County commissioners SHOULD DEFINITELY respect the will of the most impacted Calusa residents

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Letter to the Editor:

The former Calusa Golf Course has been closed for nine years, and sits vacant and inaccessible to the public, because that’s what the owner is choosing to do with it. This isn’t a small struggling locally owned business. This is the largest privately held spirits company in the world Bacardi Limited. Its chairman of the board, Facundo L. Bacardi, purchased the golf course for 2.7 million in 2003, fully aware that there was a covenant restricting the property’s use to only a golf course. The covenant, a 99 year promise to property owners that sit on the “ring” adjacent to the golf course, dates back to 1968.

This is not a casualty of golf’s decline. The National Golf Foundation reports that actual golf participation is stable and increasing! There were more closings than openings because of a natural economic response to a 20 year supply boom ending in 2006. This doesn’t mean that those that remained open aren’t profitable. This was an expected adjustment for a known saturated market. Bacardi didn’t re-invest and make improvements in the golf course. He didn’t even rebuild the clubhouse after receiving an insurance settlement for hurricane damage in 2005. The clubhouse closed in 2005, and the golf course itself in 2011.

Reportedly, 82% of the owners with homes adjacent to the property have agreed to remove the covenant. The claim is that Bacardi and the owners have reached a settlement. Their argument is that commissioners must remove the covenant restriction to protect the golf course and owners, and finally end the litigation. But why would the owners need protection if there is a 99 year covenant in place? Why would owners trust any agreement “providing protections related to development impacts” if the covenant itself isn’t upheld?

Let’s focus on the owners, 82% initially seems impressive. That’s 120 of the 146 ring owners. Why would they agree to remove the covenant? They refused Bacardi’s initial $50,000 offer in 2012, and when he threatened legal action against the owners, they fought back! Bacardi even listed Miami-Dade County as a defendant, costing taxpayers in legal fees. They formed a Trust, to protect themselves and their community. This Trust was formed, for the collective interest of everyone involved, with the sole purpose of keeping the covenant and golf course. After years of litigation, the covenant was upheld in court in 2017! The Trust owners rejoiced together, confident that their community was protected for the remainder of the covenant.


Fast forward to January 2020. A hearing is scheduled to discuss the partial release of the covenant. Owners and neighbors are stunned, confused, outraged! What could have happened? Then they realize, the Trust that was created to protect their community, negotiated individual settlements behind their backs. There was no community outreach, no town hall meeting, no discussion of what was best for the community. The Trust didn’t even reach out to the other ring owners for their input. Owners were pitted against each other. You either signed an agreement to remove the covenant, or were excluded from all discussions and communication. Those that signed an agreement, were then bound by a non-disclosure agreement hiding the pertinent details.

The big question is, what changed the owners’ minds? The answer seems clear: upwards of 22 million dollars. The original writers of the covenant couldn’t have expected Bacardi to offer individual owners between $20,000 and $300,000 in exchange for their agreement to remove the covenant. They couldn’t have anticipated that the future developers would purchase some of the ring properties. Over the years, when property owners sold their homes, they signed an agreement preventing future property owners from having a vote on the property in their own backyards. This was not the original intention of the covenant, and this was not in the best interest of the community!

Let’s be honest. The original writers of the covenant likely didn’t foresee a situation where 75% of the owners would give away their golf course. They certainly didn’t foresee that owners’ votes could be bought, at the detriment to the rest of the owners and remaining community. They couldn’t have conceived that a golf course owner would sue the individual homeowners, in an effort to rezone the land to potentially make 100 million dollars.

Homeowners that live in the homes facing this neglected but promising golf course, and in the surrounding community, will urge County Commissioners to respect the will of those most impacted Calusa residents. These are your constituents and their voices are loud and clear. They do not want development on this 168 acre golf course. They’ve signed petitions, they’ve put up signs, and their voices will be heard at the public hearing. Who are those most impacted? It is the thousands of owners and residents that live in the immediate and neighboring communities. These voices should outweigh the few that accepted large sums of money for their own benefit, while ignoring the interests of the rest of the owners and community. Commissioners, please uphold the covenant and save Calusa!

Submitted by:
Shea Polakow
George Moussa
Sandy Lea-Oquendo
Vanessa Vazquez

For more information, feel free to email kendallstrong2020@gmail.com


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3 COMMENTS

  1. aside from never buying a Bacardi product again in the future, if the voting body elects to sell out their constituents for kickbacks from the rum family, we will not forget who they area

  2. The headline of this article says it all…..plus great to-the-point content..Would like to comment:
    1) In any community at some point we must PRIORITIZE what we VALUE….& what we don’t….we can’t & shouldn’t put building-developing-first in a presently already very congested-crowded neighborhood ….& where developing by building more houses where the Golf Course land is, was intentionally never an option when Calusa was designed to begin with & for a very good reason: include green-space,protect the environment…to mitigate suburban sprawl. Dial time forward, & it should be even less of an option today due to extreme suburban congestion
    2) Kendall,. especially West of Tpke, has always had unplanned/out-of-control developing for many decades,with obvious congestion/overcrowding outcome in all respects (school, traffic,scarce interest in the environment & green-spaces, etc).
    3) The Calusa Golf Course (168 acres) …plus it’s resulting & crucial function as a green-space …is what we VALUED & VALUE, even more so due to its direct positive environmental impact & lifestyle benefits in our neighborhood .
    4) Adding i.e. 550 new houses in an already severely congested area delivers only negative aspects/factors to Calusa Estates ….(traffic to us in Calusa means we can’t even get out of our own neighborhood without a serious bumper-to-bumper struggle every AM,same as rush-hour returning)… “developing” would do just the opposite of what we ALL VALUE, with very few exceptions on the “all” which we are aware of, due to negotiations by the owner of these 168 acres with some of the encircling homeowners to get an OK to remove the Covenant that protects that precious green-space.
    5)That 99yr Covenant, & what it protects, is the community “glue” that holds-together & defines our entire Calusa-neighborhood, not just the Golf Course encircling homes.
    6) Hope the Commission voting on this significant issue, can understand the importance of having that 99yr-Covenant remain for the full-period it was designed to cover, as a positive-impacting total-neighborhood-benefit &, can say NO to what is done to often (sadly) in Miami, meaning: more houses, more over-developing, more construction, more dense-traffic, more crowding, more congestion in general,without seeking harmony with the environment & surroundings as we should be doing ….
    7) This particular Calusa 168 acre-green-space should be preserved & protected at all cost in terms of an alternative sought out that preserves this land without developing it ( 550 new homes built, i.e., would simply exacerbate the present congestion dramatically, as is obvious)…..Protecting it should be our #1 priority (what we VALUE), when some are attempting a radical redefining of the landscape/congestion of the community (building) that we definitely do NOT want.
    Those very concerned Calusa residents that Submitted to Kendall Gazette the above article explained it accurately: “Who are those most impacted? It is the thousands of owners and residents that live in the immediate and neighboring communities”.In my case, have lived in Calusa (3 blocks from Golf Course) since early 80’s, raised a family & needless to say know the place very well. A NO-to-developing vote respects our community….anything else other than NO-Vote will hurt all of us in many… many… already explained ways.

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