About 150 area residents turned out for a series of community meetings hosted this week by 13th Floor Homes, a Broward-based developer that has proposed buying and redeveloping the Village Golf Club in Royal Palm Beach.
The proposal, which has not yet been formally presented to the Village of Royal Palm Beach, would build homes on nine holes at the golf course and work with the village to preserve the rest of the site as a nine-hole golf course or a natural area.
The developer is seeking community feedback for its plan to build 250 townhomes and 200 single-family homes on the southern half of the Village Golf Club in exchange for turning the northern half of the land over to the Village of Royal Palm Beach.
“We are very flexible on working with the village on whatever the community wants to do on the northern nine holes,” 13th Floor Homes Division President Michael Nunziata said. “If the community wants to replace the proposed nine-hole course with green space or parklands, or whatever reasonable use the community wants, we are willing to work with them.”
Nunziata stressed that all options are on the table, including deeding the northern portion of the course over to the village.
Nunziata said that his organization has held a number of meetings over the past week with local homeowners’ associations and community groups.
At an open house held Tuesday, Oct. 30 at the Village Golf Club’s clubhouse, about 50 Royal Palm Beach residents were briefed by 13th Floor Homes staff members and their development team, including staff from Urban Design Kilday Studios.
Upon arrival, attendees were first briefed on the poor market for golf courses and shown a map depicting about 50 golf courses that have already shuttered in South Florida. An oversupply of golf courses and diminished demand for golf have resulted in a national trend for courses to be closed and repurposed.
La Mancha resident Joe Breier was not happy with the proposal.
“I feel they are using scare tactics,” he said. “Their message is, ‘The course is going to be sold anyway. Do this deal with us and only half the course goes away instead of all of it. Say yes to us or the next developer might want even more homes.’”
The Town-Crier has confirmed with the owners that the course is for sale and has been on the market for several years.
Diana Catala, a businesswoman and 25-year resident of the village, feels so strongly that the project will hurt the community’s roads that she has started to organize residents in opposition.
“We are killing village quality of life with projects like this,” she said. “We don’t need 900 more cars on our already crowded village streets.”
Catala said that she is starting a web page and petition drive against the 13th Floor Homes proposal, which is called Village Green.
Scott Zucker, the conservation chair of the local Everglades Audubon Society, noted that golf courses are not environmentally friendly.
“They take lots of water, herbicides and pesticides to operate. I would like to encourage Royal Palm Beach to preserve the northern section of the course as a natural area,” he said. “Royal Palm Beach has the possibility to do something very special with this land, like Wellington did with the Peaceful Waters natural area, which was repurposed from its former role as a wastewater treatment plant so that today it’s home to otters, endangered birds and other wildlife.”
According to Zucker, contamination from operation as a golf course can increase the cost of repurposing them as natural areas.
Nunziata said that the course has already undergone an environmental audit with some groundwater and soil testing. “It’s a typical golf course,” he said. “We have seen some courses with such high levels of contaminants that we wouldn’t touch it. This course is not that bad.”
Renderings and draft site maps were made available showing 250 villas or townhouses clustered near the south end of the existing golf course near Okeechobee Blvd., with 200 additional single-family homes proposed. Renderings and plans have been posted on the project’s web site.
Howard Spitz and Kathy Cloutier showed up at the open house hoping that they could do something to save the golf course from development.
“This course has been here since 1968, and it’s an important part of the community,” said Cloutier, whose primary concern with the new project is the additional traffic and people it will bring to an already congested area.
Spitz agreed. “As a 13-year resident, I feel that Royal Palm Beach has become too crowded,” he said. “This project will just create more traffic congestion and school crowding.”
Judy Devonish, who lives directly on part of the course facing bulldozers, was concerned about her property values.
“Just don’t take my view, but my biggest concern is what this project will do to my property value,” she said.
Ken Tuma, a planner with the development team, said that the current goal is to seek community input.
“The purpose tonight was to present our general ideas to the community and to listen,” he said. “The next step is to modify our plans to best meet community concerns, wants and needs.”
He said that any stakeholder who has comments on the proposed plan should send those comments via the project’s web site at www.villagegreenfl.com.
“We are months away from making an application, which we think can be approved in the next 12 to 18 months,” Nunziata said.