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Cape Council asked to weigh purchase of old golf course site for possible park

Alernate option would be to allow residential development

December 29, 2017
Lehigh Acres Citizen

Cape Coral City Council has two viable options concerning the old golf course acreage off Palm Tree Boulevard in the South Cape: Buy the 175-acre parcel or pave the way for residential development, city staff advised Thursday.

Faced with the prospect of litigation - something neither the city nor the property owner, Ryan Company, wants - City Manager John Szerlag outlined the two remaining options, asking the elected board to decide at its first regular workshop meeting of the new year whether it wants to pursue purchase and then develop the land, possibly as a city park.

If the answer is yes, city staff asks for authorization to negotiate a purchase contact with Ryan Company, whose asking price is $12 million with any environmental remediation to be provided by the seller. If Council's vote is no, Ryan will again submit a comp plan amendment as well as Planned Development Project documents to allow for up to 500 homes on the property with the potential for the first building permit to be pulled next November.

"We have a Committee of the Whole Meeting on January 29, 2018," Szerlag wrote in his Dec. 28 memo to Council members. "I recommend Mayor and Council discuss this issue with the general objective of determining if City Council wishes to purchase the property. If the answer is 'yes," I would request authorization at a Council meeting in February to negotiate a contract for purchase with the Ryan Company. If the answer is 'no," the Ryan Company will proceed with their comp plan amendment and PDP application."

Faced with concerted protests from Save Our Recreation, a grassroots group started by nearby property owners, Cape Coral City Council deadlocked in August, effectively killing a land use change request by the owners of the old golf course acreage off Palm Tree Boulevard in the South Cape.

Had Council agreed to transmit the comprehensive plan amendment to the state for its consideration, Ryan Company/Florida Gulf Ventures would have been able to sell the 175-acre site to D.R. Horton, which planned to build homes while preserving green space and donating a 12-acre park to the city.

Szerlag's memo, which Ryan Company Executive Vice President Bill McHale confirmed Thursday as an accurate reflection of its discussions with the city, also includes funding options for a city purchase with up to 18 months for payment, as well as a development outline calling for $13.5 million in improvements, including a community center, gardens, amphitheater and a three-mile walking trail.

Council would not be limited to the parks development suggestions on the table, the memo states.

"Council also has the option to consider other complementary uses for the property in combination with the parks and recreation services. Supplementary options might be available depending on uses identified," Szerlag wrote.

If purchase is the direction to be taken, Council will need to quickly identify how the city will pay for the acquisition, he added.

"Please know that Mr. McHale is not interested in how the City finances this purchase, but we need to identify a definitive funding source," the memo states. "That funding source will be a 10-year bank loan supported with General Fund Revenues. That said, other revenue sources may become available to mitigate the cost of the bank loan or eliminate the need for the loan..."

The three other funding options listed are to use potential proceeds from the sale, lease or establishment of a public-private partnership for the development of the Seven Islands acreage, which consists of 48 waterfront acres and an adjoining 46 parcels off Old Burnt Store Road in the north Cape; other General Funds freed up by a reshuffling of capital needs and possible grants, including another request to Lee County for 20/20 Conservation Funds.

Residents around the old golf course, who have been adamantly opposed to residential development, are happy a possible purchase of the site is at least up for discussion.

"We're just hearing about it, and we will be trying to meet with folks to know more," said Barth Wolf, Save Our Recreation president in a telephone interview Friday. "Certainly our reaction would be pleased that the city is talking about options to acquire and purchase the property which will be enjoyed by many in the community, and visitors to the community. It really should be a great amenity for the city for years to come."

The group is looking forward to additional details, including any Council and public input concerning the proposed park amenities plan or related options, he added.

"We're just thrilled that now a dialog has begun to develop the property as a positive for the city going forward," Wolf said.

Members of Council were also in wait-and-see mode Friday.

Councilmember David Stokes said if Council favors purchase, he would want to look hard at possible funding from Conservation 20/20, a countywide land preservation program controlled by the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.

"During my campaign I made no secret I was interested in the 20/20 fund," Stokes said, adding the Cape and its taxpayers have received little with regard with in-city projects. "It would be kind of a win-win if we can get some 20/20 funds to purchase it."

Meanwhile, he is still in research mode, weighing the options presented.

"If the 20/20 funds are not available I'm, not sure where I would be. I'd also like to see the PDP," he said.

Councilmember Rick Williams is also processing the information contained in the staff memo.

"I have preferred purchasing the golf course vs a housing development," Williams said via email.

However, it's too early to predict a funding mechanism and, at this point, he's not enthusiastic about having all Cape residents pay for it, he added.

"We need to look at different options as the memo stated," Williams said. "We are still in the information gathering phase, not the decision phase."

Councilmember Jennifer Nelson took a similar view.

"I still have questions to the initial memo we received," she said via email. "For example, I support utilizing the 7 Islands opportunities to purchasing this property however we need to demonstrate what the return on our investment would be in the future and the timeframe to recoup our costs. The 7 Islands option to purchase would eliminate an increase in taxes for our residents to help pay for the property."

She is not necessarily opposed to purchase.

"I have always been in support of utilizing this property as some sort of green space with the plan to generate revenue from the space in the future," she added.



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