Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Golf course dispute trial wraps up

Written by  Thomas Stewart - News Press

The question of whether Cape Coral could ultimately be forced to shell out millions to the owners of an abandoned, overgrown 175-acre golf course is almost ready to be decided.

The five-day trial prompted by a 2009 lawsuit filed by the owners concluded Tuesday and the lawyers have until May 1 to turn in proposed final judgments and written closing arguments.

After that, Circuit Judge Michael McHugh will issue his ruling. There is no deadline for that decision.
If the judge rules in favor of the owners — who argue the city effectively condemned the property through restrictive regulations — the trial would go to a jury, which would determine the amount of damages.

The owners presented testimony last week that the property would’ve been worth $18 million to $19 million in 2009 if the requested future land use designation — mixed-use — had been granted.

That designation, denied in May of 2009, would’ve allowed the development of more than 300,000-square-feet of office space, 100,000-square-feet of shops and about 800 homes, they have argued.
 An appraiser hired by the city, meanwhile, testified Tuesday the property would’ve been worth about $10.3 million with the mixed-use designation and about $8.8 million with a residential land use.
The owners contend that blocking the land use change didn’t allow them to earn a profit. As a golf course, with a land use of parks and recreation, it lost money every year from 2001 to 2006, when the course was shuttered, testimony indicated.

The city, however, argued the land use designation was already in place when the property was purchased and the owners failed to apply for another land use, such as residential, that would’ve likely been approved and could have proved profitable.

Clay Crevasse, a lawyer representing the city, said changing the property to a mixed-use designation also could have opened the land up to industrial uses.

“The city’s case is that we acted in a way to protect the compatibility of the existing zoning regulations and land use regulations to not allow the golf course to be developed in a way that’s incompatible with surrounding neighborhoods,” Crevasse said.

Those actions, he said, didn’t affect the owner’s ability to turn a profit.

“The real consideration here was, at the time this was all happening, the economy in Southwest Florida was going down the tubes,” he said.