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Proposed city purchase of old golf course acreage: Cape-County meeting on land buy unlikely

By Staff | Mar 8, 2018

The city of Cape Coral may have to wait until it actually purchases the old golf course acreage before it can discuss funding help from the county.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners this week decided that a meeting regarding the 175-acre site isn’t going to happen yet since 1) the proposed $12 million land buy doesn’t qualify for preservation funding and 2) while city staff has brought forward a $13.5 million improvement proposal for a park, there is no concrete plan for the site’s use

“It doesn’t appear the board is ready to have a joint meeting on the golf course. They want more information before we have one,” Commissioner Brian Hamman said.

Cape Coral City Council came to a consensus in February that it would like to hold a joint meeting with the county regarding possibly joining in to help fund the buy.

County Manager Roger Desjarlais spoke with City Manager John Szerlag about the request and then asked his board for guidance on Tuesday.

Commissioners weren’t very receptive to the idea, especially with contributing Conservation 20/20 funds as some on City Council have proposed.

Commissioner Frank Mann reminded his fellow board members that on two previous occasions, the golf course site – a developed property not deemed environmentally sensitive – did not qualify in any way to receive 20/20 funds.

“Why are we going to have a meeting about what we already know? I think it’s a waste of time based on what we already know,” Mann said.

Commissioner Larry Kiker said there are other options, such as for a regional park or a recreation center, which the city lacks, but was told both options and funding sources are extremely limited.

“We don’t have money outside the 20/20 fund to purchase a parcel that size. We don’t have enough in impact fees in that region to do that,” Desjarlais said, adding the county doesn’t build regional parks in cities. “Barring some other policy, our options are quite limited.”

Desjarlais sent an e-mail to Szerlag informing him of the county decision, which city spokesperson Connie Barron described as disappointing.

“It’s always a good idea for two entities to work together on a project and discuss it; that was the goal,” Barron said. “The county preferred to wait until we had the property secured and that we have a plan or idea of what we want to do.”

District 4 City Councilmember Jennifer Nelson, in whose district the South Cape property is located, took the decision in stride.

“I’m wasn’t surprised, honestly. When you try to get that many people together on what appeared to be 20/20 money we didn’t qualify for, I wasn’t surprised,” Nelson said.

Hamman said he would love to have a great working relationship with the Cape’s City Council, especially its new members. He agreed the former golf course acreage purchase is a big issue.

But there needs to be more on the table than just “let’s talk.”

“Bring us a little more fully developed idea than just discussing it. That has helped make for more fruitful conversations,” Hamman said. “If we put our heads together, we can come up with something, but it should come from input from their citizens.”

City Council has authorized Szerlag to enter into negotiations with the site’s owner, Ryan Companies.

The city is currently waiting on appraisals before opening those talks, Barron.

If a purchase agreement is reached, Ryan would remediate the property according to a final review written by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The city would have 18 months from the contract signing to pay Ryan Companies, with monthly payments acceptable if the two sides can agree to a payment schedule.

Any sales contract would go to City Council for its approval.