They’ve tussled before county commissioners considering an environmental clean-up plan and in front of a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge hearing allegations of defamation and attempts to quash public participation in a government zoning case.
Monday night, residents of Pebble Creek in northern Hillsborough County’s New Tampa area finally got their say before a hearing master in the first step of a two-part rezoning process to determine the future of the shuttered Pebble Creek Golf Club.
And, like much of the nation, neighbors found themselves split along red and blue loyalties. Supporters of GL Homes’ proposal to turn the former golf course into a gated community of 251 homes wore blue T-shirts proclaiming “Vote yes.” Opponents were clad in red T-shirts asking to “Save Pebble Creek.”
The 77-minute proceeding before Zoning Hearing Master Susan Finch was the initial part of the rezoning hearing. She is required to consider the evidence presented Monday and write a recommendation to the Hillsborough County Commission, which is scheduled to make a final ruling in July.
The 150 acres in question are owned by Bill Place of Ace Golf. He closed the course in 2021, citing falling memberships and a need for expensive renovations. He also tried, but failed, to persuade the county commission to designate the course as a brownfield, which would have made it eligible for financial assistance to clean the property of chemical pesticides.
Place’s plan to sell the land for residential housing has drawn strong opposition from some neighbors and brought a lawsuit from Place against leading critic Leslie Green. Ace Golf filed suit against Green last year saying her public statements and letter-writing campaign had interfered with its business. She countered that Place was attempting to stifle her First Amendment rights through a strategic lawsuit against public participation, known as a SLAPP suit.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher C. Nash hasn’t issued a ruling yet after a March 8 hearing in which Green’s attorneys sought to dismiss Place’s suit, saying its only intent was to curb public opposition in advance of Monday’s hearing.
Green testified before the hearing master Monday night and said the disappearing green space would harm wildlife and the environment. Likewise, Emma Kornrumpf of Hogan’s Bend said the rezoning shouldn’t be allowed because the owner does not have state approval to clean the property of chemical contaminants.
Follow trends affecting the local economy
Subscribe to our free Business by the Bay newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
But proponents said the GL Homes’ proposal -—including new lakes, parks and thousands of trees to be planted — is better than the alternative of an abandoned golf course.
“It’s become an eyesore,” said Michael Jacobson, who moved to his home on Cypress View Way in 2016
The development plan is a way to revitalize the Pebble Creek neighborhood, said GL Homes’ attorney Jacob Cremer of Stearns Weaver Miller. But it also came with a warning.
“This really may be our only chance to do it,” Cremer said, noting Place could pursue a multifamily development if the GL Homes’ plan is rejected.
He also told Finch, the hearing master, that a hard truth needed to be addressed.
“Golf is not coming back,” Cremer said.