Sawgrass Players Club residents give greenlight to golf course proposal

Vote to amend community covenants clears way for planned development

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Sawgrass Players Club residents voted overwhelmingly Monday to amend the community’s covenants and approve a proposed development agreement with Oak Bridge Club owner Alta Mar Holdings, clearing the way for Alta Mar to sell 40 acres of the golf course for development.

In the final vote tally confirmed by Marsh Landing Management following the Feb. 6 meeting held at the Sawgrass Marriott, residents voted 991 in favor of an agreement reached between the Sawgrass Players Club Homeowners’ Association and Alta Mar, with 310 voting against. As a result of the vote, Alta Mar may now seek county approval for its plan to sell the back nine holes of the golf course for development as a cultural center and age-restricted continuing care retirement community. Proceeds from the sale would be invested back into the operation of the golf club and its remaining 12 holes.

Alta Mar’s Jeff Miller – who owns The Oak Bridge Club with his partner and cousin, David Miller – said they were pleased by the vote results.

“We consider it a strong endorsement by the community of what Alta Mar has done, and will do, with the property,” he said.

David Miller agreed. “I’m happy for the community,” he said. “It was a resounding vote and I think that’s just a show by the community of embracing what the vision is. Everybody’s on the same boat and we’re all heading in the same direction.”

A year-long process

Sawgrass Players Club Master Association Board President Gerard Klingman began Monday's meeting by thanking community residents for actively participating in the nearly year-long process to consider, refine and review the agreement with Alta Mar. Noting that the community’s covenants gave the board the right to approve the proposed agreement, Klingman said from the beginning the board pledged to abide by the decision of the community’s residents.

“We decided to let the people decide,” Klingman said. “I’d like to compliment you on your participation in this process leading up to this meeting. Typically, we get 25 percent participation (when seeking) a quorum; for this issue, we received over 60 percent.”

Prior to conducting the final vote, Klingman detailed the process the master association board had undertaken during the past year, which included the creation of a nine-member ad hoc committee and a 14-member focus group that not only actively solicited input from residents of each Sawgrass Players Club neighborhood, but also worked with Alta Mar to refine details of the proposed agreement.

Once a tentative agreement had been reached, Sawgrass Players Club residents received a mailing in mid-January with a detailed report outlining the agreement and a proxy ballot to be returned by Jan. 30. Those who did not mail in a proxy ballot were encouraged to attend the Feb. 6 meeting, where they were encouraged to ask any remaining questions they had.

By the time Monday’s meeting was held, 1,125 ballots had already been submitted. After answering a handful of questions from the standing-room-only crowd, master association board members asked residents who had not yet submitted ballots to do so. The results were announced within minutes.

“I’m gratified that the vote was definitive,” said ad hoc committee member and Water Oak resident Bill Haley. “Development can be disruptive and if managed poorly can greatly impact the quality of life and property values of the neighborhood,” Haley said. “The ad hoc committee and task force worked hard to address our residents’ very legitimate concerns.”

As outlined in the proposed agreement distributed to community residents prior to the vote, the ad hoc committee worked with Alta Mar to reduce the size of the proposed development’s Parcel A1 from 5.39 acres to 3 acres. Alta Mar also agreed to reduce the number of developed units from 396 to 330, install buffers and landscaping to protect homeowners’ views and place $2 million from the sale of the property into escrow to be used solely for improving the remaining 12 holes. In addition, the agreement extends the land-use restriction on the remaining 12-hole golf course through 2057 and stipulates that in the event the golf course fails to be maintained in an acceptable manner, its ownership will transfer to the master association at no cost to the community.

Turnaround

With 76 percent voting in favor of the agreement with Alta Mar, Monday’s special membership meeting seemed to represent a stunning turnaround in opinion from last spring, when hundreds of residents packed the same room at the Sawgrass Marriott to hear details of Alta Mar’s plans. At that time, many residents expressed fear and anger over plans to sell and develop the golf course’s back 40 – a move that some homeowners feared would ruin their golf course views and impact property values.

Several residents, however, said they believed Alta Mar’s proposal presented the best option to address the situation with the golf course, which had fallen into disrepair and was deemed a “failed community asset” by its owners.

“We think all of the questions were answered and the ad hoc committee did an amazing job,” said Bruce Barber, president of the Cypress Creek homeowners’ association. “We wish the Millers good luck. It can only be an improvement.”

Less enthusiastic over Monday’s vote results were local residents who would prefer to see the golf course land preserved as a community park and botanical garden rather than developed.

“We are naturally disappointed and will continue to make the case,” said Frank Levene, who owns a home in Hidden Oaks that abuts the golf course. Because Hidden Oaks is not located within Sawgrass Players Club, its residents were not able to participate in the vote approving the agreement with Alta Mar.

Hidden Oaks resident Jake Bestic noted, however, that Monday’s vote doesn’t mean the current development plans are set in stone.

“The opportunity to acquire the 40 acres and preserve the green space as a public park is still a viable option,” Bestic said. “The purchase price of the land will depend upon the type of land use approved by the county. We feel that a public park would be the best option for our entire community, its property values, and most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.”

David Miller said that while Alta Mar is still open to the park proposal – provided its proponents can raise the funds to purchase the property – the next step is for Alta Mar to seek county approval for the 330-unit development, a process he expects to take from six to nine months.

“I’m proud of our community,” he said. “This resounding mandate allows us to stay on the path for the best outcome for the community. Everybody won.”

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