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New Tampa golf course dispute heads to court

The owner of the former Pebble Creek Golf Club is suing a neighborhood activist
The former Pebble Creek Golf Club and surrounding residences in New Tampa.
The former Pebble Creek Golf Club and surrounding residences in New Tampa. [ Times (1999) ]
Published Apr. 4|Updated Apr. 5

TAMPA — The dispute over a shuttered golf course in New Tampa is moving from the clubhouse to the courthouse.

The owner of the former Pebble Creek Golf Club is suing a neighborhood activist, contending she conducted “a campaign of harassment and dissemination of blatant falsehoods” toward Bill Place and his company, Ace Golf.

The social media posts, letters to developers, emails to other residents and comments to media outlets caused two potential buyers, Pulte and KB Homes, to walk away from residential development plans, according to the suit filed last week in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

The target of the lawsuit is Leslie Green, a Pebble Creek resident, founder of the Save Pebble Creek Facebook page and a critic of turning the former course’s open land into single-family home sites.

“Save Pebble Creek is a joint effort of residents to limit rezoning that would allow for further development at the expense of green spaces in our community,” Green said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. She declined further comment.

The lawsuit alleges defamation and interference with a contractual relationship and seeks at least $30,000 in damages.

Related: New Tampa residents seek mulligan on golf course clean-up

The 54-year-old golf club, once the centerpiece of a burgeoning New Tampa community, closed July 31, 2021. The former sign near Regents Park Drive and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard that reads, “Pebble Creek Golf Club. Open to the public” is now just a blank, gray wall. The most common sign on the land states, “Private Property. No Trespassing” in orange letters.

The shutdown was a precursor to the 150-acre property being converted to residential development. The closure came six months after Place unsuccessfully sought a Hillsborough County brownfield designation to defray the cost of cleaning chemical contaminants from the soil.

Place, who purchased the club in 2005, declined comment. In the lawsuit, he repeated his prior public statements about dwindling memberships and the need for $1 million worth of renovations to the course and buildings.

Bill Place, owner of Ace Golf
Bill Place, owner of Ace Golf [ Bill Place ]

Green challenged his assertions and her social media posts and correspondence included allegations that Place or Ace Golf engaged in a “golf course flopping scheme;” intentionally caused a decline in memberships and revenue; purposely damaged the course to “get it” to fail; and used a “confidence men” playbook to scheme, gain trust and bargain their way into taking the peaceful existence away from families, the lawsuit stated.

Ace Golf and Pulte Homes signed a letter of intent in June 2021 to redevelop the course, but the home-building company withdrew its interest two months later after Green sent “blanket communications to developers in Florida with the intention to dissuade each developer from doing business with Ace Golf or Place” and then “ramped up her efforts … by adding direct communications to Pulte Home,” the lawsuit contends.

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The owner of the closed Pebble Creek Golf Club is suing a neighborhood activist alleging defamation and interference with a business contract. The  lettering on this sign is now gone and just a blank gray wall stands near the intersection of Regents Park Drive and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
The owner of the closed Pebble Creek Golf Club is suing a neighborhood activist alleging defamation and interference with a business contract. The lettering on this sign is now gone and just a blank gray wall stands near the intersection of Regents Park Drive and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

It alleged a similar pattern with KB Homes, which followed Pulte as the designated developer. It, too, withdrew in late August 2021.

Green made more than 600 postings on the Save Pebble Creek Facebook page and began a GoFundMe account to raise money for the effort, the lawsuit stated. As of Friday afternoon, 47 people had donated $3,025, surpassing the goal of $3,000.

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