West End community proposes “green lung” idea to county commission

West End Golf Course hole 6 sign
West End Golf Course hole 6 sign
Suzette Cook

Alachua County Commission Chair Robert Hutchinson challenged a group of more than 60 Villages of West End homeowners fighting a rezoning application to come up with a plan.
“The County might include some Wild Spaces/Public Places funds if it was a park available and of interest to the general public,” Hutchinson said and suggested the homeowners join forces to try to purchase the property that is under contract with a developer.
At stake is a 75-acre green space, the home of West End Golf Club and an adjacent parcel at 12830 West Newberry Road, which are up for sale and being eyed up by a developer. Gainesville-based civil engineering firm JBrown Professional Group has submitted an application asking for the zoning of the parcels to be changed from Recreational and a designation of Planned Development (PD) to Low-Density Residential and be designated R-1a which is 1 to 4 units per acre. 
The property last sold for $1.82 million, according to Realtor.com and is listed to sell for $ 6.25 million with a sale “pending.”
For the more than 1,000 residents who live in developments adjacent to the green space, that is a game changer. Many residents say they purchased homes along the golf course to have access to play and for an uncluttered view of the greens.
After two meetings of homeowners who are trying to find a way to keep the property as a recreational asset, a petition is being circulated with hundreds of signatures. The Alachua Board of County Commissioners acknowledge being bombarded with letters about protecting the space.
What the West End homeowners say they also fear is an increase of traffic on Newberry Road, and an increase pollution. Residents of Town of Tioga located directly across the street of the proposed development are also attending the meetings and speaking out against development.
On July 16th the following idea was sent to BOCC Chair Hutchinson by two West End home owners. The proposal is for a wellness park that will not only address the current COVID-19 health crisis in Alachua County, but offers a recreational space for the public to get exercise outdoors and a space to host events for health causes.
In a letter to Hutchinson, they write:
“We are residents of West End Villages and read your comments and suggestions in mainstreetdailynews.com challenging the owners to come up with “a plan” and “a park  available and of interest to the general public “ for 75 acres  West End Golf Course in lieu of a residential and commercial operation which is currently under consideration and requires rezoning from recreational to development. In a community of retired and young professionals it is not feasible to expect that the golf course to be purchased by a homeowner. 
Given the reality of Coronavirus, and other emerging diseases, and quarantined seniors with health issues such as diabetes and obesity and who have no recourse to fresh air and safe open, nearby  space to simply walk or exercise, or ride their wheelchair or walker, and young people who play and  ride bikes on unsafe roads, we  envision a” health and wellness park in the Age of Covid-19.”
With the collaboration and leadership  of  Alachua County Commission, UF Institute on Aging and UF Integrative Medicine, local, State and National resources, for example,  CARES ACT, Wild Spaces and Public Places it is feasible to acquire the 75 acres. 
We suggest a two part use of the recreational area. One part would be commercial and the other would be a Health Park. The commercial section could be a 9-hole golf course, putt-putt golf and a restaurant managed by a professional golf course owner (example Meadowbrook golf which had earlier requested to lease West End Golf course).
The other part would be a Health and Wellness Park. This could be used by the Institute on Aging for their various mobility studies. Covered pavilions for chair exercise, yoga, TaiChi, dance would provide both safe outdoor distancing and fresh air.  Walking paths, biking trails for young and old with access for wheelchairs, and walkers for those with mobility issues.
The park could also be made available for larger public use such as the Cancer Walk, Relay for Life, March of Dimes and other outdoor fundraising events.
West End Golf course is a “green lung” in the midst of an expanding neighborhood of homes and apartments in all directions, with dense commuter traffic. What inspired us to write to Commissioner Hutchinson was his comment that “the County might include some Wild Spaces/Public Places funds if it was a park available and of interest to the general public.” 
The letter is signed by West End homeowners Masuma Downie and Linda Block.
As it relates to a healthy lifestyle enhancing a person’s ability to fight COVID-19, a UF Health expert recently interviewed by Mainstreet Daily News agrees with the residents.
In a recent Q and A, UF Health expert Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi was asked “How can a person prepare to strengthen their fight against COVID-19?”
The answer from Dr. Cherabuddi, who is an associate professor of medicine for UF’s College of Medicine and the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine with a background in treating Zika and Ebola viruses:
“There’s certain things you should do to keep your risk down.
Get enough sleep, stay physically and mentally healthy. Whether it’s stretching, improving your breathing, getting your medical conditions under control. If you are diabetic you want to get your sugar levels at a good level.
If you can get to be at the healthiest version of yourself, that is the best investment you can make.”
For the entire Q and A with Dr. Cherabuddi click here.

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