By Bryan Boggiano
In front of a room packed with Heron Bay residents and an audience that extended outside of the city commission chambers, the Parkland City Commission held their final vote on purchasing 65 acres of the former Heron Bay Golf Course.
At their Wednesday meeting, the city commission voted 4-1 to purchase the land from North Springs Improvement District, igniting thunderous applause and a standing ovation from residents.
At their first reading on Aug. 29, the commission approved the contract 3-2.
On the second reading, the commission needed at least four votes — or a supermajority — to approve the land purchase contract.
“Owning [the land] and controlling it gives us all that ability to keep all of the characteristics we love about Parkland,” said Mayor Rich Walker.
As part of the contract, Parkland will purchase the land for $25,410,000. There will be a 90-day due diligence period where the city can back out of the deal.
By Monday, the city must pay a $250,000 deposit. This will be refundable during the 90-day investigative period.
NSID purchased the 223-acre former golf course from Clublink in 2019 for $32 million. They plan to use about 150 acres for stormwater retention and green space. That green space will include a natural preserve, 5 miles of 10-foot-wide pedestrian and bike paths, and five water stations.
Plans for the green space also include memorializing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victims.
Of the roughly 73 acres of the remaining land, the city plans to use about 65 for commercial and residential development.
About eight acres are excluded parcels, including a section west of Nob Hill Road on the north end of the course, about 164,000 square feet of land west of The Marriott, and a narrow strip of property located east of Heron Estates and Old Brooke.
NSID sought to sell the land to multiple developers, including Toll Brothers, Falcone, and East Coast, each with their own plans on how to utilize the land.
At their Sept. 14 meeting, NSID chose to sell the former Heron Bay Golf Course to East Coast unless Parkland approved their own land purchase by Sept. 24.
On Wednesday, 18 residents spoke in favor of Parkland buying the land from NSID, and only one opposed it.
The residents who supported Parkland purchasing the property explained that maintaining Parkland’s character, controlling traffic, and maintaining a vision for Parkland’s future were all vital.
Despite the price tag, Richard Deutsch said that preventing overcrowding and overdevelopment was key to preserving Parkland’s environment.
“What trumps money and taxes is quality of life,” he said.
Others, such as Elliott Rothberg, stated that East Coast would not develop in the city’s best interests.
“We need a plan that makes the best sense for Parkland,” he said.
Multiple residents also directly appealed to Vice Mayor Ken Cutler and Commissioner Bob Mayersohn, who voted against the land acquisition at the Aug. 29 meeting.
“One of you needs to catch the ball and score,” said Deborah Safra. ““I’m begging you to catch that ball because we need you.”
During their discussion, Commissioner Simeon Brier addressed NSID’s Wednesday vote, stating that the past week put the commission in a whirlwind that backed them into a corner.
For Brier, his vote was about preserving the charm and nature of Parkland and remaining a city where people can proudly live and raise a family, just like him. By not spending roughly $25 million to purchase the land in the short term, Brier feared the long-term implications of the city’s limited control over the land.
“My goal is as simple as it gets: Don’t mess Parkland up,” he said.
Commissioner Jordan Isrow echoed much of Brier’s sentiments, adding that the vast majority of the emails he received and residents he heard from supported the land purchase. Isrow said that while the city would keep more than $25 million by not purchasing the land, it would lose a significant opportunity to shape its future and keep residents satisfied.
“If we don’t pass this tonight, my concern is…that this is out of control for the perpetuity of this city,” he said. “We have the opportunity either to make history or become history.”
While Isrow, Walker, and Brier maintained their support, Mayersohn and Cutler stated that voting on the item was difficult.
Mayersohn stood firm in his reasoning, stating that the city did not need to approve the contract to control what goes on at the former Heron Bay Golf Course.
The city could still provide strict conditions to any developer interested in the land.
“I just can’t support this, and that’s where I’m at,” he said.
Cutler was originally divided on the issue.
He expressed that spending $25.4 million on the land would encompass a significant amount of taxes that residents paid. At the same time, the city, in the past, has used its authority intensely on land use and zoning powers, adding what worked in the past does not work today due to legislation passed at the state level cutting certain home-rule provisions.
While he spoke with residents intensively about the issue, he also spoke to developers, industry experts, and other figures from outside the city, which helped him make his final decision.
“We need to control our destiny,” said Cutler.
Cutler became the fourth required vote, immediately inciting a round of applause and standing ovation from the packed commission chambers.
He cautioned that the price for controlling the city’s destiny would include issues such as school boundaries and what would ultimately go on the site.
Isrow made the motion to approve. Brier seconded.
The commission voted 4-1 in favor of the land purchase. Mayersohn opposed.
Following the approval, City Manager Nancy Morando said she would coordinate the Phase II environmental study for the former Heron Bay Golf Course.
The city will also conduct a land survey costing $86,650 that Parkland requires.
Morando also stated that she needs approval from the Heron Bay Community Association to lift the restrictive covenant on the property, but she expressed optimism with the progress made Wednesday.
“I’m excited for this new adventure in front of us, and I know we’re gonna do a stellar job,” Morando said.
Walker said he looks forward to the next chapter in Parkland’s history.
“I am excited for our vote this evening to purchase the 65 acres of Heron Bay,” he said. “This is a huge win for the entire city of Parkland.”
- A University of Florida journalism graduate, Bryan plans to pursue geosciences at Florida International University for his master's. He has a strong interest in weather, entertainment, and journalism.
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