‘Wait and see’ is golf course conclusion

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By ChrisAnn Allen

“I think we’re in a wait-and-see kind of period right now,” Ron Cutsinger, Sarasota County’s District 5 commissioner, said Oct. 24 regarding a possible purchase of a 49-acre former golf course.
The rest of the board agreed.
Residents of the Gulf Gate neighborhood adjacent to the golf course, who formed the Gulf Gate Community Association, have addressed the commission in pushing a plan for the county to purchase the land and enhance it for stormwater storage, clean runoff into Sarasota Bay, and potentially reduce flooding in the area before it is developed as residential housing.
In September, 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.

An aerial view of the former golf course in the Gulf Gate neighborhood.

During the commission meeting, Public Works Director Spencer Anderson updated commissioners and provided them with several options for how to proceed.
Anderson said he met with the property owner Oct. 19, who told him they would be interested in selling for “a multiple of the appraisal value” the county provided, which was $3.8 million at the lowest and $4.6 million at the highest appraisal.
“They are a willing seller, but they want to sell at something much greater than what our appraisals came in at,” Anderson said.
He said other nearby counties have undergone similar projects, and cited Pinellas’ BayPointe Stormwater Conservation Area, at an estimated cost of $10 million, as a “nearly identical project.”
He said the site contains groundwater and soil contamination with arsenic, due to previous agricultural and golf course maintenance practices, and the owner is currently going through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection process for remediation to move forward with residential development. The property owner said they should have FDEP clearances within two weeks, then start work on the site 90 days later.
“If we were to purchase it, there would be a substantial amount of additional cost for the soil management efforts on our behalf,” Anderson said.
Currently, there is no funding source for the project, though it could be eligible for 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. Additionally, a Public Improvement District (PID) could be created within the project to help fund it, with benefit to be determined by a survey, and the affected neighborhood residents responsible for a portion of the overall cost.
District 3 Commissioner Neil Rainford asked about the public buy-in to create a PID. Anderson confirmed, at the amount the seller is asking, the cost could amount to about $8,000 over the course of seven years for residents in the neighborhood for the district to be established.
Rainford also asked about the water-quality benefits, to which Anderson responded there would be some benefit, but “these are all very conceptual ideas at this point.”
Finally, Rainford said the county would likely have to move fast to acquire the property before development begins, a move it is not ready to make without funding in place.

Neunder

District 4 Commissioner Joe Neunder, who heads the district in which the property is located, pointed out there is much public interest for the project and residents of the area have worked hard to see it through, but he is concerned that the owners are “basically holding the cards here,” and considering the lack of established funding, it appears the county must wait to see what happens with current plans for the property and possible funding before proceeding.
Anderson agreed with Neunder and said other developers have considered the project then dropped it, so there is a chance the current owner will do the same.
District 1 Commissioner Mike Moran said the contamination issue could be more substantial than they are aware of now, which would add to the expense.
“I would like to commend the neighborhood for bringing this forward, and Commissioner Neunder for his efforts and, of course yours, Spencer,” District 2 Commissioner Mark Smith said, adding he also thinks the developer might put not the property back on the market for a potential sale to other developers once it realizes the amount of mitigation required.
“So, I think we must wait, unfortunately for the neighborhood, and see how this unfolds,” Smith said. “But we’re not in control.”

ChrisAnn Allen
Author: ChrisAnn Allen

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