Residents say no to building

By Ushma Patel
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted July 9 2006

Boca Raton An effort to get residents' input on redeveloping the Boca Raton Executive Country Club degenerated into shouting Saturday, as residents rejected the premise that homes would ever be allowed on the site and walked out.

Kolter Communities is looking to buy the country club and golf course, which closed Wednesday. Kolter has proposed building 90 single-family homes and 96 townhomes on the roughly 55-acre parcel. To go forward, it needs the City Council to change the property's zoning from recreation to residential.

But residents of the Hidden Valley community who live along the golf course said they want to keep their green space. They oppose more residents putting added demands on their roads and
resources. They want the golf course to re-open or to have it become a park, they said.

Kolter's efforts are the latest in a string of proposed golf course redevelopments. Developers have proposed building townhomes at the Ocean Breeze Golf and Country Club in Boca Raton and the Boca Lago Country Club west of Boca Raton. In Lantana, officials have approved building townhomes on the Grand Lacuna Golf Club's driving range.

Kolter's vice president of marketing, Mary Kay Willson, said that because Kolter's first plan was unpopular with residents, the company called the meeting Saturday to get fresh ideas.

But the 60 or so residents at the club refused to participate. When resident and informal leader Joey Eichner was told he could not address the crowd in the meeting, the residents walked out of the clubhouse and into the lobby to hear him speak.

"We're together, we're united on this," Eichner said to the crowd. "... When there are public hearings and people are lined up down the block, it's hard for your local government to make that change."

When the residents returned, Kolter's attorney Mitch Kirschner told them that the developer already has invested more than $2 million. Kolter is committed to building the homes, Kirschner said, and residents would benefit by being involved.

"If we have your approval, it makes life easier, and you get `benes' [benefits] -- a dock here, green space there," Kirschner said. "If you say no, we're still going ahead."

Kirschner said Kolter will create a new plan on its own, and the residents agreed to maintain a dialogue with the company while continuing their opposition.

"I learned to play golf on this course," John Holland, 53, said. "I hate to see it destroyed ... and look across the street and there's development out there. You can't put that much traffic on our

Willson said she was disappointed in the meeting and hopes future dialogue will be more productive.

"I think there's a lot of people that believe the golf course is going to come back and I'm not sure they've accepted it's going to close. Now that it's happened, I hope they'll believe something is going to be here," she said.