Calusa Country Club plan has homeowners divided

By Nancy Eagleton….

Signs of opposition have appeared throughout the Calusa community.

It seems the greens of Calusa Golf Course in West Kendall have been in the red for some time. The owner closed the Calusa Country Club in March and is proposing to develop the 168-acre property into an upscale senior community.

But with change, comes resistance and many concerned neighbors who live on the perimeter of the golf course are supporting a covenant that restricts the property’s use. The covenant, which dates back to 1968, stipulates that any development other than a golf course requires a waiver of the covenant be signed by 75 percent of the 144 homes that abut the golf course.

Tim Hyman, who represents owner Facundo Bacardi of the Bacardi rum family, recently conducted a community meeting to present the $200 million development concept, The Gardens of Calusa – Life Care Retirement Community, to the Calusa homeowners.

“The homeowners are concerned about traffic, their property values and their view,” Hyman said. “We understand that, which is why we are trying to create a total package that will enhance the quality of life of the residents that abut this property.”

Part of that package is a $50,000 payment per household which will be paid to 100 percent of the owners who sign the restrictive covenant waiver within two weeks of receiving it. After the two-week period expires, payment would be made only to those who make up the necessary 75 percent of the signatures needed.

“This money will be placed in escrow, ready to pay,” Hyman said. “This is a multi-million dollar giveback.”

The second part of the package addresses the homeowners’ backyard views. Hyman contends that the design philosophy of “The Gardens” is based on respecting the environment and enhancing the lifestyle of the perimeter homes and families. To replace the homeowners’ backyard views of the golf course, the site’s plan includes a 20-acre, 3.2-mile long, 50-foot wide linear park that would border the entire 168-acre property.

The park, which would include a Vita course, lakeside gazebos, fountains, sunset viewing areas, playground and putting green, will be for the exclusive use of The Gardens’ residents and the homeowners, who will each have a private path connecting their property to the park walkway.

Hyman said that the homeowners would have majority representation on a board that oversees the park, while The Gardens would maintain the park and provide 24- hour security.

One Calusa homeowner who plans to sign the waiver, but wanted to remain anonymous said, “Everyone’s first reaction is to fight, because it’s a change — and change is scary for some people,” she said. “I didn’t use the golf course, but my husband and I would probably use this park.”

For some homeowners, the development still falls short of warranting their signature to waive the restrictive covenant. Some worry that if they sign, it opens the door to other types of development, if this plan falls short. Not so says the Bacardi group, who assures homeowners that their signature will waive the covenant only for this specific development proposal.

Calusa homeowner Orlando Rodriguez said that he is worried that the value of his home will decrease now that it will no longer be “on the golf course.”

“The owners have offered us each $50,000, but I think our home values will decrease by more than that,” he said. “If they want us on their side, they’re going to have to offer more to compensate for that decrease.”

Barry Schimer, another Calusa homeowner, said that he does not support this development plan.

“This is not about business; these are our homes,” he said. “Would Mr. Bacardi like this development in his backyard?”

The proposed master plan of The Gardens of Calusa includes independent living cottages, assisted living villas and a nursing care facility, for a total of 960 dwelling units. The self-contained community will include dining areas, lounges, library, theater, ballroom, computer center, retail center, medical center, fitness center and spa and wellness center with an indoor swimming pool.

Even with all the amenities, Hyman is quick to point out that the building footprint on the property will be 11 percent, with the remaining 89 percent open space. The average setbacks of buildings from property lines will be 170 feet, and 380 feet for threestory buildings.

“We are planning a successful, viable working business and in the process of planning it. We’re trying to make everyone happy,” Hyman said.


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17 Comments on "Calusa Country Club plan has homeowners divided"

  1. Placing a large, commercial development in the center of a single-family, quiet, residential neighborhood that is not designed for it is totally incompatible with the existing development. Hence, the 99-year protective covenant that the County approved when the neighborhood was initially developed!

    The neighborhood would initially be subjected to a year or so of heavy earth moving equipment and building construction, along with its associated traffic. Then comes the traffic generated by the 960 dwelling units, another 300 (stated) employees per shift, and associated commercial service traffic 24-hours per day. No quiet and well established neighborhood deserves this level of disruption!

    $50,000, minus 30% or so in federal taxes, won't began to pay homeowners for this mess. Anyone who sells out for that deal needs their head examined, in my opinion.

    • p.s.

      P.S.:
      The term "homeowners divided" that is used in this article is a misnomer. A vast majority of homeowners who have rights under this covenant are AGAINST the proposed zoning change / commercial development. That is evidenced by their display of the "No" signs pictured above and a drive around the golf course to count the signs.

      The homeowners bought their properties with a full knowledge of the protective covenant as did the Bacardi interests, I'm sure.

      It should also be noted that Calusa Elementary School could be heavily impacted by the added and potentially heavy traffic flow generated by this commercial project.

    • long time resident | April 24, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Reply

      Well then, how much is enough to go along with the Calusa Retirement Village plan?

  2. I noticed Bacardi has commissioned a feasibility study. Hmmm. I wonder what their feasibility study revealed 5 years ago, regarding the profitability of running a golf course minus a clubhouse? Or with trailers and later outhouses for bathrooms? How about run down putting greens featuring bare spots and weed clumps? I'm sure that's a big attraction.

    The lead sentence of this article is a farce, and the author far too kind and gullible throughout. Calusa was losing money because Bacardi intended to lose money. Once the wild flail at an exclusive private club fell through, you can just imagine the backroom corporate scheming: "Screw the covenant. We'll slowly sabotage the place for a few years, show enough red ink to justify closing, then make a bundle on redevelopment. Quietly line up the lawyers now."

    I guarantee my version is closer to accurate than anything Bacardi and the weakling mouthpiece Hyman are spewing. I couldn't stop laughing when I read accounts of the early meetings, and how Hyman and cohorts squirmed and lost their cool when questioned/confronted by Calusa homeowners. No kidding. When you've put forth a ridiculous bribe like $50,000 and include a two-week window before cutting the payout to the bare minimum of 75% to receive it, it screams you're 100% self-concerned and every claim to the contrary can be dismissed before it's heard. Frailty by definition. They are lucky I wasn't at those meetings.

    For one thing, every horse establishes a track record. You throw out backstretch hyperbole at that point:

    This is Bacardi's record at Calusa:

    * Failed miserably in attempt to draw 200 private members at $215,000 apiece for planned Fort Dallas conversion of Calusa

    * Planned to build large fence around that private club, eliminating backyard view of Calusa homeowners. Keep that tidbit in mind whenever Hyman insists the current proposal will be tilted in favor of neighboring homeowners

    * Never rebuilt the clubhouse

    * Never put adequate money or effort into care and maintenance the course, to the point even local high school matches shifted elsewhere. The once-impressive greens were so bumpy and unplayable in 2010 it became a conversation piece in local golf circles, and drove customers elsewhere

    * Never advertised the course locally or in new media like Twitter or Facebook

    * Very convenient that the course closed almost exactly 5 years after reopening under Bacardi's ownership, as if rentals of the trailers and use of the GPS system in the cart were at their due date

    Yet we're supposed to ignore all evidence of ineptitude and submit to Bacardi, full faith in the latest color slide show. LOL.

    This type of scam has been executed before, folks. Google Las Vegas Clark County Commissioners and a gem called Billy Walters. He used charisma and power to sway local big shots and receive ridiculous concessions, at one point receiving $34.4 million for a course valued at $9 million. Many of the commissioners ended up in jail, for various kickback offenses. And now Walters plans to close his Bali Hai course near McCarran International Airport and build a 2 million-square-foot commercial complex on the county-owned land. The group's partners paid no rent to the airport during the 10 years the golf course has operated because the lease payments were based on profits that never materialized.

    Sound familiar? No claim is too outrageous, as long as you get your hands on the property. Windfall down the road. Don't fall for it here. The 99 year covenant was astute because it recognized the need for a neighborhood golf course and the associated long term benefits.

    • interested neighbor | April 24, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Reply

      All the stuff that Bacardi did or didn't do doesn't matter any more. What matters is the covenant, signatures, county commission, the courts and neighbors and of course the money. Focus man, don't confuse the issue by talking about Bacardi being the good guys or the bad guys.Doesn't matter anymore.

      Ask the right questions about the future, not the past, except the covenant .If you guys aren't careful, the courts will decide everything.

      So, is it better to be part of the process and get some of what you want, or go the distance and hope you win everything or maybe you'll lose everything. Then , you'll get no money, no park and years of
      " Gosh, I should have been part of the process" Good luck to you.

      • Confuse the issue? LOL. Obviously you don't remember the lies of 5 years ago, when Shawn Crews made one ludicrous claim after another. He said Fort Dallas would be, "the best golf course in South Florida," and that, "the aim is not to block residents' views, as some may think, but to enclose the golfers so they feel a slice of paradise."

        The past absolutely should be used to evaluate the present. Many homeowners bought it hook, line and sinker in 2006 and are susceptible again. I'm trying to point out, via specific examples, that the plans in 2006 were aimed at screwing the homeowners, and that's the case again. In a weak economy there's particular vulnerability to over value a lump sum, and fail to recognize the big picture long term consequences.

        Bacardi merely wants to get beyond the legal aspects and wipe their brow in relief, all the while chuckling at the claims they've made, knowing darn well the actual process will favor their side at every turn.

        And apparently you didn't bother reading the end of my post, when I emphasized that county commissions have been twisted elsewhere. This is an ongoing scam across the country, corporations acquiring golf courses with intention to lose money then rezone. There are countless examples on the major golf forums.

        Money and a park is the same as nothing. Obviously you're a cave in sort. That type needs more than luck. And if there's no park then you've already agreed with me, that Bacardi has no intention of following up on the fluffy promises.

        • interested neighbor | April 30, 2011 at 2:09 am | Reply

          .Focusing on the past doesn't matter. Saying Bacardi did this and did that. is just a waste of time.. Who cares? what matters is what is going to happen today and tomorrow . I'm not a cave in of sorts, Just pointing out that you better get your ducks in a row and get a qualified attorney ready to go , because these guys are for real and want something productive on the now former gold course.

          • I agree, the legal aspects are most vital now. And spreading the word through public pressure. The one thing these corporations don't want is a stain on the reputation, something that could impact word association and therefore bottom line. Bacardi hopes to quietly twist and influence the commissioners, and others involved in the ultimate decision, while pretending to be a smiling harmless balloon.

            I mention the past because it's scary how many homeowners take everything at face value. They hear $50,000 and have no idea it won't resemble that number when taxes are applied. They watch Bacardi's depiction of tranquil parks and don't remember the big ugly permanent wall that Bacardi intended to build in their backyard just 5 years ago.

  3. Frustrated on Calusa | April 24, 2011 at 3:14 am | Reply

    Ok, You make some really good points, but to say that we still live on a gold course is only partially accurate. The course is now closed and we've been trying to sell our house for quite some time and we used to be able to say, Yes, we live on this beautiful golf course, now I have to disclose that its closed and tell prospective buyers about what is going on .

    A couple of prospective buyers walked because we didn't know exactly what was going to happen on the property and not specifically because of the retirement center

  4. Frustrated on Calusa | April 24, 2011 at 3:26 am | Reply

    We'll never be able to prove that Calusa Elementary will be heavily impacted because it won't be. Be sure that Bacardi will have the traffic studies to prove their points. What are we going to do , other than say that $50,000 is not enough.

    • No.1 – The covenant has not been broken. Don't give up on something that you haven't lost!

      No. 2 – If it comes down to a zoning fight, vast numbers of area residents will show before the Zoning Board and Board of County Commissioners to fight the commercial development or any change less than the existing EUM fronting the golf course.

      No. 3 – Residential sales around the golf course are probably dead for another 2 years or so because of either this threat of commercial development or major, ongoing construction or both. Stopping golf course development NOW is the only short term solution, in my opinion.

      • Caluse Thinker | April 24, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Reply

        You' re right, it might come down to a zoning fight at the county commission level and whatever side loses will surely take it to court and then the judges decide.
        The hearing before the county commission is just a stop along the way for either side

  5. I'm a yes gal | April 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Reply

    You are kidding yourself. There are already a bunch of people that want the money and have signed on. And some of them actually have NO signs in their yards. This thing will take a year or two or three but sooner or later,this now former golf course will have something other than a few golfers on it.
    The sooner the naysayers stop their jabbering and get down to talking with those Barcardi people and do the best deal you can, the better it will be for all of us.

    • Homeowners DO NOT have to "deal" with the Bacardi's at this point, period! Miami Dade County has already enforced this covenant in 2011 and the County will be brought into any legal fight to break it.

      You have not lost anything and "dealing" now would be very stupid. Especially, to "deal" for commercial development in your backyard and a paltry sum of money that you will have to pay a large percentage of federal income taxes on.

      If you lose, you can still "win" before the Zoning Board and Board of County Commissioners by demanding no less than EUM zoning to include a 50' green space setback between property lines and a large percentage of the 168 acres be set aside as green space.

      "Dealing" now will assure the demise of our quiet, single family neighborhood, the ability to sell your home in this devastated market, and drop the value of your home much lower.

  6. Hi,
    Iam planning to buy a house at Calusa golf course area. Any suggestion.

  7. South Miamians need help in our.
    fight against the Bacardis. They own the Winn/Dixie property where South Miamians
    that do not drive walk to the grocery store. Any allies from Calusa would be welcome in the fight to keep the Winn/Dixie. Please contact the South Miami Residents Assn. maybe we can help you in your fight. I hear the Bacardis want to do an addition on their 1.1 acre house and need the money.

  8. Why not have the residents petition the county to extend the 99-year lease with 75% approval or request it be 100% unanimous decision to stop Bacardi from tapping out the easy signatories and pitting neighbors against each other?

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