The weeds at the former West End Golf Club property will continue to grow after its would-be developer hit a roadblock this week.
The Alachua County Planning Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to deny a land use change for the golf course on Newberry Road.
The developer, JBrown Professional Group (JBPro), presented the proposal to the county, asking to change the land designation of the 75-acre site from recreational to low-density residential with up to 70 homes. Residents of surrounding neighborhoods have opposed the plan for much of the past two years, and many attended Wednesday’s hearing.
A hundred people came to the meeting. Several wore neon green t-shirts that said “Friends Of West End”, and more were dressed in shades of green.
The West End Community Alliance for Leisure and Education (WECARE) is a non-profit organization formed by those who live around the golf course. WECARE hired professional planner Thomas Hawkins and attorney Jeff Braswell to represent them, and both spoke at the meeting.
AJ “Jay” Brown presented JBPro’s proposal for the land amid murmurs from the audience. He said he held several meetings with surrounding neighbors to hear their concerns. The developers changed plans in response to feedback, but neighbors kept pushing back. Brown said the plan called for only using part of the land for homes and keeping the rest as green space that could be used by both property owners in the proposed neighborhood, as well as residents of surrounding areas. He suggested that this land could be given to the county to be turned into a public park so that no further development would occur on this land.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I can tell you that I’m standing here in front of you and it’s such a responsible design that I’ve ever been involved in in my entire career,” Brown said.
JBPro’s initial proposal for the land included 487 units and a hotel.
The West End Golf Club opened in 1969 and closed in 2019. During its years of operation, it has hosted many youth golf tournaments and programs, including the Gator Junior Golf Association. He had an enlightened driving range that Brown and others at the meeting remembered using. Since then the site has become overgrown and tall grass surrounds the entrance. However, many who live close to the site still use the green space that was once part of the golf course.
Travis Oakman, 35, who lives in the Villages of West End neighborhood bordering the old course, explained how he sees his neighbors using the space to play catch, walk their dogs and enjoy the outdoors. He asked the commissioners to consider the positive impact of Depot Park in Gainesville on its surroundings.
“I urge you, I implore you, I implore you,” he told the commission, “Please listen to the citizens of the community.”
Ten of the attendees volunteered to donate their three minutes of public comment to professional planner Thomas Hawkins so he could make a presentation on WECARE’s position on development, outlining why the group wants the site to remain recreational land. Hawkins said property values around recreational land are higher and residents expect those spaces to stay.
After Hawkins’ presentation, others stood up to explain why they personally thought the land should remain recreational. Several spoke of the lack of parks in the Newberry and Jonesville area and said that once the land lost its recreational status, there would be no way to get it back.
“There are other places to put houses,” said Marylou Mansfield, 71, of Newberry. “There are no other places to put the West End Golf Course.”
Jen Garrett from Newberry said her children had been involved in golf at West End before it closed, and it now takes her 30 minutes to drive to Ironwood Golf Course in northeast Gainesville, for training.
Some said they weren’t against the development, but wanted JBPro to find another place to build that isn’t currently a recreational space. In addition, other neighborhoods are being built nearby.
Although some members of the commission praised Brown’s proposal, they also commented that due to its status as a recreation ground, they would not approve of West End redevelopment. They also said the county wants more density in residential areas rather than less.
Commissioner Raymond Walsh said that while he was discouraged by a proposal for recreational space to be removed west of I-75, had it not been for the recreational zoning of the land, the land would have already been developed.
As to what might take the place of the West End golf course and retain its recreational status, there is no current plan. Among the ideas expressed by those who spoke at the hearing were a county park, basketball courts or another golf course.