PORT RICHEY — Pasco County now owns a golf course.
But not for long.
Within the next few years, if everything goes according to plan, the links will become lakes — or at least ponds.
Last week, the county closed on the purchase of the abandoned Timber Oaks Golf Course, nestled among 1,999 homes and a mountain of controversy, with the aim to build a network of stormwater ponds to ease the flooding troubles that have plagued the neighborhood since its development nearly 40 years ago.
"It's a big sigh of relief," said Vicki Chellberg, 62, a former vice president of the Timber Oaks Community Services Association and a member of the three-person mediation team that represented the neighborhood amid the now-concluded legal entanglements. "All this work we put in for such a long time has come to fruition."
Chellberg and dozens of her neighbors have been frequent visitors at government meetings, dressed in red apparel and urging county commissioners and the Southwest Florida Water Management District governing board to proceed with the flood relief plans.
Their community, bordered by State Road 52, Little Road and Jasmine Boulevard, sits at the lowest part of what is known as a closed basin. Water that comes in doesn't flow out easily. The tropical storms of 2004 overwhelmed the area, and pumps had to be used to keep water from flooding houses.
Built and marketed as a 55-and-older golf course community, the Timber Oaks course was shut down in 2006. The Pasco County Commission later rejected a plan from the course owner Pacer LC to turn the vacant 78 acres into 230 homes. The commission vote came amid concerns over extra traffic atop deteriorating roads, housing marketed to young families in a community earmarked for seniors and flooding. Pacer sued, and a 2014 settlement called for the county to acquire the golf course for $2.4 million and to build retention ponds, the cost of which would be billed to homeowners in a new taxing district.
That plan hit a hiccup, however, when homeowners in Spanish Gate Village, a 72-home enclave within Timber Oaks, sued the county earlier this year, contending that the new tax district, known as a municipal service benefit unit, offered them no benefits. They objected to the proposed $112 annual assessment.
"All of this has kind of created a lot of animosity in our community," Jane Mazzola of Spanish Gate Village told county commissioners recently. "We were a happy place to live; now, we're not that happy anymore."
Other residents said whatever support existed for the legal fight crumbled when the directors of the Spanish Gate Village Association asked each homeowner for $300 to finance the lawsuit. A Circuit Court judge dismissed the suit in September, ruling the court lacked jurisdiction because the commission acted legislatively, rather than in a quasi-judicial manner, when it established the tax district.
The end of that complaint helped clear the way for finalizing the Pacer lawsuit settlement and for the county to obtain financial assistance from the water management district. The district will provide $4.1 million toward the $9 million cost of acquiring the land and constructing the ponds. The county is paying for the $1 million design and permitting of the project, and the homeowners will finance the rest via an annual assessment for 20 years.
"We can actually give them peace of mind," Commissioner Jack Mariano said. "The golf course was a nuisance. They can actually see that progress is happening."
The county closed on the transaction Oct. 27. The next day, landscaping crews appeared to begin mowing the neglected, overgrown golf course.
Residents, Chellberg said, came out to watch and offered the thumbs-up sign and applause.
"If I never got a stormwater pond out of this," Chellberg said, "to me, it's worth $112 just to get the grass cut."