Closed New Tampa golf course stirs another round of bickering

Plans call for former Pebble Creek Golf Club to become a 250-home neighborhood.
The Pebble Creek Golf Club and surrounding residences in New Tampa.
The Pebble Creek Golf Club and surrounding residences in New Tampa. [ Times (1999) ]
Published Feb. 22

The future of a shuttered golf course in New Tampa is spurring a legal tussle between a neighborhood resident and the owner of the former Pebble Creek Golf Club.

The brouhaha is over the closed golf course that owner Bill Place of Ace Golf shut down in summer 2021. He wants to sell the land for residential development.

Pebble Green resident Leslie Green is one of the leading objectors. Place sued her last year, alleging defamation and interference with a business transaction, contending she conducted “a campaign of harassment and dissemination of blatant falsehoods” in social media posts, letters to developers, emails to residents and comments to media outlets.

Green fired back earlier this month. Her lawyers asked the court to dismiss the claim, saying it amounted to a strategic lawsuit against public participation. Known commonly by the acronym SLAPP, such suits are prohibited by state law.

“The lawsuit has one goal: to silence Leslie Green and anyone else who might speak out against Mr. Place’s attempt to sell and rezone the golf course, so he can walk away rich, leaving hundreds of homeowners to suffer the loss of green space and diminished property values in his wake,” Green’s group, Save Pebble Creek, said in a news release that mirrors the language in her court motion.

She asks for unspecified damages plus attorney fees. A hearing on her request is scheduled for March 8 in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

Place’s suit blamed Green for two homebuilders, Pulte and KB Homes, walking away from residential development plans for the course. Green’s motion calls it “unconscionable and laughable” to claim her communications with developers scared them away from a deal with Place.

Currently, GL Homes has an agreement to acquire the former course. It is proposing to build approximately 250 single-family homes on the 150-acre course. An application to rezone the land, a precursor to redeveloping the course as a residential neighborhood, was filed with the county earlier this month and is subject to future public hearings and a vote by the county commission.

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

Place issued his own statement in response to Green’s claim.

“The truth is that redevelopment of the golf course will enhance all of Pebble Creek, including property values and long-needed road improvements, and create a healthier environment, ecological system, and wildlife habitat,” it said.

Both sides claim to be winning the court of public opinion.

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Based on recent public outreach to more than 1,300 neighbors, there is more support in the community than opposition to redeveloping the golf course, Place said in his statement.

“Place’s proposed sale and rezoning are vehemently opposed by a multitude of residents in the two separate homeowners’ associations that abut the golf course,” said Green’s news release.

The former Pebble Creek Golf Club dates to 1967, back when Bruce B. Downs Boulevard was a two-lane road still known as 30th Street. In the ensuing years, luring northern retirees to a golfing lifestyle became a common business model for Florida’s residential developers.

But market oversaturation, younger people preferring other recreational outlets, and developers trying to divest themselves of ongoing course maintenance costs changed the golf landscape.

Place, who purchased the course in 2005 in a $2.1 million transaction, shut it down July 31, 2021, saying he faced significant maintenance and repair bills at a club with just 73 members.

Hillsborough County commissioners turned down his request for a brownfield designation in late 2020. It would have eased the financing costs of cleaning up contaminants on the course before redevelopment.