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Old golf course acreage: Council to consider land use change

By Staff | Aug 17, 2017

The Cape Coral City Council will consider a controversial land use change Monday that could allow proposed residential development on the vacant golf course property.

Council will hold a final public hearing on the proposed land use change request from parks to residential so D.R. Horton can follow through on plans to purchase and develop the 175-acre property into a community of single-family homes. The hearing is one of eight listed on the meeting’s agenda.

The property, last known as The Golf Club and owned by Florida Gulf Ventures, LLC at 4003 Palm Tree Blvd., has sat vacant since 2006. In June, the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission voted 5-2 to recommend denial of the request to City Council, which has the final say on the matter. Last month, the council’s new Youth Council voted unanimously to recommend denying the request.

“Their votes don’t carry much weight. They have a narrow view of it,” said Councilmember Richard Leon, who represents District 4 in which the old course is located. “They don’t have all the facts. Their job is to look at the (regulation) books and make a recommendation based on that. They don’t have the ability that council does to consider the greater good of the community.”

Leon was part of the city’s effort to broker a land swap deal with Horton to exchange city-owned acreage in the northwest Cape for the golf course parcel. Horton has stated publicly it is not interested in swapping land with the city.

At one point, the city attempted to negotiate a purchase of the land from Florida Gulf Ventures, but was unsuccessful.

One previous proposed development by Ryan Companies that included a mix of commercial, multi-family and multi-story condos, took the city to court over a land use request denial, and lost. The court ruling declared residential as the best use of the land.

Horton’s proposal is to build, at last report, 600 single-family homes in a gated community setting named The Palms of Cape Coral; preservation of 50 percent of the property as green space; substantial buffer zones; plant new large trees; a clubhouse amenity to include a pool, barbecue, pavilion and court recreation areas; and donate 12 acres at the south end of the property to the city for a neighborhood park.

Jonathon Pentecost, D.R. Horton Southwest Florida division president, maintains that 466 homes or condos directly abut the property and 166 of those were purchased by their current owners when the golf course was still operating.

The southeast quadrant of the city currently holds 52 percent of the city’s park land, or 550 acres, with nearly 35 percent of the population. The northeast quadrant is sorely lacking with just 12 acres of developed park land, or 1 percent of the city total, and where there are more than 13,000 vacant lots.

Horton continues to run into resistance in the neighborhood, the most vocal coming from the surrounding residents who formed the Save Our Recreation group to push to keep the subject property as open green space, a park, or golf course.

“There are two main points here,” said Max Forgey who is lending his expert planning services to Save Our Recreation. “First thing is this is a Comprehensive Plan amendment request. It’s a legislative decision with a higher burden of proof than a quasi-judicial decision. City Council is not required to make amendments to its Comprehensive Plan’s Land Use maps.”

He said the golf course property has always been an open space amenity for the neighborhood that has been enjoyed for 60 years. People who bought property along what was a championship golf course paid dearly for that. It was designated so on the Gulf American and state sales maps.

“That was a strong promise made to buyers, who paid a 400 to 500 percent premium for their land and they have a right to expect it to remain open in perpetuity,” said Forgey. “When I was a city planner I colored that property green for open space on the land use maps. The city did not plan on infrastructure and services on it. The city did not anticipate the need for utilities and the added traffic that would result. People made investments based on it and the developer got a benefit from it.”

Forgey’s second arguing point is this city is a pre-platted land subdivision.

“What the city needs most is commercial land, recreational, industrial and institutional land,” Forgey said. “What we need least is room for more single-family homes. We don’t see a benefit to taking 175 acres of unsubdivided land and go subdivide it. Walls and more rooftops is not what the neighbors want to see, it’s not what they bought into.

“This is an irreversible decision by the city council,” Forgey said. “It would be extremely difficult to draw back a decision like this if it is made. They (owners) bought a golf course and we are asking council to say no.”

At least one council member was told by a city attorney that denying the land use change would open the city to another lawsuit and was advised that the city would lose that case, possibly at a cost of millions of dollars with added punitive damages assessed.

There’s also the possibility that property owners abutting the golf course could take legal action against the city if the land use is approved, but there has been no formal public statements to that effect.

Approval of the land use change means the amendment must go to the state for its approval and incorporation into the current Comprehensive Plan that was drawn up in 1988.

Monday’s meeting starts at 4:30 p.m. in Council Chambers.