Alachua County rejects West End land use change

WECARE members begin to clap as the BOCC denies the land use change for West End Golf Course.
WECARE members begin to clap as the BOCC denies the land use change for West End Golf Course. (Photo by Seth Johnson)

The West End Golf Course will retain its recreational land use following a 4-1 vote by the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Tuesday, preventing any residential development to the relief of residents who attended.  

Members of West End Community Alliance for Recreation and Education (WECARE) said the land should stay recreational in order to serve the densely populated Jonesville community. The BOCC agreed, with Commissioner Anna Prizzia saying the county would need to revamp the comprehensive plan to allow the land use change. 

“I don’t think this has a chance of ever being a [traditional neighborhood development] unless our comprehensive plan is gutted,” Prizzia said. “Because, right now, our comprehensive plan is laid out such that this hasn’t met the validation and the study of our comprehensive plan.”      

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The preliminary development plan presented to the commission showed 70 residential units in the center of the West End property with 37 acres of open space surrounding it. The plan represents three years of work, numerous scaled-down developments and more than $600,000.  

Jay Brown, principal engineer for JBPro and agent for the developer, explained the timeline to the commission. The golf course owners shuttered the property in 2019, citing a decline in golf and financial unfeasibility. Since 2009, Brown said 1,606 golf courses have closed around the country.  

The owner then decided to sell. In the spring, Peter Min, the West End owner, cleared a lien on the property to allow a sale. The potential developer, Sayed Moukhtara, began creating plans to build out the 75-acre lot in a similar fashion to all the adjacent residential properties.  

The original concept called for 247 residential units, more than 200 multifamily units, a hotel and at least 100,000 square feet of commercial space. Brown said neighbors opposed it.  

The planners adjusted the plan by removing the hotel, multifamily units and commercial space. Brown said the neighbors opposed it.  

To meet the residents’ desire for open space, the planners designed the concept presented on Tuesday. Brown said the plan allows golf views like residents are used to while allowing development in the middle of the property. The open space could be donated to the county to create a 37-acre recreational park—the county’s third largest.  

The original park plan included 140 units, but the final plan halved the units to 70. Residents showed up on Tuesday to again show that they opposed it.  

The Alachua County staff also recommended against approval, but they had different reasons.  

First, the development would be on the low end of the density scale—less than 1.8 units per acre where 4 are allowed. Second, all the traffic generated by the development would flow onto Newberry Road, and the comprehensive plan calls for interconnectivity of vehicles and bikes and pedestrians.  

While the development would connect with Tara West End to the east, the closest exit from that subdivision is still Newberry Road. Drivers would need to make a left from Tara West End and travel more than a mile through neighborhoods instead of making a right to hit Newberry Road in 100 feet.  

Future planned roadways could lessen the drive around, but Brown said the subdivisions to the north wouldn’t allow a connecting roadway. He said the proposed 70-unit development would even generate fewer trips per day than the golf course did while running.  

He also pointed out that the county had anticipated development of the West End Golf Course. While marching through the development process, the county required the Tara West End development to have stub-out roads that pointed toward the golf course. A sign at the spot signifies a future road would likely run through the area.  

The development team also pointed to areas of Alachua County’s code that allow land use changes when “no reasonably economically beneficial use remains to the property owner under the existing land use category.”    

WECARE opponents said the current property owner may not see an economic benefit from a golf course, but other recreational activities—tennis, soccer, swimming and country clubs—remain viable options.  

Paul Hornby, president of WECARE, said the golf course declined due to poor management instead of a decline in golf interest. He said the same about the Gainesville County Club. 

Even if the owner moved away from golf, WECARE members said the recreational land should be kept.  

Thomas Hawkins, planning consultant for WECARE, pointed to the need for recreational land use in the Jonesville area. Within 1.5 miles of West End, Hawkins said low density residential represents 70% of the land use while recreational makes up less than 2%.  

The closest three parks are a 5-, 6- and 12-minute drive from West End. Hawkins said that’s doable in a car but a long way to go on a bike or on foot. 

He pointed out areas of the county’s plan that promote a full range and mix of uses along with an effort to preserve existing amenities.  

Within half a mile of West End, more than 1,000 residential units have already been slated for development.  

Four commissioners agreed with WECARE, backing up the planning commission’s unanimous rejection from April.

Alachua County instituted the comprehensive plan and ratified it through their commissioners, Commissioner Ken Cornell said.  

Prizzia said the developer failed to listen and give the community what it wanted. 

“I don’t think you were really listening to the community and what they were saying they wanted and needed from that development in order for it to make sense for them,” she said. “And I think that they gave you that opportunity.” 

Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn dissented. She said property on a major corridor like Newberry Road will be developed in the coming years, citing migration from the coast and other parts of the nation. 

“Mr. Moukhtara has brought to us the opportunity for recreation without having to raise the taxes of the citizens,” Eagle-Glenn said. “It’s a public-private partnership, and I think what we have on the table today is something that we may never have again.” 

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