By: Anne Geggis

Plans to turn the Woodlands golf greens into hundreds of new homes appears to have landed into something of a sand trap.

Changing the development rules to allow nearly 400 homes to sprout on two 18-hole golf courses sailed forward in front of the city commission and the Broward County Planning Council earlier this year. But, its scheduled hearing in front of the Broward County Commission was bagged with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. It was postponed from the March 31 agenda and hasn’t reappeared yet.

“The item has been temporarily postponed by the county,” Allie Schwartz Grant, a spokeswoman for the developer, 13th Floor Homes, wrote in an email. “We look forward to continuing to meet with the residents on the project when COVID-19 allows.”

Jose Spena, a Woodlands resident who is leading resident opposition to putting homes on the greens, said he pleaded with county leaders to hold up the hearing until the virus’ threat has passed and they agreed.

“We have a number of elderly residents who want to be part of that hearing,” he said. “It’s not safe.”

The proposed changes already have spawned marathon meetings with dozens of residents from the 900-home association lining up to plead their case against the development, including the longest city commission on record that lasted more than 10 hours.

If the county commission approves changing the land from recreational to residential, as developers are asking, the plan goes to Tallahassee for state regulators’ scrutiny. And then it will land back to the city commission for final approval. That usually takes about six months. Then, site plans will have to be reviewed at the city level.

Meanwhile, Spena, who led the formation of the group, Defend the Woodlands, said that he’s been happy that the reprieve and the virus’ stay-at-home orders have meant more people are out enjoying the community’s unique amenities.

“I’m seeing more people out, walking around,” he said.

Spena said he’s hoping to see more Woodlands residents invested in keeping it the way it is, as it was built in 1968.

The Woodlands’ lots are generously sized, in marked contrast to the zero-lot-lines that dominate residential developments today. The new homes that 13th Floor plans to build would also be developed on zero lot lines, but site plans won’t come forward until the land-use rules are changed.

“The Woodlands was built in a special design, unique to this area,” Spena said.

Houses in the Woodlands are built in a variety of styles. Predominately, though, many are mid-century modern architecture with geometric shapes and blocky facades.

More than the character of the new houses not fitting in, most of the opponents of the new development don’t want to see their greens become rows of homes.

Theoretically, Tamarac’s rules for low-density development would allow 13th Floor to build up to 827 new homes on the golf course acreage. The Planning Council imposed rules that will limit the number of homes to 398 single-family homes.

To build more homes than that, the developer would have to go through the same change-of use process 13th Floor is following now to convert the golf green to a swath of homes, said Barbara Blake Boy, executive director of the Broward Planning Council.

In Deerfield Beach, they’ve lost four out of five courses in the last 16 years and Mayor Bill Ganz has experienced the wrath of residents who paid a premium for that “golf course view,” but had to weigh that with landowners’ property rights.

“Nothing is forever — especially when those courses stop making money,” he said. “Golfing isn’t what it used to be 40, 30, even 20 years ago.”

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