Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Deerfield Beach's Tam O'Shanter Golf Course Solution

I attended a refreshingly pleasant meeting last night about the land use of the closed Tam O’Shanter golf course in Crystal Lake. This is a tale of a land owner/developer who after trying to push his ideas on a neighborhood, let the neighborhood lead the way to a solution; working together with a lot of give and take, they came up with a solution that will work for all.


The golf course has been closed for years during which time the owner tried to push through various plans, all needing land use change approval by the commission. The commission, faced with hundreds of irate Crystal Lake residents (and voters) turned down the owner, Ralph Little’s idea of housing and then his idea of dredging to make a lake (actually an idea to mine the dirt and sell it over a period of years).

Another idea, just before the current one, was a virtual bribe to the city to allow up to 500 housing units on half of the property for giving the other half to the city for ball fields. The residents went ballistic over this; hundreds of housing units jammed into the back nine and a ball field full of noi-sy kids and bright lights far into the evening on the other half.

Remember the residents bought on a golf course for a reason. When they bought they had no idea that the course would be closed; in fact they paid extra for the privilege of living on a lovely green expanse with no noise and no one there at night (I can just imagine the spiel the realtor gave them about living on lovely green open space forever). Then a string of events, one on top of another, caused their quality of life as well as their home values to crash. The golf course was closed and turned into a brown hay field, and the economy crashed. They had to fight time and time again to prevent the city commission from making things worse. The desperate residents were angry and frustrated.

Here comes the really great part. One of the area residents Rita Reagon came up to Mr. Little with an idea about using the entire course as a memorial park (cemetery). He looked into it, found a family owned chain that has some successful, low key beautifully landscaped memorial parks.

More good stuff: Little spoke to some other residents who were delighted with the idea, and who then went door to door in the neighborhood to get an idea of how the change would be accepted by the rest of the neighbors, they found that the residents were overwhelmingly in favor of the idea.

Last evening Mr. Little and Ms. Reagon conducted a town meeting on the concept. We heard from Mr. Little and the Memorial Park owners, they showed how the park would be landscaped, answered questions about entry and exit, told about the walking path on the perimeter, the ponds which would be retained, and the renovation to the clubhouse and maintenance buildings which would be renovated and used.

The best part, this solution is all about a neighborhood protecting their quality of life. This solution may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is THEIRS. It is not about city commissioners deciding what is best for the city without regard to the residents, and it is not (any more) about a golf course owner trying to squeeze the most bang for his buck out of the property, it is about the people, it is about what is fair and right, and it is about a wonderful compromise. This is all about a way keep land that is designated for open green space open and green.

Congratulations to the residents and owner who worked this out. It is a shame that this is such a rare happening, it should be the norm.

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