Golf course debate delayed after Century Village residents sound off

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By Jennifer Sorentrue  

Published January 28, 2012  


The battle to build on an overgrown golf course next to one of Palm Beach County's largest senior communities spilled over Thursday into nearly every inch of available space at the county's headquarters, breaking attendance records and quashing hopes that commissioners would end the debate quickly.

Busloads of Century Village residents packed the commission's chambers, overflowing into four other seating areas and meeting rooms in the building. Dozens of others watched a broadcast of the downtown meeting from auditorium back in the community.

But after five hours of debate, the board postponed its decision until October. The delay, commissioners said, would give course owners Andrew and Ana Waldman time to try to curb opposition or find someone else to buy the land, which many in Century Village argue is required to remain green forever.

"We don't have all of the information right now about whether a golf course is possible or not," Commission Chairwoman Shelley Vana said. "I think we need some more time to really get this right, no matter which way we go, to make sure we make a decision that doesn't end us up in court."

The decision came after a motion to deny the Waldman's request outright and block them from asking the county to reconsider for a year died on a 3-3 vote. Commissioners Paulette Burdick, Karen Marcus and Jess Santamaria said they were opposed to the project.

Commissioner Priscilla Taylor could cast the deciding vote when the project comes before the board again in October. Taylor was at a National Association of Counties function in Georgia Thursday and could not attend the commission meeting.

In a phone interview after the meeting, Taylor urged the Waldmans and Century Village residents to try to reach a compromise. The golf course has been closed since 2009 and Taylor said it can't continue to "sit there like it is."

"If they put the right thing there, it could be a win-win for everyone," Taylor said.

The Waldmans have proposed building 689 houses, apartments and lofts on the 70-acre site, near the corner of Okeechobee Boulevard and Haverhill Road.

Their also plan would include a civic center to host art fairs and farmers markets, and a "grand inn" to lodge visitors and relatives. Lakes and an undeveloped area of green space would stand between Century Village and the Waldmans' community, to be called Reflection Bay.

Despite the delay, Andrew Waldman said he and his wife would continue to work on the development.

"We are patient," he said. "We absolutely believe in the merits of the project."

The decision drew a mixed reaction from the crowd, which had thinned by the commission's 3 p.m. vote. Supporters of the project urged the board to consider the item again next month, while opponents pushed for a 12-month delay.

Supporters say the development would be an economic boon to the area, boosting real estate values in Century Village and increasing the area's tax base.

Century Village resident Barbara Reed, a retired teacher who sells condos inside the community, told commissioners that many buyers looking in the community want to see the project built because of its proposed restaurants and shops.

"Most are not interested in golf," Reed said. "They don't want to pay the fees to maintain a modern golf course."

But opponents argued it would bring crime and traffic, overburdening Haverhill Road and creating security problems inside Century Village.

They also point to a restriction placed on the golf course property when the area was mapped out in 1973 that required its owner to use the land as a golf course "in perpetuity." They argued that restriction should not be lifted simply because the course is no longer profitable.

"We came to Century Village to live in a secure, gated community," resident Honey Sager said. "Any housing development would totally diminish our safety and security This is the wrong location for this development."

In all, more than 400 people packed the county's headquarters, many arriving on buses that left the village more than an hour and a half before the 9:30 meeting. The large crowd swelled outside the commission's 150-seat chambers and filled overflow rooms, where television sets showed a live feed of the meeting.

Security officials temporarily stopped letting Century Village residents into the building when the overflow seating areas reached capacity.

"I've been here 22 years and I've never seen anything like this," said Mary Lou Berger, senior administrative assistant to Commissioner Aaronson.

A camera crew from the county's government television station also sent commissioners live footage of a gathering of about 50 residents in Century Village's auditorium who couldn't make the trek downtown.

The tension of the issue was evident at the commission meeting. If the Waldmans don't sell or develop the property, Aaronson warned Thursday's crowds, the golf course land would continue to deteriorate.

"Face reality," he said. "If nobody buys the golf course and you don't buy the golf course, nobody is going to maintain that property. They haven't maintained it for years."

The comment drew fire from Commissioner Paulette Burdick, whose district includes Century Village.