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City purchase or residential development for old golf course site?

By Staff | Jan 25, 2018

Since the old golf course off Palm Tree Boulevard closed in 2006, there have been myriad of ideas on what could be done with the privately owned acreage.

Some favor city purchase for a park or refurbished golf course. Others want private development as a tourist destination or residential community. Just last week one person suggested using some of the 175-acre site for solar panels.

On Monday, the Cape Coral City Council will discuss options proposed by staff and perhaps others during a workshop meeting at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.

City Manager John Szerlag is expected to present the city with two options: Either buy the property or allow Florida Gulf Venture/the Ryan Companies to proceed with their proposed comp plan amendment which would allow residential development.

“We’re going to present the city council with options and they will discuss those options, which were laid out in a memo the city manager sent them at the end of the year,” city spokesperson Connie Barron, said.

Ryan Companies is expected to submit a land use amendment to be transmitted to the state Department of Community Development by the first week of February.

The company has also said it is open to selling the site to the city for $12 million with remediation for any soil or water contaminants to be paid for by the seller.

On Thursday, Szerlag sent a memo updating the development options. The memo states that if the comprehensive plan amendment is approved, Bill McHale, executive vice president, Ryan Companies, will submit a PDP for a subdivision to allow up to 500 residential units.

Ryan would also work with the city to try to secure Conservation 20/20 funding from the Lee County if Council agrees to pursue purchase.

One of the largest groups in the city with a vested interest in the Golf Course’s future knows what it wants, and it’s not more housing.

During its meeting Wednesday, Save our Recreation came to a consensus on three things, according to Barth Wolf, president of the organization.

First, the SoR agreed the city should buy the 175-acre property, preferably with help from the county through Conservation 20/20 funds.

That may be hard.

Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman said the golf course has gone in front of the Citizens Review Committee, which looks at potential 20/20 purchases, but didn’t get favorable reviews for environmental reasons.

In 2014, Ryan attempted to have the county purchase the property with 20/20 funds. The land did not meet any of the criteria spelled out by 20/20, Barron said.

“I don’t know if that would change, but there are Council members that want to look into that.”

“The 20/20 ordinance says you can purchase land for open space. If the county was to purchase the old golf course, it would be the first of its kind,” Hamman said. “It wouldn’t have the same preservation benefits you see in many of the other preserves.”

The county already has purchased Edison Farms for $42 million, and Hamman said it’s important to take the remaining money to use it for places that are beneficial to the environment.

“We have to prioritize everything in a way that will benefit the taxpayers the best,” Hamman said.

Szerlag said in the previous memo to City Council that $12 million is the asking price.

In addition to approaching the county for 20/20 funds, he identified other possible payment methods including?a 10-year bank loan to be paid back with General Fund tax dollars; potential proceeds from the sale, lease or establishment of a public-private partnership for the development for the city-owned Seven Islands acreage which has an appraised value of $25.3 million; grants or a reshuffling of other capital projects.

“If the city decides to buy the land, the stakeholders involved with the parks master plan would probably be reassembled to discuss what options or amenities they would like to see,” Barron said. “Monday starts the ball rolling in one direction.”

Wolf said SoR also agreed there should be a multi-use facility that people throughout Cape Coral can use.

“That can be multiple things. It won’t be just a wildlife park. There’s no definition. There’s could be pickleball courts, baseball fields, a community center, gardens, whatever,” Wolf said.

Finally, Wolf said they need to be flexible if the city does decide to buy the property and not get hung up on certain things.

“It’s more important to have the city buy the property and then we can all participate in the process later,” Wolf said. “Let’s not worry about what goes in there right now.”

That’s assuming the City Council approves buying the property.

Councilmember Jessica Cosden, for one, said she is keeping an open mind.

“I’m not going to walk in with my mind made up. I’m curious to hear what the city manager and staff have to say,” Cosden said. “I know this is an opportunity that probably won’t come again. The biggest decision this Council will make will be on the golf course. It will affect every resident whether through tax dollars or with a park.”