Friends of West End hijack BOCC meeting

The Friends of West End (FOWE) have been waiting for the right time to send their message to the Alachua Board of County Commission (BOCC).

At the June 1 special meeting, the group that is trying to prevent a developer from replacing the closed, 75-acre West End Golf Course with 487 houses and apartments, had its say.

One by one, in person and over the phone, FOWE members voiced their concerns.

In response, commissioners and the county attorney kept reminding the FOWE members that the agenda item under consideration by the BOCC was about cleaning up language and developing policies and definitions for recreational zoned properties—not about the rezoning of golf course. But FOWE members continued to reiterate their reasons against the removal of one of the few green spaces left within the urban cluster. 

Alachua County Transportation Planning Manager Jeff Hayes gave his presentation and asked the BOCC to “authorize staff to complete drafting policies to implement the recreation future land use designation,” and to authorize staff to “prepare a draft of a text amendment to the comprehensive plan.”

When public comment was opened up, about two dozen residents turned the topic of discussion back to the potential development of the West End Golf Course property.

Paul Hornby, president of the West End Community Alliance for Recreation and Education, a nonprofit working to keep the course as recreational space addressed the BOCC. Hornby said the Alachua County strategic plan through 2040 has the West End property zoned as recreational.

“Will the application move forward or will it be held until the recreation future land use policies are completed?” Hornby asked, adding that he hopes the public will have input as the new policies are developed.

A 90-year-old resident who lives at West End commented that when she moved to Gainesville, it was the city of trees, but now it has become the city of traffic.

“I’m very much for the green space being kept,” she said about the golf course.

Resident Bud Jones brought up population density and future growth especially at West End. He asked the BOCC to develop criteria for recreational space as housing grows and population density increases.

At that point Commissioner Anna Prizzia reminded meeting viewers that the item on the agenda was not about West End and noted a current application for rezoning the West End property on hold.

Robert Matheny came to the podium and told the BOCC that he lives at the Villas of West End South. Then he gave his three minutes of allotted speaking time to have a video played showing the development happening in areas adjacent to West End Golf Course.

While that video was being readied, West End resident Barbara Gordon called in to say that she supports the West End property being converted to a county park because of the residential development in the area. She said residents there, “Need to have more breathing space and green space, which Gainesville is known for, and recreational space for families and children.”

Phyllis Summerland agreed.

“It would be wonderful to have a park where the golf course is at this time,” she said. “One of my main concerns is the traffic.”

She said losing the recreational space would be an injustice because it would increase the traffic out on Newberry Road.

BOCC Chair Ken Cornell then chimed in to remind meeting viewers that the motion on the floor had nothing to do with West End Golf Course.

“We’re talking about policies to protect future recreational land use,” he said.

Alachua County attorney Sylvia Torres explained that the BOCC could discuss large scope items such as land use but not take on detailed issues such as traffic, which would be saved for a quasi judicial hearing in the future should a rezoning application make it that far.

But a resident from Tioga Town Center, Nicole Bodlak, called in to state her case that the Tioga community depends on the recreational space at West End.

“I completely support recreational space,” she said. “We are vey family oriented here on the West side of I-75, and we don’t have a walkable park.”

Bodlak said that it’s the recreation and green space that has put Alachua County on the map and that she wants it to continue being one of the best places to live for families and asked that the BOCC continue to support green spaces.

Resident Marylou Mansfield said she disagreed that the motion on the floor had nothing to do with the potential loss of West End as a green space.

Marylou Mansfield speaking at BOCC meeting

“Does it protect us at the situation where we are right now?” she asked about the recreational land use policy.

“We’ve been involved in these situations before,” she said, referring to an application being submitted in the middle of transition and new policies not being applied to applications in progress.

When the video played, it showed the history of the golf course, showed how local youth used it and stated that the course was a socializing hub and place for people to enjoy the outdoors. The drone footage showed where 1,492 more homes are in the process of being built adjacent to West End and Tioga, plus developments on SW 143rd Street less than a mile away.

Another resident came to the podium and said he was sure the plan all along was to kill the golf course, break the spirit of the residents living on the golf community, and that the overgrowth of weeds makes him cry when he passes by if he looks at it. He claimed that greed is driving the property owner Peter Min. He asked that the BOCC not let the course be destroyed and the community that has been built around it.

“We will continue to protest to keep it a recreational property,” said resident Robert Ratliff in a phone call comment.

At least a dozen more people gave public comments defending leaving the West End golf course property as a green space and recreation area.

Alachua County resident Anthony Johnson, a frequent commenter at the BOCC meeting, said the concept of urban cluster is the problem. 

“Read the definition,” Johnson said. “It’s designed to designate the area of the county for growth. We’re fighting urban sprawl by building urban sprawl.” 

Johnson called urban cluster a failed policy: “We tried it for 15 years now and all it does is destroy neighborhoods.”

After all of the comments were delivered, BOCC Chair Cornell addressed the audience.

He said he was born and raised in Alachua County and lived in the Oakcrest neighborhood. His father was a professor and Cornell learned to play golf with him.

“Getting some policies in place to protect our future recreational land use is critically important, especially as we continue to grow,” he said. “If we are going to grow and protect the rural areas while simultaneously providing for the quality of life that folks from all around the state come up and live here, then we’ve gotta have policies that protect recreational land use. I just wanted all of you to hear that, and thank you for coming.”

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