Friday, July 13, 2007

Citizens Object To Port LaBelle Project

Land Owner Seeks High Density Land Plan

LABELLE, FL. --  A citizen's group, S.O.A.R. (Save Oxbow As Recreation), plans to appear before the next Hendry County Commission meeting July 24 with strong objections to proposed changes in the Hendry Comprehensive Land Plan. The plan proposes replacing the Oxbow golf course's current recreational land use to high density home, commercial, and condominium development of the the former Port LaBelle Golf Course 27-hole golf course adjacent to the Port LaBelle Inn and the marina.  A letter, printed in part below, was written by Scott Wegscheid on behalf of the SOAR group, and was part of a presentation to the Hendry County Local Planning Authority this week.

"Before the golf course was ruined for short term personal gain, it was a place where local civic, church and school organizations could hold fundraisers and undertake other important community activities.   It was a place where many people in our community sought recreation and exercise.  It was a place where some people living in our community earned their wages and raised their families.    And finally and most importantly, it was a place that drew people into our community who spent money in local restaurants, stores, car dealerships, gas stations, hotels and motels. 

There have been assertions in the past that the reasons that the golf course went away was because of economic reasons.  This is simply not true.  The reality of the situation was that the owner of the course made sizeable annual profit from its operation. However due to personal financial problems of the owner, the golf course became expendable. 

We have petitions signed by more than 750 persons in LaBelle who wish that this area remain a golf course.  We are committed to appropriate and well-planned development around the course, but we want it understood that we adamantly desire for this property to remain a golf course that provides recreational opportunities, open space aesthetics and economic benefits as originally intended and as originally approved.

As most of us already know the Port LaBelle Inn is basically a deserted hotel with few if any overnight customers.  There are signs on the property at the present time that show it is on the market for sale.  In our opinion, this fact shows that without a destination facility, this area will continue to flounder and not be viable in the marketplace.  

There is a new marina which has just been completed in the area and we believe that with a good plan in place, this area could be a world class tourist destination with a first class Arthur Hills designed golf course and driving range, a new marina on the Caloosahatchee River, a hotel, with a restaurant, meeting facilities, tennis courts and a pool.  In addition the area has existing condominiums and villas that could be augmented with additional residential and commercial uses."

Thousands of Still Vacant Lots In Port LaBelle   

"It is our opinion that with the current real estate market situation, these proposed development will not occur in the near future.  This means that the land owners will continue to fence these properties, place cattle on them and obtain agricultural exemptions so that they pay minimal taxes to our community.

There are at least 7,000 to 8,000 vacant residential buildable lots in the immediate area of the golf course, and this is the only recreational area which was proposed for the original master planned community. In our opinion, there are enough vacant residential lots to grow for the next 25+ years, but we need something for the people who already live here and the ones that are going to live here in the future. 

As a matter of fairness, what happens to the persons who invested their monies in this community with the expectations of having a golf club and course on which to play and socialize.  Do they lose the access to the community�s major recreational facility?  The current owners of property which was a part of the original Oxbow Golf Course purchased their property as a portion of a Golf Course, which had a future land use map designation of Leisure Recreation.   The land was not a vacant tract in a transitional area, but a golf course.  They had no assurance that a speculative investment could obtain a change in the approved use of the land.  If this recreational area is changed, will it replaced with recreational area somewhere else in the County?  If so, how, when and where will it be replaced?"

Area's Major Recreational Land Area To Be Taken Away? 

"The Port LaBelle Community was done as a master planned community and was approved by the Hendry and Glades County Commissions, the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council and the Department of Community Affairs.  Their approval included this leisure recreation area for all of the residents and now they (you) are being asked to take it away from the citizens who live in the area and bought into the planned community.  There are no other large vacant tracts in the area that can be converted into a recreational area. 

The area already has thousands of unbuilt residential lots.  Is there a need for the large number of residential units proposed in this amendment? "

500 Condos In Glades County Proposed

"There is also a Glades county request for over 500 condominium units on an  adjoining 100+ acre parcel.  This parcel is located just over the county line around the existing marina.  Have the cumulative impacts of the proposed project been assessed?  If not, that additional density needs to be considered because while it is in Glades County, it adjoins this area and is part of the neighborhood and will utilize the same access roads as a large portion of the subject property. 

With the current growth rate, not the rate that was occurring two (2)  years ago, but with todays growth rate, we have no need for the proposed number of units.

Our group is very concerned that if the development is approved as requested in this Comprehensive Plan amendment, that the developers of the site are not being held to any standard to replace the lost recreational land that is currently in the community�s inventory.  In effect, the developers that are requesting this change are asking you to remove a future opportunity for the entire community for their short term gain."

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