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Black Diamond residents want the luster to last

With prize-winning golf courses, million-dollar homes and a top-notch restaurant, Black Diamond Ranch is one of Citrus County's most exclusive developments.

Realtors pitch it as a luxurious escape from overdeveloped land and overcrowded golf courses. Black Diamond's Web site boasts that "one of the world's most acclaimed golf communities will soon be more exclusive than ever."

Original plans for the project cap it at 795 homes on 1,320 acres and 750 full golf club memberships. And that's just the way Robert Dion likes it.

"I bought into a particular lifestyle," said Dion, 63, a businessman who moved from Naples to Black Diamond in 1998.

But behind the tony golf community's gates, he said, residents are buzzing about a plan that some worry would destroy the lifestyle they were promised.

In presentations to Black Diamond residents earlier this month, representatives from Jacksonville developer LandMar said the company wants to add more members to the club and add 1,005 additional homes on about 600 surrounding acres.

Representatives of LandMar and Black Diamond Properties said the development won't lose any luster with the addition of more homes and golf club members. In fact, they said, the changes would help fund major capital improvements and help keep the club afloat.

LandMar spokeswoman Margie Martin declined to comment Friday on what she said was the company's "very preliminary plan."

The company wants to work out the details of its proposal privately with residents, she said, not with the press.

According to a slide in LandMar's presentation, "without substantial changes to the community and club plan, future property values and the club's viability is in question."

Dues at Black Diamond have more than doubled since 2000, but marketing for the community has been tepid and home prices have declined, representatives said.

"Black Diamond is not keeping pace with sales volume and appreciation in relation to the Tampa Bay area in general and similar communities that LandMar has acquired and currently manages and markets," the presentation said.

The new housing would include attached villas, townhomes, cluster homes, estates and mansions ranging from $200,000 to more than $1.5-million, according to the presentation.

Some of those homes would border Pine Ridge. Earlier this month, LandMar representatives met with members of the Pine Ridge Property Owners Association to discuss their plans.

LandMar would spend more than $1-million on marketing during its first year and invest $55-million in Black Diamond. The investment would include landscape upgrades, a new entrance off County Road 486, and new amenities like a $3.5-million addition to the club's fitness center and a new $1-million golf maintenance facility.

LandMar, founded in 1987, typically builds high-end homes and anchors them with golf courses.

In their presentations last week, LandMar representatives pointed to several of the company's large projects and compared them with Black Diamond. They described Grand Haven, a 1,901-home development in Flagler County that features a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, and Osprey Cove, a 972-home community on 1,230 acres in St. Marys, Ga., with a course designed by Mark McCumber. Both of those projects, they said, have a lower percentage of residents with full golf club memberships.

LandMar's proposal would decrease the number of full equity golf club memberships at Black Diamond from 750 to 650. Currently, there are about 542 issued full golf club memberships, according to LandMar.

Adding associate and social members to the club would shore up the club's finances without overcrowding facilities, they said. Associate members, capped at 400, would be able to play only three rounds per month at the club. Social members would be able to access all club facilities except the golf courses.

In November, Black Diamond administration director Marina Taylor informed residents that LandMar had entered into a purchase agreement with Black Diamond Properties. She said the company was conducting a feasibility study to determine whether it would become the successor developer of Black Diamond Ranch.

Black Diamond Properties vice president Joe Cappuccilli said Friday that Black Diamond sought out LandMar because of the company's strong reputation and track record.

He said Black Diamond president Stan Olsen "wants somebody that will basically see this community finished on a proper note."

This month's meetings with LandMar officials offered many residents the first glimpse of the developer's plans. In April, club members are slated to vote on LandMar's proposal.

Before finalizing the purchase agreement, Cappuccilli said, LandMar wants to make sure that the community supports its plan.

And without approval from club members, the membership structure cannot be changed.

"It's something that everybody practically is talking about," said Mike McMichael, a retired American Airlines captain who lives in Black Diamond. "I don't think . . . that the members have a fair return for what they're being asked to give up."

He said he was concerned with the possibility of more members joining the club. But he said the members were interested in negotiating further.

County Commissioner Dennis Damato, who has owned vacant property in Black Diamond since 1998, said he attended LandMar's presentation and liked what he heard. Surrounding Black Diamond with a planned residential development will improve property values for existing residents, he said. He said he also supported changing the club's membership structure.

"A lot of people don't play a lot of golf and want to live in a nice community like that," he said.

County community development director Chuck Dixon said Friday that the county has not received any applications for the proposed changes at Black Diamond.

Adding more than 1,000 homes, he said, would meet the state's definition of a development of regional impact and require an extensive review process.

Before the April vote, Dion said, he wants to organize a membership meeting to clarify what Black Diamond residents want.

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