They fought before county commissioners considering an environmental cleanup plan and before a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge hearing allegations of defamation and attempts to quash public participation in a government zoning case.
Residents of Pebble Creek in the New Tampa area of northern Hillsborough County finally had their say Monday evening before a hearing officer in the first step of a two-part rezoning process aimed at determining the future of the shuttered Pebble Creek Golf Club.
And, like much of the country, neighbors found themselves divided between red and blue loyalties. GL Homes Supporters plan to turn the former golf course into a gated community of 251 homes wore blue T-shirts proclaiming “Vote Yes.” Opponents were dressed in red T-shirts asking to “save Pebble Creek.”
The 77-minute proceeding before Zoning Hearing Master Susan Finch was the first part of the rezoning hearing. She is expected to review the evidence presented Monday and draft a recommendation to the Hillsborough County Commission, which is expected to make a final decision in July.
The 150 acres in question are owned by Bill Place of Ace Golf. He closed the course in 2021, citing declining membership and the need for costly renovations. He also tried, but failed, to persuade the county commission to designate the route as industrial wasteland, which would have made him eligible for financial assistance to clean the property of chemical pesticides.
Place’s plan to sell the land for residential housing sparked strong opposition from some neighbors and resulted in Place’s lawsuit against prominent critic Leslie Green. Ace Golf filed a complaint against Green last year, saying his public statements and letter-writing campaign had interfered with his activities. She countered that Place was trying to stifle her First Amendment rights through a strategic lawsuit against public participation, known as a SLAPP suit.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher C. Nash has yet to issue a ruling after a March 8 hearing in which Green’s attorneys sought to dismiss Place’s complaint, saying their only intention was to curb public opposition ahead of Monday’s hearing.
Green testified before the hearing officer Monday evening and said the loss of green space would harm wildlife and the environment. Similarly, Emma Kornrumpf of Hogan’s Bend said the rezoning should not be allowed because the property owner does not have state permission to clean the property of chemical contaminants.
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But supporters said GL Homes’ proposal — including new lakes, parks and thousands of trees to plant — is better than the alternative of an abandoned golf course.
“It’s become an eyesore,” said Michael Jacobson, who moved into his Cypress View Way home in 2016.
The development plan is a way to revitalize the Pebble Creek neighborhood, said GL Homes attorney Jacob Cremer of Stearns Weaver Miller. But it also came with a warning.
“This may really be our only chance to do it,” Cremer said, noting that Place could pursue a multifamily development if GL Homes’ plan is rejected.
He also told Finch, the master of the audience, that a hard truth needed to be addressed.
“Golf is not coming back,” Cremer said.