The Overgrown Dream Home

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, January 14, 2014 No Comment(s)

An overgrown golf course.
It is developing into a pattern. Developer attracts buyers to a golf course setting. Even if the buyers don’t play golf, they like the open land behind them, and the protection from a lot of traffic in their immediate neighborhood. Also, although not many think about it, the buyer contributes to the environment by having all that open land and foliage to absorb rainfall, prevent flooding and enhance the water table. It is worth putting up with an occasional golf ball bouncing into your patio and maybe cracking a window. Buyers pay a premium for that pleasant setting.

Stage two, some years later. Development is sold out, golf course is not used enough to justify its existence, or the developer just doesn’t want the cost of maintaining it now that it has made its bucks. Developer sells out. New developer comes in, neglects the golf course, and goes to the local authorities to get permission to abandon the course (which it has already done) and replace this community eyesore with hundreds of new homes, invariably with far greater density that the original plan. Just about everything the original buyer paid good money for is gone.

It is naturally disturbing to those who invested for golf course settings and see the value of their homes threatened. So they fight. Right now there is a good one going on in Boca Raton. Mizner Trail Golf Course in Boca Del Mar is going to the Palm Beach County Commission for the fourth time in eight years, trying to get permission to build a bunch of homes on the course. Those opposing the change want a park or something that keeps the land open. The problem, of course, is who pays for it.

This time the developer has some support from members of the community. Forgive the cynicism, but such groups don’t carry much weight here. Obviously, some are sincere people who think anything is a better neighbor than an overgrown tract (like the one pictured above), and a closed club that needs police surveillance to keep out culturally inadequate strangers. Still, there is a suspicion their motives are always genuine, that they are getting something in return for undercutting their neighbors. We saw this recently in Fort Lauderdale when dozens of young people in T-shirts showed up in support of a controversial building in which they had no obvious stake. Usually such Hessians can be traced to ties to the developer, or a construction company that might benefit from a favorable ruling.

It is not just defunct golf courses that create controversy for those intent on preserving what they paid for. In order to protect old residential neighborhoods from increasing traffic, cities have been closing off once-busy cut-through streets, greatly increasing the livability (and property values) in the neighborhoods affected. Fort Lauderdale started doing this with downtown neighborhoods in the 1980s. Those neighborhoods were once – we are going back decades now - on the fringes of the downtown, but development on the finger islands, the beach and far to the west have put them in a vise, squeezed on all sides by traffic moving east and west.

Some suggest opening up the closed streets, but what then do you tell those who have moved to those neighborhoods precisely for the combination of tranquility and convenience? Colee Hammock, Beverly Heights and Rio Vista in Fort Lauderdale are good examples of single-family residential sections that have seen a number of old dwellings replaced by some of the city’s most beautiful homes, worth now in the millions. New buyers usually invest in improving their purchases, expecting that their neighborhoods can only improve.

At a recent meeting sponsored by the city to discuss the downtown bottleneck, residents complained that a bad situation will get worse with all the new high-rise construction that is underway, with little thought given to how those thousands of new residents will get around. A golf-course setting in suburban Boca Raton and historic residential neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale may seem to have little in common. But they do.

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