Developers and Urban Planners Consider What To Do With Closed Golf Courses

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Robison Wells
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From a peak in 2003, golfing across the United States has declined by a whopping 20%. Two hundred courses closed last year alone, and it’s leaving many people to wonder what to do with the empty green space in their neighborhoods—land that was once well-maintained and paid for, but land which has gone out of use.

As developers in one such area, Columbia, South Carolina, are trying to make plans to use the space for expansions, home owners are fighting back, arguing that the land they bought along the fairways was part and parcel with the home.

“I beg you to put yourself in my shoes,” said Michy Kelly to the Richland Country planning board. “We were buying so much more than a home. We were buying peace and quiet and serenity.”

Both developers and home owners are awaiting a decision on whether the old golf course land can be rezoned, and both parties have said that they are ready to sue if things don’t go their way.

But that’s a decision that no one wants. According to a Florida-based golf consultant, property values for nearby homes typically fall 20% when a golf course fails, and can fall by as much as 40% if the case goes to court.

While there are many options for the land, the one most favored by residents tends to be keeping the green space green and turning it into public parks. This maintains property values and doesn’t affect things like overcrowding of local schools and roads. But the former golf course owners want to get something out of their investment, too.

In South Carolina, ECapital Management, a Texas-based developer, bought up the failed Crickentree Golf Course, and had development plans that included 450 new homes on that land. This was met by protests, yard signs, and townhalls.

While the developer is willing to compromise down to a 205 home plan, homeowners don’t want to budge. One homeowner, Mike Koska, said that his home on the fifth tee has lost a third of its value in the last decade. “That’s life changing money. That’s ‘your kid doesn’t get to go to college and you don’t get to retire early’ money.”

But the developers and course owners feel equally in need: “To tell the property owner here, ‘You can’t change the zoning, sorry,’ that’s a huge problem,” said Heather Cairns, a real-estate attorney and planning board member. In an interview, Ms. Cairns said “it is improper to put the concerns of neighbors who don’t own the property over the rights of the people who do.”

To read more about golf course closings and redevelopment actions, check the Wall Street Journal.

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