NEW PORT RICHEY — The Pasco County Commission took a step closer to purchasing the former Gulf Harbors Golf Course.
The $1.2 million transaction to purchase the defunct executive course is about four years in the making. Holding back the deal was a lawsuit filed by two Gulf Harbors residents five months after commissioners first approved a purchase agreement for the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program deal in May 2016.
That agreement for the 50-acre, par-60 course, situated west of U.S. Highway 19 and north of Trouble Creek Road, included creating a neighborhood park surrounding a conservation area. How the county wants to pay for the transaction and future maintenance costs stirred up contention.
In the original agreement, according to county, the program would pay for half the purchase price ($600,000). The rest of the bill would be footed by the roughly 1,800 residents of Gulf Harbors, plus maintenance and some capital improvements for the park through a Municipal Service Benefit Unit. An MSBU imposes special assessments, i.e. taxes, to provide municipal services to a specific community.
Commissioners enacted an ordinance related to the purchase and MSBU creation on Sept. 27, 2016, and two Gulf Harbors residents filed their lawsuit by Oct. 26. The lawsuit remains pending, but last year the county and plaintiff asked to have it pulled. The county reported that the residents’ biggest complaint was that the seller of the property, Staryn Hinshaw, the sole successor trustee of the Marshall A. Springer and Mary Margaret Springer Intervivos Trust Agreement, would not pay for needed environmental remediation.
Hinshaw, who has a Crawfordville address on county forms, had the necessary cleanup work completed earlier this year. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection determined that an unspecified amount of contaminated soil had to be removed. Gulf Harbors Golf Club was built in 1973 and past maintenance crews used arsenic and pesticides that are no longer permitted for turf protection.
In early October, commissioners agreed to move forward with drafting a new contract that is not contingent on an MSBU. But pursuit of the MSBU will continue after the deal closes. On Oct. 20, commissioners again voted to keep the deal moving forward.
The MSBU will be pursued separate from the purchase agreement because of restrictions tied to the ELAMP funding source. ELAMP monies cannot support land acquisition with the park’s intended amenities. ELAMP will now loan the $600,000 that will be reimbursed by a pursued MSBU. The process is essentially the same as initially proposed, but without violating any ordinances or regulations.
The county received 13 emails from the public regarding the golf course purchase. Three requested to be read aloud during the Oct. 20 meeting, with each disapproving of the purchase agreement.