The Alachua County Land Conservation Board (LCB) voted against adding the defunct West End golf property to its land acquisition list on Thursday but agreed to send a letter of recommendation that shows it supports the space retaining its recreation zoning status.
The 75-acre property was nominated for consideration by members of the West End Community Alliance for Recreation and Education (WECARE), a nonprofit with a goal of preserving the course as a green space in response to a possible housing development.
JBrown Professional Group of Gainesville formally withdrew land use and rezoning applications for the West End Golf property on behalf of developer Sayed Moukhtara of Tara Club.
The original plan was to build a 487-unit development on the parcel located across from Tioga Town Center on Newberry Road.
After much protest by residents of the Villages of West End and adjacent developments, who paid premium prices to live along the green space, the future of the now defunct course owned by James Min and his son Peter Min is uncertain.
In a presentation to the LCB, Ryan Kennelly, senior environmental specialist for Alachua County, revealed through a series of photographs that most buildings on the property have been severely vandalized from all windows broken throughout the main clubhouse to vehicles and tractors sitting at the maintenance sheds being stripped of parts.
Photos showing piles of tires and abandoned greens maintenance equipment, fallen trees and overgrowth of the unkept course were also shared.
Kennelly told the LCB that the nominated site rates a project score of 4.33 out of 10 on the scale of recommending it for purchase as a conservation property and that the property in its current state is valued at $680,330.
Kennelly highlighted that the property was developed in 1969 and opened as a golf course which remained in operation until 2019.
Aerial photos revealed that the property was agricultural dating back to 1937, but Kennelly said maintaining the greens with fertilizer and landscaping has altered its natural plant growth.
“It was agricultural but after the manipulating of the land, there is no original growth,” he said.
He highlighted one natural area that has a shallow sinkhole with lime rock boulders in it and he did find a potentially endangered fern growing in the area.
The LCB voted against adding the land to its acquisition list but said they sympathized with the WECARE representatives and residents in the area who are fighting to keep it a green space.
“The decision by the board was not unexpected given their focus on traditional conservation land,” WECARE President Paul Hornby said. “I still thought we made a compelling argument for conserving critical green space in the heart of a rapidly developing area [and we’re] proud of our efforts.”
They agreed that retaining recreational zoning would be best for the area that is surrounded by housing developments, and that the land is more conducive to becoming a park rather than a conservation area.
The LCB recommended that the WECARE group lobby for the county to use recreational or Wild Spaces Public Places funds as a potential way to preserve it as a greenspace.
They also approved writing a letter to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) recommending that the land remain a recreational space should it come before them if a developer applies to change that zoning.
“It was clear the board recognized the importance of maintaining the land designation of the West End property as recreational as they committed to writing a letter to the BOCC endorsing that need,” Hornby said. “We really appreciated that.”