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Thursday, June 01, 2023

Environmental benefits keep discontinued golf course green in Alachua County Commission vote

The county’s meeting room overflowed with public dissent

<p>The front of West End Golf Club stands covered in overgrowth Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. </p>

The front of West End Golf Club stands covered in overgrowth Friday, Oct. 14, 2022.

The West End Golf Club permanently closed in 2019 and was rundown even before — overgrown foliage made it unusable. Thus, its development potential was hindered.

Despite this, Newberry residents and golf enthusiasts packed the Jack Durrance Board Room Oct. 11 in an attempt to save it from urban development.

The Alachua County Commission voted 4-1 to reject a proposal seeking to turn the now-defunct West End Golf Club into a residential area with a maximum of 70 units. Only Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn voted in dissent.

The golf course saw minimal upkeep and closed permanently due to an ownership change and rising maintenance costs, according to a report by the Gainesville Sun. 

Current county zoning has the land listed under recreational use, which doesn’t allow for residential property to be built. Residents against the proposal want the land to remain this way to protect the environment there.

The emotion the public brought in with their comments made it clear that residents have strong emotional ties to the land, Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said.

“The mental health of our citizens is important and needs to be maintained through our green spaces,” Wheeler said.

One impassioned resident is Paul Hornby, a 63-year-old Newberry resident who lived near the course for more than 35 years. Hornby would frequent the course with his father and has fond family memories there, he said. 

To preserve the land, Hornby became president of West End Community Alliance for Recreation and Education — or WECARE — a group dedicated to protecting the area from urban development.

Through the organization, passionate residents were able to unify, raise funds and even hire lawyers, Hornby said.“About 32 people got up and spoke,” Hornby said. “It was really impressive.”

Environmental concerns were furthered by psychologists and professors who attended the hearing. 

Charles Guy, a former UF environmental horticulture professor, said newer research shows a necessity for plant life in urban areas.

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“Being in the presence of plants and in the presence of nature has therapeutic benefits,” Guy said.

Recent studies sharing this thought could hold scientific weight, which Guy and other Newberry residents emphasized.

A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found college students were twice as likely to report feeling “very happy in the past week” if exposed to areas that had green spaces on campus. Another 2017 study from the Journal of Environmental Psychology found walking through natural landscapes could result in stronger cognitive performance than walking in urban counterparts.

The course isn’t very walkable currently. One resident at the meeting pointed out exposed chemical barrels on the course in addition to sinkholes and wildlife concerns.

While the course itself may be obsolete, WECARE voiced dissent to ensure future development would remain recreational, allowing for parks or sport courses that remain green.

Along with public dissent, the county’s planning commission and growth management staff recommended rejecting the proposal prior to the commission hearing.

There are no concrete plans by WECARE or developers to work with the land in other ways as of Oct. 16.

Wheeler’s hope is to see the course reworked into a park or similar project that better reflects the community’s wants, she said.

“Maybe there will be somebody who will come forward to take that on as a project and develop it the way the community would like to see it developed,” Wheeler said. 

Contact Aidan at Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.

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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a second-year journalism major and the city and county commission reporter for the Alligator. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Citrus County Chronicle. When not writing, he enjoys creating videos, water activities and spending time with his friends.

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