• Windermere homeowners fighting with golf course owner

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    ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A fight over development in Windermere is pitting homeowners against the owner of a golf course. The homeowners say they were promised open space and now the owner of the golf course in the middle of their neighborhood wants to build new homes on the site.

    Investigative reporter Daralene Jones asked county leaders if the outcome of this fight could set a precedent, impacting other communities.

    Chet Moody told 9 Investigates he was lured to buy inside the Windermere Club subdivision because of the open space that provided a view in his backyard. It's part of the privately owned golf course and country club a few doors down.

    “We relied on the fact that this golf course property was to remain permanent open space it's on the plat, and it's in the county code,” Moody said.   

    Moody is referring to plans approved by the county in 1985 that shows a cluster of homes surrounded by a golf course. The homes are on smaller lots, but only the homeowners said the builder agreed to keep 38 percent of the land, as open space.

    At the time, the county code related to open space read as follows: “All common open space areas shall be shown on the cluster development plan. A method shall be provided for assuring the maintenance of all common open space area, in perpetuity, either by transferring ownership and maintenance responsibilities for the open space areas to trustee or mandatory (homeowners) association, or by some other method acceptable.” It goes on to say: “The owner shall offer to dedicate development rights for all common open space area to Orange County. The county may accept the offer of dedication. If, however, the county refuses to accept the offer, an alternative method acceptable to Orange County shall be provided to guarantee that common open space areas shall be provided to guarantee that common open space areas shall remain.. to maintain the natural character..”  

    The owner of the golf course told Eyewitness News there was no requirement that open space had to be a golf course, now the owner wants to build 95 homes. Crews are already putting up a fence and the pool is filled with dirt.

    Eyewitness News saw the owner packing up and shutting down the golf course even though the county hasn't agreed to turn over the development rights, which it gained in 1986, as part of the development deal.

    “We're not moving forward with anything, all we're doing is closing the course, at this point in time,” property owner Bryan DeCunha said.

    DeCunha told Eyewitness News he’s losing money. He said only 60 members use the golf course, compared with 340 in 2011. He said he tried for five years to keep the golf course afloat.

    Moody said he’s worried this could set a precedent by allowing a developer to cash in at the expense of homeowners who originally bought their parcels of land because of the nearby open space.

    “If our county leaders are just willing to give him the development rights back, it undermines our trust in our elected county officials,” Moody said.

    There is a hearing in May to determine if the county will turn over the development rights. If so, there will be a fight over rezoning, likely in July.

    “If our county leaders are just willing to give him the development rights back, it undermines our trust in our elected county officials,” Moody said.

    There is a hearing in May to determine if the county will turn over the development rights. If so, there will be a fight over rezoning, likely in July.

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