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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2019 1 year ago

Stoneybrook West Golf Club owner faces fines

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The new owner is accruing hefty fines of $2,000 per day from Winter Garden after letting the course become overgrown and neglected.
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

A golf course in one Winter Garden community continues to sit overgrown and unused — but not without a price.

Winter Garden’s Code Enforcement Board voted at its June 4 meeting to cite Miguel Vidal — the new owner of the Stoneybrook West Golf Club — a fine of $2,000 per day regarding several code violations.

The citation comes about less than five months after the golf club closed abruptly in January. Vidal purchased the club following the closure but since then has not maintained it. The fairways, putting greens and bunkers have become overgrown with foliage.

Code violations cited against Vidal include scattering of refuse, discharging foul water or depositing decaying matter, and excessive growth of grass, weeds and brush.

“There’s been a new owner who (has) purchased the golf course, and the maintenance of the course has not been kept up — the city cited them and we came to the code board,” Winter Garden Community Development Director Steve Pash said. “It was a packed house — 200 or 150 (people). There were a lot of people from the neighborhood.”

The board issued a fine of $500 per parcel on four parcels,  totaling $2,000 per day, Pash said.

According to a letter from the Stoneybrook West homeowners association distributed to residents May 22, the previous owners of the golf course decided they no longer wanted the club in their business portfolio and chose to close it.

After dozens of meetings with the HOA’s attorney, golf-course investment companies, owners and managers of other courses, real-estate agents, other communities that own their golf course and communities where their course has closed as well, the golf course eventually was purchased by Vidal on March 29. He also owned Legends Golf and County Club in Clermont, though he previously had no experience operating a golf course, according to the letter.

Shortly after the purchase, Vidal asked the Stoneybrook West HOA to financially support him in reopening the golf course through a $50-per-home-per-month payment for the first two years — about $735,000 per year without ownership or membership in the golf club, according to the letter.

The HOA declined the request, and the golf course hasn’t been maintained since.

The letter adds that Vidal no longer owns Legends after defaulting on his own payments and that property values in Stoneybrook West are being impacted as the course becomes more overgrown and neglected.

Pash said Vidal currently is going through steps to bring the course back into compliance, adding that Vidal had stated at the June 4 meeting that he plans to have the course mowed.

However, as of Sunday, June 16, areas of the golf course still were overgrown.

What has happened at the Stoneybrook West Golf Club is part of an ongoing trend throughout the state, City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said.

“This is happening all over Florida with people in golf-course communities — a lot of golf courses are struggling,” he said. “It’s not unusual for owners to come in and just stop maintaining the golf course and try to pressure people into letting them redevelop the property or force them into getting so many members. This is not unusual — this is commonplace now in Central Florida.”

Despite the concerns of residents regarding property values, Denise Gregorie, of Clock Tower Realty in Winter Garden, said the demand for homes in Stoneybrook West is higher than ever.

“People are upset thinking their values are going down, but honestly, I have buyers wanting to still get in there, because it’s more than just the golf course,” Gregorie said. “It feeds to great schools, it’s a great location, and (it has) the amenities — the pool, the tennis courts and the walkability of the whole neighborhood.

“My buyers are looking to buy into that; the golf course is secondary,” she said. “It’s not really coming into play for what they’re looking for. I look at the values from year to year, and they’re higher than they were. I don’t see a decline that people are talking about. I expected to honestly see that, and I didn’t. I think Winter Garden is holding the value.”

Vidal and the Stoneybrook West HOA did not respond to repeated requests seeking comment for this story.

Tim Freed was the managing editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Southwest Orange Observer. He previously spent six years covering the Winter Park/Maitland area and is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

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