Unhappy with Orange County commissioners’ unanimous decision to deny him the development rights to a 155-acre plat on his property, the owner of the Windermere Country Club Golf Course is trying – again – to obtain the right to develop the property with 95 homes.
However, this time, he’s taking legal action with a lawsuit against Orange County.
But the Windermere Country Club Homeowner’s Association and nearby homeowners who oppose Bryan DeCunha’s desire to redevelop the course fought long and hard for their victory during the Board of County Commissioners meeting Oct. 18, and they’re not backing out now.
The reason DeCunha gave for his proposal to redevelop the course was declining membership. When submitting an application for development, however, he ran into a snag because the development rights, per an agreement from 1985 with the original developers, were entrusted to the county to ensure permanent open space.
Therefore, the only way for DeCunha to redevelop the property is if the county decided to vacate the rights and amend the 1985 agreement. Such a decision would have had repercussions for the homeowners, as their property values would have plummeted an estimated 20%. During the Oct. 18 meeting, many residents said the contractual guarantee of the permanent open space served as a major deciding factor in the purchase of their own homes.
Kurt Ardaman, an attorney who represents the homeowners association, explained the situation.
“The code requirements that were put in place back in the 1980s – and remain in place until today – required that the original developer maintain those 155 acres as open space in perpetuity,” Ardaman said. “So (DeCunha) is attempting to breach that agreement by suing the county to make the county violate what it promised to do on behalf of all the homeowners that purchased homes in there.”
Ardaman suspects the case DeCunha is making in his defense will make for a poor argument, particularly as the county’s decision was consistent with contractual law, statutes and codes.
DeCunha’s chances of winning the case might also be threatened if the court approves the HOA’s application to present its position on why the court should decide the county’s original decision should be upheld. Leigh Ann Dyal, the president of the Windermere Country Club’s Homeowners Association who has lived in the club for 20 years, knows anything can happen.
“I’m very upset about it because we finally paid our house off and now this happens,” she said.
As the HOA president, Dyal has been researching investors interested in buying the course from DeCunha to turn it into a beautiful golf course again. She has found several investors, but DeCunha’s lack of interest in selling complicates matters.
“It’s unfortunate that this developer wishes to place this burden on the homeowners and the HOA and the county, costing the taxpayers money and everyone involved a lot of grief and headache when he knew what he was buying,” Ardaman said.
George Huxhold, the HOA’s vice president, said he wouldn’t be surprised if DeCunha chooses to take the case as far as it could go, but he said the HOA remains steadfast in its determination to fight him the whole way.
“We just can’t see how he would have anything to grab ahold of that would allow a judge or another panel to give him these development rights because when he bought the property he knew darn well that he didn’t have the development rights,” Huxhold said. “He knew darn well that it was designated permanent open space. We just can’t see why he’s continuing to fight this.”
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]