans to acquire the golf course will be suspended pending the next board meeting on Oct. 20.

Jacobsen said the suspension shouldn't affect the acquisition of the property.

"They announced this way back, that they would pursue litigation, this is no surprise," he said.

The first round of negotiations between Florida Gulf Venture and a CRA intermediary that was to be the actual purchaser of the site on the CRA's behalf, was unsuccessful when the entities could not agree on a purchase price.

The CRA said it would continue its efforts.

Meanwhile, the city council voted to add the golf course to the boundaries of the CRA in August.

During another meeting on Sept. 21, the city council amended the CRA's redevelopment plan to address the acquisition process and development of the course.

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.”