With no money in the budget for such a move, Sarasota County leaders look to Resilient SRQ funds as possible source
By ChrisAnn Allen
Green space is at a premium in Sarasota County. And resiliency is of prime importance.
The Sarasota Board of County Commissions is listening to residents of Gulf Gate and considering a plan to purchase a former 49-acre golf course within the neighborhood and preserve and enhance the property for stormwater storage, clean runoff into Sarasota Bay, and to potentially reduce flooding in the area.
During a Sept. 12 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved a motion by District 4 Commissioner Joe Neunder to request staff to investigate the feasibility of purchasing the golf course and present options to the board.
The property is owned by a developer but plans for residential development on the site have not materialized and have faced opposition from homeowners.
Currently, there is no county funding apportioned to purchase the property. The highest appraisal of it is valued it at $4,586,000, according to a report by the county’s Public Works Department.
During a discussion later in the meeting for plans to allocate Resilient SRQ funding, a program resulting from $201 million awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of its Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery Program to assist with Hurricane Ian recovery and mitigation efforts, District 3 Commissioner Neil Rainford shared a spreadsheet of potential projects that included $5 million for Gulf Gate stormwater flood control, mitigation, and bay preservation.
Additionally, the property lies within the Matheny Creek region, which was listed among areas potentially eligible for funding, according to a presentation by Resilient SRQ staff.
Several residents and members of both the Gulf Gate Community Association, an organization aimed at preserving the neighborhood, and the Gulf Gate Golf Course Committee spoke Sept. 12 during public comment.
Cass Smith, the beautification director for the association, said she was requesting the county pursue the available resiliency funding to purchase the golf course. “This would allow the county to begin contract negotiations with the owner, who is a willing seller,” she said, and then thanked Neunder for taking the time to tour the property and work on a funding plan.
Smith listed the benefits of purchasing the property, including the preservation of 49 acres within an urban area, stormwater flood control, and water quality improvements to mitigate the impact of development. “This would filter stormwater, which now flows untreated into Little Sarasota Bay,” she said. “We support your action to approve this funding ASAP as time is not on our side.”
Kathy Butler, also a director of the association, emphasized the importance of an updated stormwater system. “Our stormwater conveyance system is at maximum capacity and the city master plan shows the level of service has been deficient since 1994,” she said. “Proposals to increase storage, filtering and sediment removal were never implemented.”
Miguel Rivera, a member of the golf course committee, pointed out the committee gathered more than 1,100 signatures on its petition for the county to purchase the property, and said “This is a very rare opportunity to buy such valuable land west of Beneva (Road).”
Neunder said the county has “all the right reasons” to fund the project and said it should qualify for Resilient SRQ funding. “This is an opportunity to increase our green space, stormwater management and water quality,” he said, then asked for the support of his fellow commissioners.
Said Rainford, “I think it is obviously imperative that we protect our water quality. This is an older neighborhood, and we have an opportunity to really make an impact in terms of current flooding that occurs in major events and downstream runoff.”The golf course, which debuted in 1965, ceased operations in 2005.