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Leon discusses golf club property, other issues at town hall meeting

By Staff | Apr 11, 2017

City Councilmember Richard Leon conducted the first monthly town hall meeting in council chambers Monday, engaging some 60 or more members of the public for an exchange of thoughts and opinions.

Topics ranged from water shortages during the current drought conditions, to traffic congestion on Cape Coral Parkway and the bridges linking the city to Fort Myers, the Southeast 47th Terrace streetscaping, the South Cape 4 a.m. bar hours controversy; Bimini Basin development and Four Freedoms Park, and the vacant golf course on Palm Tree and Country Club boulevards.

When City Council revised its meeting schedule for 2017, Councilmember Rana Erbrick thought it would be a good idea for members to conduct town hall meetings on a rotating basis one Monday each month when council does not meet. It is one way the elected city officials can offer contact for the public to be heard by voicing their concerns.

The idea was accepted by most members leading to Leon signing up for the first one. Erbrick will conduct the second town hall in May and Councilmember Jessica Cosden is on board for June. That is as far out as the schedule goes at this point.

Much of the golf course discussion rehashed ideas and concerns reported many times before, but Leon was asked point-blank how he would vote on D.R. Horton’s proposed residential development of the environmentally sensitive 175-acre property.

“I know this is an emotional issue and as much as I don’t want to see it developed,” Leon explained, “I would vote yes right now with the condition that most of it remain open space and development on only part of it.”

With much grumbling from the 40 or so attendees tied to the Save Our Recreation activist group that resides in the area, Leon tried to explain that the city does not own or control the property. He referred to a 2009 lawsuit brought against the city by the property owner wanting a change to the “open space/parks and recreation” land use designation for a mixed use development. Judges sided with the city’s rejection and the lawsuit was defeated because the mixed use did not match the property’s residential “R-1” zoning.

“That lawsuit years ago is not a free ticket for the city going forward,” said Leon. “D.R. Horton instead will seek a land use change to residential which matches the zoning this time.”

Leon added that the property has always been zoned residential, even when it operated as a viable golf course during the city’s formative years. The course was sold to Florida Gulf Ventures, a division of Ryan Companies U.S., in 2006. Florida Gulf Ventures closed the course, saying it couldn’t make money on golf and pursued alternative development that led to the 2009 lawsuit.

D.R. Horton has a current purchase contract option on the property which contains an “out” clause if or when a land use change request is turned down.

“We are talking with D.R. Horton about a land swap of the golf course property for 300 acres of city-owned prime property in northwest Cape between Old Burnt Store Road and Burnt Store Road,” said Leon. “We think that would be the best option for Horton and the city. I personally would make that swap in a heartbeat, but we will see. I think we will have a decision on the swap in the next week or so.”

That would satisfy the wishes of those residents closest to the vacant course who want the city to purchase it and keep it open green space with parks and recreation amenities.

Leon ultimately admitted his decision on allowing development on the golf course was not set in stone and “my mind can be changed.”

City Council’s next regular meeting commences at 4:30 p.m. on Monday in Council Chambers.