By Richard N. Robbins
Recently the Tamarac City Commission moved to send the application from the Woodmont Country Club along to the Broward County Commission for their consideration. This is the second step of a long process of consideration for the redevelopment of The Pines Golf Course at Woodmont.
When the meeting opened the Mayor commented upon the sea of green shirts in the audience that all read “Vote Yes for Woodmont’s future.” In my estimation the vast majority of the audience was wearing these shirts. However by the time the public comments portion of the meeting was opened, many wearing the shirts had to go to work the next morning and had left. In fact, most of those remaining after 11:00 p.m. were the opposition to the plan.
About the Redevelopment
This complex plan calls for the redevelopment of the currently closed 18-hole golf course into a new nine hole golf course with private single family homes surrounding the course. These homes will all be buffered from the existing homes by either the golf course or water. It is anticipated that these buffers will be 150 feet or more in most cases. In addition, a small portion of currently non-useable space will be set aside as open space, as will another parcel of land at the corner of Pine Island Road and Southgate Boulevard will be rezoned as commercial.
A new clubhouse will be completed within 18 months of the start of construction of the first homes as will the new nine hole golf course, a new resort style pool, and other improvements. When the new clubhouse is completed, the existing clubhouse and mechanical buildings will be removed to make room for a portion of the housing. There will be a maximum total of 152 single family homes (actual engineering and subdivision plats may reduce this number) selling at market value well above the average values of the homes currently within Woodmont. The purchasers of these homes will be required to be members of the country club. The commercial space will be limited to just 30,000 square feet and may not contain any restaurant with a drive through thus eliminating Burger King, Arby’s, Wendy’s, etc.
These changes have inspired vociferous objections from a small group of people who, by the way, were never members of Woodmont Country Club. One of these has received TV coverage on WPLG for his objections as well as coverage in Tamarac Talk. Richard Brown is Vice President of Pines III, a 61 home community abutting the Pines Golf Course. He claims to speak for 90% to 95% of the residents of Pines III which accounts for 58 of the homeowners should we accept his 95% figure. I have yet to hear of an actual vote of the residents, but accepting his claim, I wish to point out that only 10 of the homes in this development “will have a view modified from existing open space (golf course) to proposed development.”
This means that these 10 homes will no longer face the burnt out tall grass and unkempt areas of the closed golf course, but will instead “will be buffered with either a water body, a redeveloped portion of the 9-hole golf course, an existing roadway or a landscape buffer.”*
There are approximately 2,300 homes in all of Woodmont and Mr. Brown is objecting on behalf of 58 of them. Only a total of 180 other homes will be affected in the same manner. In addition, a privacy wall, along with required landscaping” is being proposed on a 50 foot buffer zone. This will buffer the commercial development from the southeastern existing residential development.
At the hearing Mr. Richard Brown and Mr. Neal Karmen, CO-President, of the Woodmont Property Owners Association, Inc., which represents a small number of the homeowners in the area, including myself, spoke to the problem of students leaving J. P. Taravella High School crossing Southgate at Pine Island and congregating at the new commercial property. First of all, there are approximately 3,000 students at J.P. Taravella High School. This new development will add an additional 26 students according to the Board of Education. In addition many students are bussed or go home in different directions. So, presumably the same number of students plus 26 will be crossing Southgate Boulevard at about 2:42 to 2:50 p.m. each week day. Since both my wife and I work at the school we drive through that intersection daily and have for nearly seven years. We have no knowledge of serious accidents with student during that period. Plus since most of the kids gravitate to McDonald’s, 7-Eleven and Publix, with no fast food to draw them to the commercial property what will be the attraction? In fact, for years kids have created a problem crossing the golf course at that corner. While I served on the Board of Woodmont Country Club, as well as President and interim General Manager, and first Vice President, kids crossing the golf course and being in danger of being hit by a golf ball was a constant problem that required a BSO deputy. Since the golf course is now closed, they cross at will. The wall behind the commercial property will inhibit that action.
Mr. Brown has gone on to say that the current owner of Woodmont Country Club has not made a financial success of the former 36 holes of golf at Woodmont. There are many reasons for this failure; some of which were out his control. He faced two hurricanes and made some serious mistakes in the recovery. He has recently made the mistake of not making his last payment to the former equity owners who are due $427,000. The golf industry as a whole has suffered dramatic losses of players since his purchase. When Woodmont Country Club became a member-owned club 33 years ago, the surrounding residential areas were made up predominantly of retirees and snowbirds. Today, Woodmont’s prime marketing areas are rapidly becoming young communities. The majority of the older members have left due to financial setbacks, failing health and death, plus a general drift north to Boca and Boynton Beach. Meanwhile, the current owner has not been able to keep up with the social needs of the remaining members.
In 2002 while I was interim General Manager of the club we had an overall membership of just under 800. We were no longer able to keep the Pines Golf Course busy so we made “off season” arrangements with a Canadian Company to use our course. By the following year with a change in philosophy the club slipped to 639. Today the club has a little over 100 members. This made necessary the closing of The Pines Course one year ago and allowing it to go fallow. Course maintenance is very expensive. It also required turning the Cypress Course into a public golf course. Due to the large loss in income and failure to invest in maintaining the club house, it too has deteriorated past the point of rehabilitation. However, we were told that the current owner operating as a golf club, as opposed to a country club, has been successful in maintaining the status quo. This new plan will help the management move forward, or backward so to speak, and bring back a country club to Woodmont.
What is in it for Woodmont?
Today we are moribund. Yes, houses are selling, but that is because the prices are low. We need the new vitality that these 152 homes may bring to the Woodmont marketplace and the new revitalized Woodmont Country Club to bring interest and excitement to the area. Most of us who moved here in the last 15 years would love to have a real country club, not a golf club, with all the activities that make up a country club.
Yes, there is fear of change. We cannot fear change so much that we just stand still. We must move forward. This may not be the panacea but it certainly will be a step toward the future of Woodmont. There are many more steps to approval. The next major step, if approved by the county and state, is the site plan, and then the most important document, the Developers Agreement.
The devil is in the details. It is here where our city development department and members of the city commission must pay special attention. There is an existing agreement with the company building the homes that has set requirements and timetables. The City’s agreement should match those requirements and timetables and go one step further to guarantee that the owner of Woodmont Country Club, Inc., abides by those requirements with set penalty clauses. There were attempts to discuss this agreement at the recent meeting. However, City Attorney, Sam Goren, pointed out that subject was not up for discussion at that point, but will be the subject of two city commission meetings later in the process.
One final issue that has been brought to the forefront, is the existence of a covenant. This issue has prompted two attorneys to enter the fray. However, they were told by City Attorney, Sam Goren, that the issue of any covenant is for the courts to decide, not the city commission.
Yes, I am a “green shirter” and support this forward step. But, I will be watching the Developer’s agreement carefully since that is the way the city commission can protect itself and the residents of the entire City of Tamarac.