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Spending some green to keep things green

Condos along former golf course purchase the land, create preserve

December 22, 2015
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Owners of 16 condo complexes on the south part of Estero Island have bought the abandoned golf course that neighbors them, ending a love-hate relationship with the 55 acres of land they want to see become a nature preserve.

The selling price was $2.4 million, said Errol Hohman, president of the Estero Bay Improvement Association (EBIA) which represents the associations of the 16 condos along Bay Beach Lane. For two years, the EBIA has been fighting a lawsuit filed by Chip Durpo, the most recent owner (since 2005) of the Fort Myers Beach Golf Course, who shut it down last year and deeded it to the bank to avoid foreclosure. He claimed the condos were guilty of "water trespass" for sending water into the nine ponds on the course.

Hohman said the ponds were designed to retain the condos' runoff, instead of it going directly into Estero Bay, as a matter of requirement when the area was developed. The condos came before the golf course was created.

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The former Fort Myers Beach Golf Club closed last year and is now overgrown.

"We were our own water management district," Hohman said. "We were designed to be an aquatic community."

The purchase is based upon a five-year mortgage, funded by assessments for the condo owners. However, they will now be less than the assessments already in place to fight the lawsuit, which has totaled nearly $2 million, Hohman said.

Hohman said a survey of condo owners showed 90 percent supported the purchase, allowing for an area of green space that no longer resembles a golf course.

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"We now call it Bay Beach Commons," he said. "We don't want any association with it being a golf course."

Residents already use the cart paths as walking trails and Hohman said the association will now be discussing how to maximize the area, whether it be with the addition of tennis courts or other recreational amenities. Another option is to leave it as is.

The existing buildings on the land are in "a sorry state of repair," said Hohman, and discussions will also focus on what can and should be salvaged or torn down.

"What I do know is we don't need all the buildings," he said.

The purchase also ends any anxiety that the land could be developed.

"That's not what any of us wanted to see," Hohman said.

It is zoned for zero density, but developers have knocked on the door of Town Hall, in hopes of a zoning change, for what Mayor Anita Cereceda called "countless times."

"I'm proud of them for taking this into their own hands. This preserves their whole way of life there," she said. "This is a good fit for both the condo owners and the island as a whole. It was turning into an unkempt area."

Lee County had also expressed interest in the land, but walked away last year.



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