Collier County commissioners voted 4-1 to move toward buying the 167-acre property in Naples, Fla., with the lone dissenting vote coming after it became clear that the intent was to try to repurpose it for other uses that could include a corporate campus or nursing home. One commissioner did hold out the hope that perhaps at least a nine-hole course could remain as part of the redevelopment.
A 167-acre golf course in Naples, Fla. could soon become county property, the Naples Daily News reported.
Collier County commissioners voted 4-1 on January 22 to move toward buying the Golden Gate Country Club property for $28 million, the Daily News reported.
Commissioner Donna Fiala cast the lone dissenting vote. She initially supported buying the property, but decided to vote against the move when it became clear that fellow commissioners were opposed to keeping the property a golf course if the county buys it, the Daily News reported.
“I thought we were going to remain a golf course,” Fiala said.
County staff, in its report to commissioners, noted that a municipal golf course “would not be cost-neutral and in fact require a general fund subsidy,” the Daily News reported.
“It’s a public golf course now, isn’t it?” said Andy Solis, one of the commissioners opposed to the property remaining a golf course. “It is a great way to lose a lot of money in my opinion.”
Commissioner Burt Saunders noted the property could be considered a site for a future veterans nursing home, though there’s no guarantee state or federal governments would choose to build a nursing home for veterans in Collier County, the Daily News reported.
“If we get approval for a VA nursing home, this could be a location for it,” Saunders said. “If we don’t, then obviously there won’t be a nursing home there. So there are other uses that we can explore down the road.”
The idea to keep the property a golf course was met with little enthusiasm from county commissioners, aside from Fiala, the Daily News reported.
Saunders said he was “probably not supportive of a golf course, because of the expense.”
Commissioner Penny Taylor said she was opposed to a golf course, preferring green space and walking paths instead.
However, Commissioner Bill McDaniel said he could envision a “happy medium” of uses, including a 9-hole municipal golf course encircling the neighborhood now at the center of the property, the Daily News reported.
County staff noted that the property could be used for a number of public uses, such as workforce housing, government buildings, sports facilities, and green space.
“I envision, based on what we’ve heard from the board, that they’re looking at a campus feel,” Deputy County Manager Nick Casalanguida said after the meeting.
He likened it to the campus that Arthrex, an orthopedic medical device company, is building in North Naples, Fla.
“Lot of green space, paths, walking trails, lakes,” Casalanguida said. “So it’s got a really good community vibe.”
County staff wrote in its report that one way to pay for the property would be to take on short-term debt, the Daily News reported.
“Spending $28 million to acquire this property without knowing the ultimate end land use will require some form of debt,” the staff wrote.
If the property were to continue to be a golf course or other recreational use, park impact fees would be primarily used to repay the debt, according to the county report.
County staff will draft a purchase and sale agreement consistent with the offer letter, the Daily News reported. A second appraisal has to be conducted per state law. County staff also will check the quality of the land, including taking soil and water quality samples, to make sure there are no “environmental impairments,” Casalanguida said.
“Golf courses are notorious for using weird chemicals in the past, but usually over time they mitigate themselves,” he said.
County commissioners directed staff to approach Robert and Mario Vocisano, the owners of the golf course, to find out whether land at the northeast corner of the property is also available for purchase, the Daily News reported. That outparcel, which now includes offices and a hotel among other things, was not included in the initial offer to sell, Casalanguida said.
After reviews are completed, the proposed transaction will go before county commissioners for final approval, which could happen by the end of April, the Daily News reported.
County commissioners in June had directed the county attorney to reach out to the property owners to bring back a proposed purchase price for the golf course, the Daily News reported. Representatives for the Vocisanos made the county the current offer earlier this month.
The property is part of ongoing litigation between the county and the property owners, whose plans to convert the golf course to housing sparked a controversy with neighbors, the Daily News reported.
The Vocisanos applied in 2015 for a zoning change to convert the golf course, one of the first public courses in Collier County, into up to 700 homes, apartments or assisted-living units.
David Marren, president of the Fairways at Par One Homeowners Association, said after the vote on January 22 that he was in favor of the county purchasing the property “even if it doesn’t stay a golf course,” the Daily News reported.
The residents’ main opposition, he said, was “not the fact that it may not be a golf course,” but rather the residential proposal by the current property owners.
Anything the county would do with the property would be better than “having a high-density development in there,” Marren said, though he added that “our preference would be a golf course.”
“We’re not opposed to anything,” he said. “We want to make sure that it doesn’t turn into high density.”
Marren told commissioners on January 22 that “the campus approach has many, many benefits,” the Daily News reported.
“I think it has benefits to the environmental acquisition of the property, I think it has benefits for the entire community,” he said.
The application from the Vocisanos drew a lawsuit from neighbors, who argued that a deed restriction prohibited the owners from rezoning the golf course. Collier County joined the lawsuit on the side of the neighbors, the Daily News reported.
Commissioners then scrambled to rewrite zoning rules to provide greater protections to homeowners who live along golf courses, fearing that more golf course owners might seek zoning changes.
The Vocisanos have argued their application predates the new rules and that they shouldn’t apply to their proposed housing project, the Daily News reported. They have won on the circuit court level, leading to a pending case at the 2nd District Court of Appeal, where oral arguments are scheduled for February 8, according to the county.