A development plan for the West End Golf property that started out with 487 residential units and an 80-room hotel has now been pared down to 129 single family units, a tree line with open space, and a donation of 37 recreation acres to Alachua County.
Jay Brown, principal engineer and founder of JBPro development design and consulting firm thinks he may have the right formula that will satisfy the Alachua County planning department and residents of neighborhoods adjacent to the defunct West End Golf Course on West Newberry Road.
Before a three-hour-long neighborhood workshop held on Thursday night at the Abiding Savior Lutheran Church rec hall, Brown gave a rundown of his proposal for the development known as Tara Club.
“What we really tried to accomplish is that basically everybody that has their existing golf course views, which are the most affected folks, they’re still going to have the same views they have now,” Brown said.
“We created this space all the way around the development and we also created this space in the middle of our residential area with the really large live oaks, we’re calling it our ‘central green.’ “
The green area connects the open green spaces Brown and his team left on the perimeter of the proposed development that will feature a mile-long trail.
“We really think it’s a responsible way to address a myriad of concerns,” Brown said.
Those concerns have been voiced at a dozen public and private meetings over the last two years as residents banned together and formed the nonprofit WECARE (West End Community Alliance for Recreation and Education) to fight to keep the 75 acre course a green space for the neighborhood.
President of WECARE Paul Hornby is also a junior golf instructor perused the maps of the new proposal and said he was still waiting for answers to questions raised in previous meetings JBPro held privately with affected homeowners alliances (HOAs). He was still concerned about home density and traffic.
“The density of homes doesn’t meet the county criteria,” Hornby said.
With the new plan taking place on less than 50 developed acres, Hornby said that if Alachua County planners turn down the development, the community along with the developers could take a plan straight to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and have them weigh in on changing the land use from recreation to low density residential and the zoning from recreational to planned development (PD).
“We declined that,” Hornby said. In a September 2021 letter to JBPro Director of Civil Engineering Chris Potts, Hornby and 11 other green space advocates wrote a letter declining that offer.
This letter is in response to your recent request to have a joint meeting with county officials. The meeting would entail discussing the revised development plan, to include the developer’s offer to donate a portion of the property to the county for recreational purposes,” the letter states.
“We want to thank you for your recent efforts to engage with us, as well as your offer to attend the above referenced meeting. However, at this time we feel a meeting with the county is premature. We are not supportive of the current development plan given it lacks the necessary vision and elements to support a true community recreational space.”
But according to Brown, the latest plan checks all of the standards Alachua County staff has set for his team.
The PD-proposed conditions are a maximum allowed single-family detached units of 140, two vehicular access connections, community recreational and amenity areas for residents, and an outer recreation open space that would be open to the public.
The plan proposes that the outer 37 acres be donated to Alachua County.
“Developer has agreed to donate nearly half the property (37+/- acres) to Alachua County to create one of the largest parks in the county if county agrees,” the presentation slide read.
And it goes further stating that the developer is willing to relinquish all control of those 37 acres of open space to a public entity.
“We propose Alachua County will program, improve and maintain the park,” the presentation read, adding that Alachua County would need to undertake a “community planning process to define the specifics of the park design elements.”
More than 100 people attended the neighborhood workshop in person and about 70 participated on Zoom.
None of the neighbors cheered on the new plan. Most were just as dedicated to opposing any development of the green space as they have been for almost two years since the idea of replacing a golf course with homes began.
An increase in traffic, the loss of the recreational facility and sense of a golf community, and the decline in home value were all concerns.
Resident Robert Matheny played his first round of nine holes at West End Golf in 1969 and scored a 34. He said he never was able to do that well again. He moved to a home just off hole 5 a decade ago.
“Our county commissioners in the past have zoned this area for recreational,” he told Brown. “They did it because they thought it would be the best for this area. I’ve been at all the meetings so far. Just to make it perfectly clear, we want this to stay recreational.”
“It is a historical landmark,” Matheny said about the course that opened in 1969 and closed in 2019. “It is the only course that is lighted in the USA.”
But Brown reiterated several times that the owner of the property has a right to develop or use his land that is located in the urban cluster which is determined by Alachua County.
Dozens of comments came from Zoom and in-person attendees of the workshop with none in support of the project.
Brown outlined the next steps he will take on behalf of project developer Sayed Moukhtara who has been developing residential communities in Florida since the early 1990s.
Brown will submit applications to Alachua County for a land use change and a PD amendment in December. The planning commission public hearing will be in March 2022, the BOCC public hearings will be in April and June, preliminary and final development plan public hearing will happen in late 2022, and permits obtained from county, FDOT, GRU and SRWMD in first quarter of 2023 with construction beginning right after.
Brown told workshop attendees he wasn’t sure what Alachua County’s reaction would be to the idea of a 37-acre donation.
Mainstreet Daily News sent BOCC commissioner Ken Cornell the new plan and the offer and Cornell said, “The donation of 37 acres to Alachua County within the urban cluster that could be earmarked for recreational purposes would be unprecedented.”