Shuttered Windermere Country Club golf course can't be turned into homes as developer wants

Article Courtesy of  the Orlando Sentinel

By Stephen Hudak

Published March 7, 2019


The once prestigious Windermere Country Club might never again host a golf tournament, but its owner also can’t turn the ragged links and weedy fairways into single-family homes as he had hoped, a judicial panel has ruled.

Club owner Bryan Decunha, who bought the 155-acre golf course for $2.17 million in 2011, lost an appeal last month that sought to pry the property’s development rights from Orange County government, which has held them since 1986.

“It’s a really good thing for us,” Windermere Club Homeowners Association President Leigh Ann Dyal said of the court decision.

The homeowners group has opposed Decunha’s demand that Orange County give back the rights surrendered by the property’s original owners to meet an open-space requirement during development of the adjacent Butler Bay subdivision.

Decunha needs the development rights to build 95 single-family homes on the golfing property.

The court decision, signed by presiding Circuit Judge Mark Blechman and posted on the clerk’s website Feb. 20, concluded the county held the rights in trust for the public and cannot give them up without legislative authorization.

The decision labeled the county’s grip on the development rights as “permanent and irrevocable.”

George Huxhold stands at the edge of his property in 2016 near a "Save Our Green Space" sign that he put up to block a "No Trespassing" sign erected by the owner of the Windermere Country Club.


Decunha, who has argued the golf course hadn’t turned a profit for 15 years, couldn’t be reached for comment. His lawyer Keith Graham didn’t return a voicemail message.

In an email to the Orlando Sentinel in 2017, Decunha said he hoped to use the development rights to build a “vibrant residential community” that would provide a tax benefit for all county residents.

“Over two-thirds of the land will not be developed and that, coupled with over $1 million in tax revenue a year for the county, makes this proposal a win-win for the county and the residents of Windermere,” he said.

Decunha bought the 18-hole course in 2011 for $2.1 million but shut it down in April 2016, citing mounting losses.

He has argued the county’s refusal to surrender the development rights has reduced the golfing property’s value by $19 million, insisting it would be worth millions more than what he paid for it if he could build and sell homes.

Located between the Dr. Phillips area and Winter Garden, a new subdivision on the site would be close to downtown Orlando, Disney and the Orlando International Airport. Nearby subdivisions include Casabella, which has homes priced at more than $1 million.

DeCunha further infuriated his surrounding neighbors in 2017 by filling in the club’s swimming pool with dirt and erecting a wire fence around the course to keep people off the fairways and greens.

Kurt Ardaman, attorney for the homeowners in the Windermere Club HOA, said the court victory was the latest win for his united clients, who successfully lobbied Orange County commissioners to hang onto the development rights.

“Every step of the way, we’ve been successful,” he said.

But the lawyer wouldn’t rule out another appeal by Decunha.

“He’s a pretty persistent fellow,” Ardaman said.

Meanwhile, Decunha, who also has a pending code-enforcement issue with Orange County, is a defendant in a related lawsuit.

Some neighbors have sued, alleging he engaged in a “systematic and intentional campaign” to devalue the club in order to redevelop it into single-family homes.

The lawsuit alleges Decunha’s neglect turned the property into a nuisance overrun by invasive goose grass and wild packs of coyotes.

Twice since the club closed brush fires have broken out on the property.

Adjacent property owners allege the deteriorating golf course also has hurt their property values. They are seeking unspecified damages from Decunha.

The neighbors hired Hampton Golf, a consulting firm headed by M.G. Orender, who was president of The PGA of America in 2003, to assess the Windermere club’s future potential.

The report, attached to the lawsuit, was “basically to start over.”

It praised the Windermere club’s location and target audience, noting Decunha had intended to transform the venue into a special place.

“..However, from everything we can find, an experience similar to the one promised by owner never was delivered to the customers of Windermere Country Club.”