Only a 1970s recreation restriction can save a Florida course from becoming a housing development
PALM BEACH, Florida — The Palm Beach County Zoning Commission voted Thursday to support another golf course conversion — this one west (...)
PALM BEACH, Florida — The Palm Beach County Zoning Commission voted Thursday to support another golf course conversion — this one west of Lake Worth Beach that would result in a 450-unit residential development replacing the 50-year-old Forest Oaks golf course at Lucerne Lakes.
Zoning commissioners heard more than two hours of testimony in support and in opposition to the plans of Canadian homebuilder Mattamy Homes, which is under contract to buy the 79-acre course for $15 million from Grillo Golf Management.
County planners received petitions with more than 700 signatures opposed to the project and another 200 unique emails in opposition as well. They received more than 100 letters in support of the plans.
Land-use attorney Lisa Reves of West Palm Beach, representing disgruntled homeowners at Lucerne Lakes, spoke in opposition. She argued that a restriction included in the documents when the planned-unit development was built in the 1970s prevents the golf course from being converted into a development. The documents, she said, require that the golf course be maintained as recreation in perpetuity.
She said Mattamy’s own title insurance company has refused to insure the title to the property if objections are raised citing the restriction that allegedly bars development of the golf course.
“People purchased these homes based on the reliance that the recreation area would always be there,” she noted.
County land-use attorney Robert Banks advised that the issue of the covenant was not within the purview of the Zoning Commission to address. He explained that the issue is something for homeowners at Lucerne Lakes and Mattamy to resolve.
Residents said they were upset over the loss of their golf-course views. They were also concerned about the amount of dust that would be generated as a result of the conversion.
Staff concluded that the project is consistent with county zoning and recommended approval.
Vincent Grillo and his business partner, Nick Pisano, said they cannot compete with county-owned facilities.
“We cannot make a go of it anymore,” Grillo said, noting that very few Lucerne Lakes residents golf at the course. In the 1990s, Grillo said, as many as 100 residents would golf on a daily basis. Today, that number is fewer than 10.
“The residents do not support the course,” Grillo said.
The golf course, in an unincorporated area under county jurisdiction, is on the south side of Lake Worth Road at Lucerne Lakes Boulevard. Access will be through a traffic light on Lake Worth Road with a future connection to Charleston Street. Nearly half of the 79 acre-tract would be left as open space.
If approved, it would be the latest in a series of golf-course conversions in South Florida. Palm Beach County, by itself, has seen more than 10 conversions in the past five years.
Vacant land is difficult to find. Homebuilders gobble up failing golf courses as soon as an owner puts it up for sale. Grillo has agreed to keep the course open until permits are obtained so that it will not go fallow and become “a nuisance to existing surrounding communities.”
The agent for Mattamy Homes said the builder has gone out of its way to address concerns raised by residents of Lucerne Lakes. A number of adjustments have been made, he said, noting that buffers have been extended and setbacks increased to accommodate the residents. Mattamy had planned at one time to build 600 homes.