Golf Course Changes Meet Commission Approval After Record Marathon Meeting

By: Anne Geggis

Just an hour and a half before the sun came up Thursday – after a record-breaking, 10-hour and nine-minute meeting – a proposal to redevelop two 18-hole golf courses sank to where developers aimed: a 3-2 city commission approval.

Thursday morning’s approval means that a plan for 423 homes to sprout on the greens of the Woodlands will go to the Broward County Commission for its approval. The plan also must pass scrutiny at the state level and then return to the city commission for final approval. That process will take about a year.

Thursday’s approval was a setback for critics of the plan who also filed a lawsuit Monday afternoon seeking an emergency declaration to stop the process.

“They have decided not to follow the rules of their comprehensive plan,” said Jose Spena, a Woodlands resident who is a party in the suit, on behalf of the newly formed Defend the Woodlands Corp.

For the developer, 13th Floor Homes, changing the use of the greens from recreational to residential will be a long-anticipated upgrade for the 50-year-old community of 890 existing homes. It will become a gated community, protected by walls and fewer entrances. The company is seeking the change as it looks to buy the property from its current owner, ClubLink.

Tuesday night, though, the Lauderhill city commission passed a resolution to oppose entrances on Northwest 64th Avenue and Northwest 44th Street. But representatives of 13th Floor said it would be an issue for further discussion when the site plan comes forward after the rezoning is completed.

The evening started with Mayor Michelle Gomez asking that the crowd, that filled nearly every seat in the commission chambers, not clap or jeer in response to the public comments offered.

“There’s a lot of emotion in the room tonight …” said Gomez, who told the crowd she lives in the Woodlands. “No matter what happens tonight, we’re still neighbors tomorrow.”

If built, it would mean a lot more neighbors: 1,508 new Tamarac residents — about a 2.3 percent increase in the population. It would mean more green in city coffers. In addition to $5 million in impact fees the city would collect once, the built-out community would send about $2 million more annually in taxes and another $2 million in fees such as fire assessments and utility tax, considering current rates, according to Maxine Calloway, community development director.

The crowd also learned the proposed zoning changes could have been almost twice as dense as what 13th Floor Homes is proposing. If the redevelopment were allowed to develop to its maximum, city rules will allow a potential of 827 homes on the golf course acres. If the zoning gets all its approvals, though, the number of homes will be restricted to a maximum of 423 by code.

Still, most speakers were opposed to turning the greens into a swath of homes, even if 13th Floor Homes promised to preserve open space for the Woodlands. Many took issue with the developer’s assertion that golfing was in decline.

Many lamented the loss of the natural environment. Others noted the hazards created by digging up chemically treated fill. The flooding that occurs — with all the green space there is — was discussed. One even cited the historical nature of the Woodlands, where the recently departed founder of Tamarac lived.

Leonard Hixian, who has lived in the Woodlands for 25 years, said every reason he moved there would be destroyed in this development. The density was not what he bargained for, either.

“I moved here because I didn’t want to be in a neighborhood with zero lot lines,” Hixian said. “I would never ever buy a home in a community with zero lot lines.”

But Karen Malcop, who lived on Banyan Lane in the development, said that she thinks 13th Floor Homes is offering the best deal the community is going to get. She was just one of two who spoke in favor of the plan, and raised the specter of the golf course closing and being left to become overgrown.

It’s a situation that has occurred in Broward County.

“ClubLink is going to sell,” Malcop said. “We can’t stop any owner from selling their property.”

If 13th Floor’s plan is not approved, the next plan to redevelop the golf course might not be as favorable, she said.

The meeting wore on long enough that Commissioner Mike Gelin decided to send out for pizzas and soda from Rotelli’s pizza at about 10 p.m.

“I was hungry, and I figured the residents were hungry,” he said.

Gelin and Commissioner Marlon Bolton voted against the changes for the greens. Gomez and Commissioners Julie Fishman and Debra Placko joined together to prevail.

A spokeswoman for the developer said they were pleased the commission saw it their way.

“This approval gives us the opportunity to build upon the collaboration that has occurred for the last two years,” said spokeswoman Karina Castano. “We look forward to crafting a site plan that works for the Woodlands and neighboring communities for years to come.

Gelin said the meeting ran on far too long than it should have. He said he saw people sleeping in the crowd. The public input session into the decision didn’t start until more than five hours into the meeting. When members of the public were called for their turn to speak, about half of them had already left, he said.

He said he’s going to propose limits on meetings such as those other cities have: When the clock hits midnight, the final must fall for adjournment.

Bud Fine, vice president of Section 4 of the Woodlands, thanked all those assembled for the entertainment — inciting gales of laughter.

“I have never seen a movie so enjoyable,” he said, 

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Anne Geggis
Anne Geggis
Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.