Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What's The Oxbow Golf Course Future?

27 Holes Or Hundreds Of Condos?

PORT LABELLE, FL. (Nov. 16, 2005) -- A citizen's group calling themselves SOAR has banded together with over several hundred other Hendry and Glades county residents to ask the Hendry and Glades county commissioners to halt land developer's plans to rezone the Oxbow Golf Course at Port LaBelle to high density residential use.

SOAR, Save Oxbow As Recreation, spokespersons Jack Zorn, Scott Wegscheid, and Ken Downing say they would like the county commissions in both Hendry and Glades county to consider the feasibility of Hendry county purchasing the Oxbow golf course and running it as a municipal course. They say they have studies in hand that show the land would make a yearly profit for the county and keep the land as it is presently zoned as "leisure/recreation"
to benefit the citizens of both counties as well as encourage tourist to visit the two counties. The group says they have over seven hundred petitions asking to keep the land as is for recreational use.

The 27-hole championship golf course land, including the Port LaBelle hotel was subdivided into 27 tracts in March 2003 after its owner found a need for fast cash for his other business interests, and an auction company sold off the parcels to about a dozen different investors. The 27 parcels sold were sized from five acres to 228 acres with most being approimately 10 acres. Among the local buyers were investor Stan Freedman, real estate agent Terry Pearce, real estate development company CHL,and investor L. Miners. The Port LaBelle Inn hotel property, built in 1981 on 5 acres, was purchased by LaBelle RV park owner Richard Siebel.

Reportedly, Siebel and some other buyers have contracts to sell their properties to developers who now want to rezone the land. The purchase contracts are allegedly subject to the developer obtaining permission from the Hendry and Glades county commissioners to rezone the land from its current recreational use to high density residential. Such a rezoning would
also require permission from the State to modify the counties' Comprehensive Plan, which mandates how much land in each county is required for different uses, including recreational use.

The purchase prices at the 2003 auction ranged from about $800 per acre for the bid on the 228 acre tract which included 15 holes of the Arthur Hills and Patrick Grelak designed golf course, to $5800 per acre for 14 acres purchased by CHL. CHL has built model display homes on it's parcel. The reason the prices were so low at auction, were because of the zoning on the
parcel, which was mandated by the county for all the land to be used for recreation and leisure use, except for a hotel zoned on one 5-acre parcel.

The land has been zoned for recreational use for decades and the golf course was a profitable business for almost 20 years according to SOAR spokesperson Jack Zorn. He said he talked the golf pro who operated the golf course who told him that he ran up to 70,000 round of golf per year at one time at Port LaBelle.

According to Scott Wegscheid, a local land developer and the golf coach at LaBelle High School, the Hendry County Economic Development Agency, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Hendry Tourist office all are in agreement to support keeping the land for recreational use. All cite the probability of increasing tourist income to the counties as well as a probable profit to
the county if Hendry operated the golf course as a municipal course. The Women's LPGA in a past season held a qualifier tournament at the Oxbow Golf Course. SOAR spokepersons cite this as one example of the uniqueness of the course and the vistor dollars that golf brought to western Hendry county. Fund-raising Tournaments also supported local community sports activities according to Wegscheid.

The Hendry commission has scheduled the SOAR group on its meeting agenda Thursday Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. at the Hendry commmission chambers in LaBelle at the Courthouse. A Glades county zoning board will hear comment on rezoning of the golf course land at a 7 p.m. meeting at the Glades courthouse also on Thursday Nov. 17.

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