Pebble Creek golf dispute changes course in Hillsborough County

A circuit court is asked to toss out the commission’s decision denying a planned residential neighborhood.
The closed sign at the entrance to the former Pebble Creek Golf Club in New Tampa as depicted in March 2023.
The closed sign at the entrance to the former Pebble Creek Golf Club in New Tampa as depicted in March 2023. [ Hillsborough Circuit Court ]
Published Oct. 16

There will be another round of arguments to determine the fate of a shuttered golf club near New Tampa.

The setting, however, is shifting from Hillsborough County Commission chambers to a 13th Judicial Circuit courtroom.

Home-building company G.L. Acquisitions Corp. filed suit last week seeking to overturn the County Commission’s July decision rejecting the company’s request to rezone the 150 acres of the closed Pebble Creek Golf Club.

The Pebble Creek Golf Club and surrounding residences in New Tampa. Times photo (1999)
The Pebble Creek Golf Club and surrounding residences in New Tampa. Times photo (1999) [ Times (1999) ]

G.L. Acquisitions wants to turn the former golf club into a 251-home gated community within the existing Pebble Creek neighborhood. The former golf course, east of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and just 1.5 miles south of Pasco County, dates to 1967 — five years before the actual Pebble Creek development of 1,353 homes began.

The land is owned by Bill Place of Ace Golf. He purchased the course in 2005 for $2.1 million, but closed it in 2021, citing dwindling memberships and rising overhead costs.

G.L. Acquisitions has a contract to acquire the land and filed a rezoning request that faced significant opposition from some neighborhood residents. Others suggested the new homes, and accompanying amenities of parks and open spaces, were preferable to the overgrown former golf course.

The commission’s rejection, on a 5-2 vote, was “based on a popularity contest and not the law,” land use attorney Jacob T. Cremer, of Stearns Weaver Miller, said in an email to the Times. Cremer is representing G.L. Acquisitions.

The legal challenge from the company makes the same argument, noting the county planning commission and zoning hearing master both recommended approval. It asks a judge to overturn the commission’s decision.

The board, the legal filing said, denied the “rezoning application to revitalize a defunct golf course without competent substantial evidence in a quixotic attempt to ‘protect the neighborhood.’ ”

Included in G.L.’s argument is a quote from Commissioner Ken Hagan, whose district includes Pebble Creek. He announced his opposition during the July public hearing and criticized Place’s behavior, including Place’s decision to file a lawsuit against the most outspoken opponent, resident Leslie Green.

“Now, I base my opinion, at least in part, in e-mails and the backup which references or characterizes claims of spiteful tactics, intimidation, vindictiveness, innuendo, and fearmongering by the owner,” Hagan said.

Place’s role is irrelevant because G.L., not Place, applied for the rezoning, according to the appeal.

Green declined to comment on G.L.’s legal challenge. Likewise, Cameron Clark, Hillsborough County’s chief assistant county attorney, said the county attorney’s office would not comment on pending litigation.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

The appeal also cites other recent land-use decisions by the commission that the courts overturned, including a March ruling that said the commission wrongly rejected zoning for a residential substance abuse center in a Carrollwood neighborhood.