PARKLAND — The defunct Heron Bay golf course, best known as the former home of the Honda Classic tournaments, could be sold to a developer — or even a neighboring city — to become a mix of housing and retail shops, including restaurants.
It’s gotten the attention of neighbors who say the planned construction on the 69.2 acres abutting their upscale houses is not something they ever signed up for — and there had been concern about how the contracts would be chosen.
There are people who “paid $1 million, $2 million for their homes and now there’s this issue of what’s going to happen to our home values [with] more traffic and more crime,” said Neil Bass, a board member of Citizens Against Golf Course Redevelopment, which organized to fight the plans.
A developer was scheduled to be chosen as early as June 1, but Parkland city officials confirmed Friday they will call a special commission meeting for June 8 to talk about the possibility of City Hall buying the golf course instead.
“That is great to hear,” Bass said, when told of the development by the Sun Sentinel. “It sounds like the city is listening to the residents.”
Still, it’s unlikely the land will be left vacant. Said city spokesman Todd DeAngelis: “Something is going to be there.”
The June 8 discussion will only “discuss the purchase but not what would be there,” he said.
“We’re realists,” Bass said. “We gave up awhile ago on the idea that it remain green space. We think it’s probably too expensive. We just want to make sure whatever gets developed will be acceptable to the residents and least intrusive.”
Heron Bay golf course opened in the late 1990s and the development — which spans both Coral Springs and Parkland — is off the Sawgrass Expressway at Coral Ridge Drive. The community helped establish Parkland as a viable and upscale Broward suburb.
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In March 2021, the North Springs Improvement District, the water district that serves the area, bought the golf course, which had closed in May 2019. The district only wanted 150 acres for a storm water project to prevent flooding, but bought all 223 acres for $32 million as a complete package, according to Rod Colon, the district manager.
Now, $5 million in improvements are under way, including walking trails and eventually a memorial to the 2018 Parkland high school massacre victims.
The surplus, he said, is nearly 70 acres that “we never needed it to begin with.”
The first plan, to sell to a developer for a mix of office space and retail space, floundered because the sides “couldn’t come to terms on financial conditions,” Colon said.
The water district was set to discuss a new developer on June 1, until Parkland stepped in.
Those options are:
- East Coast Builders: The developer has proposed 50 “upscale” houses within a gated community or an entertainment venue such as a driving range or Topgolf-type facility that “could offer a smoother transition and less hard feelings about the golf course redevelopment,” according to the submission. It also includes a shopping plaza called The Medallion Mall at Heron Bay with 675,000 square feet of space and another 50,000 square feet for restaurants. Another parcel could have either 35 to 45 homes or a wedding event center.
- Toll Brothers: The developer proposed a project called “Parc at Heron Bay,” which would feature 110 homes fetching prices between $1.1 million and $1.5 million, and up to 175,000 square feet of retail space.
A third proposal, by Falcone Group, is not considered a contender by the deciding committee or even the residents; its proposal includes a five-story building of 300 apartments.
Until Friday, the North Springs Improvement District selection committee made up of Colon and two district employees had recommended East Coast Builders based on initial feedback from city managers’ offices from both Coral Springs and Parkland.
But Parkland city spokesman DeAngelis said Friday that Parkland was not backing East Coast Builders and is “monitoring the situation.” Coral Springs City Manager Frank Babinec said Friday “we are not choosing one developer over the other.”
Colon said Friday he would prefer Parkland become the new owner, and let them decide what goes there.
“I support it 100%,” he said. “It was really their destiny to begin with. I think it’s good for the community.”
He said he understands the fear from residents who worry about construction abutting the public side of their gated community.
“We are sympathetic to their needs,” but there needs to be a balance for the good of everyone in the district, he said. Still, “people have fears of a mega mall and that’s not going to happen.”
Bob Payton, a former Parkland city manager and North Springs Improvement District board member, said there will be development: “No resident wants to live looking over at a defunct golf course.”
The pathways will keep most of it an open space “with several thousand square feet of green space between houses” and the development, he said. There will be access from the public road, and the development is “the vision [of both] the city [of Parkland] and improvement district.”
Still, he said he wants to make sure what’s built there is compatible with the area, and wants more clarity on the issues that affect residents such as traffic capacity before making a decision.
But residents have been fighting the plans.
“Everybody who bought into the neighborhood, originally there was a golf course and green space, they were buying into a bedroom community that didn’t have any commercial development in the area,” said Robert Tankoos, the president of Citizens Against Golf Course Redevelopment. “Ultimately they’re concerned about traffic, crime, noise and their home values.”
Said Bass: “Most people” who live in Heron Bay prefer the Toll Brothers’ proposal because “it seems to be the least intrusive, the least obnoxious of the three.”
But he said there’s also a bigger issue: who gets to build if the improvement district were to be the ones to decide.
“We are paying very close attention to who they select,” he said. “It’s a deep concern of ours. It seems as if they’re giving it to their friends and it’s troubling. … It seems it’s at the expense of the residents.”
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The contract regarding which developer is chosen has raised particular concern for Colon with public focus on previous deals.
The Florida Center for Government Accountability reported earlier in May that in 2017, the improvement district chose Colon’s company, Intersol LLC, for a $4 million project to build a storm water pumping station. Over two years the company received a continuing services contract totaling about $16 million for everything from installing water pipelines, to building aquifers, to designing wells. Intersol does not exist any longer, Colon said, and it happened before he became district manager in October 2019, when he was director of operations.
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“I stopped taking new contracts when I became district manager,” he said.
East Coast is a former subcontractor for Colon, but he said that relationship doesn’t disqualify them for the job.
“People have asked me about that,” Colon acknowledged of the Intersol contract. “I went through the competitive process. It was something [I was] legally allowed to do. It was disclosed to the auditors.”
After widespread criticism of the district’s contracts on social media, Colon has a pending lawsuit now to try to find out the identity of somebody who formerly acted as a Margate City Hall watchdog under the name Ed Connely. The poster, who had a social media following when they were active on Facebook, publicly questioned the improvement district’s contracts.
In response, Colon sued both “John Doe” and a private investigator in a libel claim case.
Court records show the lawsuits are pending. Colon said his lawyers are in talks with Facebook attorneys to identify the computer IP address used in creating the Ed Connely account, as well as the telephone number. “My reputation means everything to me,” Colon said.
Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-572-2008. Follow on Twitter @LisaHuriash