West End residents declare war on developer

 On the left side of the Zoom screen, Civil Engineer Jay Brown calmly presented a project that would infill 75 acres of green space on Newberry Road known as West End Golf Club. On the right side of that screen, more than 100 residents living adjacent to the recreation area posted an uproar of comments against the idea.
 
In the 4-hour long meeting on July 23rd, there were about 300 comments made in an online chat space and dozens of call-in questions and statements were dialed in from unapproving homeowners and residents of Villas and Villages of West End, The Greens, and some from Tioga. Brown, CEO of JBrown Professional Group said this was the highest turnout of attendance of a neighborhood workshop he has had in his career since starting in the 1990s.
The comments ranged from demands to suggestions to accusations of greed and none of the comments made were in favor of the development.
From Susanna Stiles: “Green. recreational. no REZONE.”
From Phyllis Saarinen: “Stormwater management is inadequate for the density of development!”
From Drue Ferrante: “This density is horrendous. The traffic is untenable. They are proposing no significant green space. We need to preserve the green space. Stay focused! NO REZONE”
From Nerissa Wachter: “It is upsetting to me that just because golf play has slowed it does not mean to build 500 homes and a hotel. I left Orlando for a quieter rural living and now you are just clearing every tree and jamming in as many homes as you can fit in every space. Roads, schools, fire/rescue cannot sustain this much development. NO one in this area wants a hotel and this many homes.” 
And a reference to the anthem “Won’t Back Down” from Deb DiCairano: “What was it that Tom Petty said?????????????”
From Travis Oakman: “Make a smart development decision. Reduce homes, increase recreational space and up the retail on Newberry Road.”
From Barbara: “What we need is another deep pocket developer  who is ecology minded and considers the residents as human beings.”
Brown took the meeting attendees through a detailed explanation of what the development would entail and emphasized that there were more green spaces left in the development that others he has worked on. He listed a dog park, playgrounds and described walking trails wide enough for golf carts that would connect the surrounding developments.
West End Homeowner and golfer David Mitchell wanted to know why Developer Sayed Moukhtara wanted to “Come in and wreck what we had. In the properties that we bought our houses on, they were bought at a premium price because they were on a golf course,” he said.
As Brown described apartment complexes and multifamily residential units, he said that for younger people there has been a “jump in desire to live in apartments and not to own (a home). He said they want no yards, but amenities such as weight rooms.
Resident Joanne Kneal said, “Aren’t you late to the apartment game? Why would someone want to come out here to live or stay in a hotel? This is not something that I would want to live in,” she said about the stacked apartments. “People don’t want to live in the way you are designing it.”
Kneal acknowledged the reality of the situation saying, “We know change happens, we expect change, we are used to change. Take a few of us on the side, we can offer you some better ideas. What you are showing is more of the same old, same old.”
Brown responded, “It’s easy to reflect on our experience and what we think people want.”
The big question from residents –  Why that location and not a spot further west on Newberry Road that is not zoned as a recreation green space?
The answer from Brown: “Unfortunately people want to live here,” he said and explained that the County has drawn an “Urban Services Line” west of Tioga and they want to build a development within that area.
One resident tried to encourage the Developer Sayed Moukhtara to look at the Springhill area on 39th Avenue as a venue for this development. 
Homeowner Travis Oakman called into the meeting and pressed Moukhtara to answer several questions that Oakman said were an admission that the 75 acres will become a 487-unit development or even more dense if Moukhtara goes through with the purchase of the property listed for sale at $6.25 million.
 
The property is under contract and Moukhtara said he will not buy it unless the rezoning occurs.
West End residents reminded Moukhtara that other developers have tried to acquire the property and after doing “due diligence” walked away from a deal.
Homeowner Bob Matheny, whose house in Newberry was swallowed by a sinkhole prompting his move to West End in 2012, reminded Brown and Moukhtara that the golf course property might not be suited to sustain a development because of the environmental impact that fertilizer use has had on the property.
“I know the area very well and the course since 1979,” he said.
Another home owner described how water that accumulates on areas of the course during the rainy season drains quickly overnight into suspected sinkholes under the greens.
It was Homeowner Dennis Comfort who said that after three previous investors studied the property with the help of experts, they pulled out. Comfort urged Moukhtara to reconsider his current plan. “Become a local hero by turning the back end into a golf course,” he urged.
Homeowners who called in challenged Moukhtara to admit that if he lived in a West End development he wouldn’t want a hotel or a development to take over the golf course.
But Moukhtara said he would welcome a hotel since he has family that visits often.
Comments expressing frustration kept coming up until 10 p.m. from residents who charged that they would picket and do what was necessary to let elected officials know that their plight to stop the rezoning would not fade.
Moukhtara said the goal of his team was to “Do something that we will be proud of and that the neighbors will be proud of.”
And the more he was pushed by the callers and comments,” Moukhtara’s tone shifted and he said about moving forward with the development that, “Life goes on, growth is going to happen. 
 
“If it’s not me, it’s someone else or somewhere else,” he said. “If you want advice on how to object to my idea, I wouldn’t tell you if you asked me.”

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