Florida state Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, started playing golf at the former West End Golf Course back in the 1970s.
"I grew up in this area," he told 20 attendees at a presentation by the Friends of West End (FOWE) Thursday night in Newberry. The group of homeowners is fighting to keep the greens adjacent to their homes green, and they want it to continue to be used as a recreational space for which it is zoned.
Currently, the 75-acre property located at 12830 W. Newberry Road is involved in a developer's application for the rezoning. However, as of October 2020, the civil engineering firm JBrown Professional Group made a request to Alachua County to defer the application.
"Our team feels like we need more time to communicate with the neighboring property owners and to provide staff with additional information in support of our application," wrote Jay Brown, Jr., the principal engineer for JBrown. "We would therefore request that you defer our pending Comprehensive Plan Amendment and Rezoning applications for at least 60 days. We will stay in touch with ACGM [Alachua County Growth Management] staff and let you know the status of our additional efforts. Please reply that you have received this email and the deferral of our application is acceptable to County staff."
The proposed development would turn the greens into 487 homes and commercial space.
The potential buyer of the property is developer Sayed Moukhtara who has the property under contract with owner Peter Min. The deal won't go through unless the Board of County Commission approves the rezoning. The 75 acres is currently listed at $6.25 million by Min, who represents the property under Pepine Realty.
Throughout the pandemic, homeowners who paid premium prices to live adjacent to a golf course have continued to raise money for legal fees and have held protests in front of the now rundown property. Those protests drew all ages of golf enthusiasts and residents from several developments, including homeowners from Tioga Town Center across the street from the green space.
The FOWE has also gained petition signatures from hundreds of residents and has continued to reach out to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners with their concerns over how the addition of 487 homes would create traffic problems and devoid the area of a space for outdoor activities.
On Thursday night the efforts of the FOWE were presented to Sen. Perry in the form of a 20-minute-long slide show and discussion that included drone footage and a historical look at the property.
Paul Hornby, an assistant instructor for the Gator Junior Golf Association gave the presentation. Hornby works with the non-profit youth development program that focuses on teaching golf skills and life skills through the game of golf.
Hornby said the West End Golf Course was a thriving business until the property was sold to Min and the new owner let it fall into disrepair and eventually close in December 2019.
According to Hornby, at its peak, West End averaged $250,000 per year in income. It was the only lighted golf course and practice area in the region. He said the driving range was the best in town, encompassing eight acres, and entailed 22 hitting mats and one grass section that handled an additional 18 players.
Also in attendance at the presentation was golf pro Scott Dombek, who started washing carts at West End in the 1970s with a dream of making it to the PGA tour. Dombek ended up becoming the lead pro and manager of the course.
After the presentation, Perry addressed the group first saying that he wasn't sure what to expect when he accepted the invitation to come by the FOWE.
But after Hornby's presentation, he said he was impressed with all that the group has accomplished so far.
"It's an iconic area," Perry said. "The lighted golf course, you come and play quick. It's a shame if it doesn't work out."
He turned to Dombek and reminisced about playing the course over the decades.
"I took lessons from Scott," he said. "And so did my wife."
Perry encouraged the group to "persevere" and "keep up the fight."
He said he and his staff would do their part: "I'm going to meet with my staff and start looking for grants."
Perry also said that he thought Alachua County should look into ways to use funds from Wild Places and Public Spaces to acquire the property.
"The county has money for Wild Places and Public Spaces," he said. "They have the resources if they want to dedicate them to this."
Wild Places and Public Spaces is a one-half percent sales tax passed by Alachua County voters in 2016. The proceeds—collected from 2017 through 2024—are earmarked for acquiring and improving environmentally sensitive public lands, according to the county website.
Perry spoke in blunt terms about Alachua County's recent land acquisitions: "We're buying swampland in the middle of nowhere; that's great, it's important for habitat, but it's not important for people as far as the daily use of that."
Perry reminded the members of the FOWE that West End's future "is a county issue" that involves the county commissioners and the review board.
"I can be an advocate," he said. "Maybe it's a dead end, but we won't know until we start."