NEW PORT RICHEY — A plan that has dragged on for eight years to convert Timber Oaks' defunct 18-hole golf course into 230 homes for families finally came to its end Tuesday when county commissioners voted to deny the project.
Concerns over extra traffic driving across deteriorating roads, housing that would mix young families in an over-55 community and flooding were what killed the project, which had already received the thumbs-down from the county staff and planning commission last year.
"It just doesn't seem like a good plan to put housing in there right now," said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who had to leave the meeting before the 4-0 vote was taken.
Developers first announced plans for the holes to homes project in 2005. Chuck Kalogianis, a New Port Richey lawyer and developer, got a contract to buy the 78-acre golf course for $2.15 million. He is no longer affiliated with the project, but property owners Pacer LLC have moved forward with the plans.
From day one, the proposal met stiff opposition from the neighbors in Timber Oaks, a 1,999-home community that meanders from State Road 52 to Jasmine Boulevard, just west of Little Road near Port Richey. Residents expressed concerns that the roads and drainage system in their 30-year-old neighborhood can't support hundreds of new residents.
Pacer "knew of these issues when they bought (the property)," said land use attorney Clarke Hobby, who represented the homeowners association and the 170 residents who showed up Tuesday. "Why they bought it, I don't know."
Perhaps the most pressing problem was the flooding. Storms in 2004 overwhelmed Timber Oaks, forcing the neighborhood and county officials to pump water from Footprint Lake to Dollar Lake to keep the water out of houses.
Residents on Tuesday showed photos of water several feet high 35 days after Tropical Storm Debby last year.
"We are not opposed to development on this land," Timber Oaks homeowners association president Ron Orchard said. "We are opposed to anything that changes the way we live on this land."
The neighborhood sits at the bottom of a basin, so stormwater from other areas along Little Road drains into the community. During storms, parts of the neighborhood roads and the golf course itself are under water for days at a time, according to county documents.
The developers tried to turn that into their biggest selling point.
Pacer offered a new plan with oversized drainage ponds, large enough to handle not only the stormwater from the new houses but much of the runoff from the surrounding area, their engineers said.
"We want to take this property and improve the whole neighborhood," said land use attorney Bill Galvano, who represented Pacer.
Galvano pointed out that the state Department of Community Affairs gave its blessing.
Timber Oaks is a Development of Regional Impact, meaning it underwent a thorough state review before it was built. The agency decided in 2005 that the new development could be built without triggering another massive review.
New county rules also don't require it as the neighborhood is in the area where more dense development is encouraged.
Galvano said after the vote that his clients might have a legal claim against the county.
"I'll have to talk to my clients to determine next steps," he said.
Pacer Golf owner Suzanne Pace, who owns the golf course, gave Timber Oaks homeowners the first opportunity to buy the greens last year. Her asking price: $2.5 million.
The residents refused.
"That's not something our residents could afford," Orchard said.