SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Seminole County leaders voted to spend millions of dollars to save two golf courses, with some homeowners agreeing to a self-imposed tax to cover the costs of turning a defunct course into a county park.
Deborah Bauer is a lifelong resident of the Deer Run community in Seminole County. She said when the golf course shut down a couple of years ago, she knew residents had to step in to save the land from development.
“While development is something that is important in the right areas, there are also places where development should not be allowed because it’s not appropriate and this was the case where development was not appropriate on this piece of property,” Bauer said.
Bauer started the “Save Deer Run Citizen’s Action Group.” The group of neighbors worked to figure out how to save the property from being developed into hundreds of homes.
The neighborhood turned to the Seminole County Commission for help three years ago. Bauer said the board told residents they needed to step up to save the land.
“I think, quite literally, we were willing to write the check to put our money where our mouth is,” she said.
The county tasked the Deer Run community to approve a Municipal Service Benefit Unit, which is a self-imposed tax to the homeowners. It’s an additional assessment on property tax bills that are estimated between $65 to $130 per household per year for 15 years.
Bauer and volunteers canvassed the nearly 3,000 home neighborhoods for weeks fighting in favor of the taxing district.
“We had to get 65% of the residents who were in that group of people to not only turn in their ballot and vote yes for it,” Bauer said.
The deadline was last Friday. According to the county, 67% of Deer Run homeowners voted in favor of the taxing district.
On Tuesday, following the results of the MSBU, the Seminole County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to move forward. The board agreed to spend $14 million to purchase the golf course at Deer Run to turn it into a park, as well as purchase Wekiva Golf Course.
Commissioner Bob Dallari said the county will continue to operate the Wekiva Golf Course.
“It’s continuing to make money. There’s no sense in shutting it down,” Dallari said.
Dallari said this deal adds nearly 300 acres of parklands in an urban setting in Seminole County. He credits the homeowners for getting results and saving the land.
“They came to us with a problem, they showed us a solution and they helped us with a solution,” Dallari said.
Dallari said the county made a similar move when it purchased the defunct Rolling Hills golf course in 2016. The county is currently in the works of turning the land into a park.
“Rolling Hills was truly the blueprint on how we did this,” Dallari said. “It was a win-win for everyone, so we took that model and brought it over to Deer Run.”
Dallari said there will be community meetings to allow for public input in the park design plans at Deer Run. He said features will include trails and bicycle paths, as well as playgrounds and open spaces. He adds the money from the MSBU will be used to pay for the improvements.
The next step is for the county to finalize the contract and financing. Dallari said he hopes the county will take ownership of the two golf courses by the end of the year.
Bauer adds the homeowners are thankful to the county and the property owner for working together to save the green space.
“We feel that we’ve not only done our duty to protect our homes, but we’ve also done something that we’re proud of because we know we’re leaving something behind for the residents of tomorrow,” she said.