Pasco County, residents to split golf course purchase price

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

By C.T. Bowen   

Published May 29, 2016

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County is going halves on the cost of acquiring the closed Gulf Harbors golf course west of U.S. 19.

The acquisition, which still faces a neighborhood vote on assessing homeowners for the rest of the $1.2 million purchase, would preserve 50 acres amid a salt marsh that attracts rare sandpipers and other migratory waterfowl. It also ends the threat of the land being turned into single-family homes, a plan that originally surfaced 13 years ago.

"It does both of those things. It's a good thing,'' said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey whose district includes the waterfront neighborhood.

The county put the golf course, which shut down several years ago, on its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program list in 2013, but was unable to reach agreement on a sale price. A county appraisal put the value at $600,000, but the seller's appraisal was $1.7 million and the owner's asking price was $1.2 million.

To seal the deal, members of the Gulf Harbors Civic Association asked for the joint acquisition. Residents still need to approve a municipal service benefit unit and its annual assessments to cover half the purchase price and all of the annual maintenance costs, estimated at $59,400. The assessments are projected to be $100 annually for five years, but then be reduced to $33 annually after the $600,000 acquisition cost is retired.

Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm really proud of Gulf Harbors residents for stepping up and paying for it,'' Starkey said before the meeting. "It's the kind of deal that if you don't want development, and you think (the land) is an asset for your community then you have to step up to the plate.''

Gulf Harbors is one of the original high-end communities in Pasco County, developed more than 50 years ago as a dredge-and-fill project that creating canal-front lots leading to channels and the Gulf of Mexico. The 18-hole golf course, which dates to 1971, was a so-called executive course that featured mostly short holes and a par of 60.

Then-owner Marshall "Moe'' Springer signed a $1.5 million contract in 2003 to sell the course to Lexington Homes, which planned to build 120 houses there. The county objected, saying the new homes would eliminate the neighborhood's open space. In 2004, Springer and a daughter, Mary Catherine Hinshaw, withdrew the rezoning application, saying the course would stay in the family. A year later, the state Department of Community Affairs yanked its previous approval of the project.

The county's purchase contract is with Staryn Hinshaw, Marshall Springer's granddaughter and the sole successor trustee of the Marshall A. Springer and Mary Margaret Springer Trust. Marshall Springer died in 2009 at the age of 88.

The contract says the MSBU must be created by Aug. 9, and the transaction is scheduled to close by Sept. 18. Starkey said neighborhood approval shouldn't be problematic. A May 11 community meeting drew a few hundred residents, and a show of hands revealed near-unanimous support, according to Starkey and residents in attendance.

"We have a choice between a park and a rat-infested field," Gulf Harbors resident Steve Ekovich told commissioners. "I think a public park makes the most sense.''