Developer wants to build homes on Boca golf courses

June 27th, 2016

The only public championship course in Boca Raton is set to close July 1 and ultimately could be turned into new homes.

Ocean Breeze Golf Club, a 27-hole course at 5801 NW Second Ave., is under contract to be sold to a subsidiary of homebuilding giant Lennar Corp., a representative for owner Wells Fargo confirmed Thursday.

She did not disclose the sale price but said it was too expensive to keep the course open.

Ocean Breeze, which according to its website is nestled among 200-plus acres in the Boca Teeca subdivision, is the largest green space reserved for recreation left in Boca Raton.

Lennar is planning to build homes across the entire property, city officials say.

Meanwhile, Lennar also sent a letter to Mayor Susan Haynie, saying it’s interested in paying $28 million for the Boca Raton municipal course just outside the city limits, west of Florida’s Turnpike. Lennar says the offer is contingent on approval of at least 400 homes on the site.

City spokeswoman Chrissy Gibson said the letter is under review, “but there is no action being taken presently.”

The nine-hole Red Reef Executive Golf Course along State Road A1A is the only other public golf course in Boca. There has been no mention of a sale of that city-owned course.

“It’s tough to find a golf program for my 7-year-old son without leaving the city,” Boca Councilman Jeremy Rodgers said. “It’s almost laughable considering Boca is known for its golf.”

Recreational golf has declined in popularity in recent years, and developers are looking to buy courses as a solution to land shortages in South Florida.

“A golf course is a valuable asset, and there’s such a small amount of property for sale,” said Lewis Goodkin, a South Florida building consultant. “If you didn’t have deed restrictions [preventing development on golf courses], you’d see a lot more of this going on.”

Many Boca Teeca residents opposed past development efforts at Ocean Breeze Golf Course and are expected to again challenge development of the course should the property be sold to Lennar.

“For a city that is well known for its many golf courses it would be inconsistent with our image to not have a high-quality, championship-level public golf facility within our city limits,” Boca Teeca resident Robert DuKate said in an email.

A representative from Wells Fargo said the lender has kept the course open “to be a good neighbor, corporate citizen, and in support of the community” but the costs of running the property “far exceed the revenue.”

“After much research and discussion, Lennar Homes was selected as the developer best suited to finding a path forward,” said Elise Wilkinson, Wells Fargo’s communications manager.

A representative for Lennar said the company declined to comment.

Though Lennar’s plans haven’t come before the city yet, the builder shared with individual City Council members a soft proposal to develop the entire golf course with single-family houses and townhomes, Rodgers said.

“Beautiful plan to be honest, but I don’t think it’s the best use for what is one of the last very large open spaces in our city,” he said. “It’s one of the only publicly playable courses in the city.”

Council members have said they’d like to keep the land as green space. They have directed city staff to reach out to Wells Fargo to find out more about the potential sale to Lennar.

Any developer would need support from Boca Teeca property owners and a city-approved zoning change to build on the land. The city would also need to address the traffic issues on Northwest Second Avenue, Mayor Susan Haynie said.

In 2007, the city approved another developer’s plan for 211 homes on 30 acres, but nothing was ever built.

To keep golf in the city, Rodgers has suggested Boca consider partnering with the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, local universities or even nonprofits to purchase Ocean Breeze.

The beach and park district reached out to Wells Fargo about the potential sale, “but didn’t take the conversation any further once we knew that the developer was under contract with Wells Fargo,” district chairman Robert Rollins said.

“Consequently, we’ve had no discussions with the city regarding participation with purchasing the golf course,” he said.

Rodgers also raised the idea of selling the municipal course located outside the city limits at 8111 Golf Course Road and using the revenue to pay for Ocean Breeze. He said the city could get up to $50 million for the city-owned land.

The municipal site includes an 18-hole championship course and a 9-hole executive course. The two courses totaled more than 79,000 rounds in the city’s 2014-15 fiscal year. Average costs to play are $20 to $61, the city said.

Officials said it doesn’t appear as if the city is losing money by keeping the course open.

“I think it’s about break-even,” Rodgers said. “We collect taxes for a reason, and part of that reason is to provide top-notch recreation services. If it does make money or break even, that’s a bonus.”

Lennar, which reported homebuilding revenue of more than $9 billion in fiscal year 2015, is not the only developer to express interest in the municipal course. Toll Brothers and another developer also have inquired about the land, Rodgers said.

Source: Sun-Sentinel

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