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Council green lights golf course negotiations

By Staff | Feb 6, 2018

City purchase of the old golf course acreage drew some criticism Monday night but Cape Coral City Council remained consistent to the position it took last week at workshop, voting 6-1 to enter negotiations with the landowner.

With Councilmember Marilyn Stout dissenting, the elected board directed City Manager John Szerlag to open negotiations with Ryan Companies.

This week’s meeting still drew far more supporters of the sale than those opposed and they made their feelings known again during public comment: Public ownership of the 175-acre parcel could benefit everyone in the city; was better park land than housing; and that purchase could prove to be a huge benefit to the South Cape redevelopment area of which it is a part.

But there were some who were concerned that the city didn’t have a specific funding mechanism or plan on what to do with the property once purchased. They also feared buying the land could mean higher taxes with little benefit other than to those living nearby.

“If we build homes, it would add millions to the tax base instead of spending $12 million for land,” said Marie Cavanaugh. “A park will only benefit those who live in the area.”

“It will cost money to buy the property and then change it around. If I can’t use it, I get annoyed. I don’t live close to it,” said Charlie Myer. “Your job is to see the city has money for its needs. This is a want.”

Stout, who was absent from the workshop meeting last week, also expressed concerns, saying the Council was going in the wrong direction.

“We have 1,900 acres that are vacant and no money for capital construction. There are 30-acre plots that can be used,” Stout said. “The median income for a household in the Cape is $71,000. Can these people afford to have their taxes increased?”

Stout would end up being the lone negative vote but other Council members also expressed concerns. They agreed watching the tax line was important as was follow through as what they did not want was, as Councilmember John Carioscia put it, “a 186-acre lawn.”

“I’d like to see a health club, a day amphitheater. We don’t need more traffic on Cape Coral Parkway. We’re 45 percent built out and look at it now. This is a no-brainer,” Carioscia said.

Councilmember Dave Stokes said he is still interested in seeing if the county will contribute to the purchase through Conservation 20/20 funds or some other means.

In a related vote, Council instructed Szerlag to request a meeting with Lee County to discuss joint funding options, though it has been conceded by many on the Council that Conservation 20/20 money is likely not an option.

The decision to begin negotiations had some residents feeling unsatisfied.

“I’m disappointed I think it needed to be thought out more first. I don’t want them to raise my taxes,” said Janie Locke. “I understand what they say about the future, but the infrastructure needs to be replaced first.”

Advocates, such as Barth Wolf, president of Save Our Recreation, though, were very pleased with the Council decision.

“We think it’s the first step in investing for the city’s future. Let’s get together and come up with ideas on how we can make this great for all citizens,” Wolf said. “This isn’t just for the neighbors. I want this to be a great part of the city’s future.”