As dozens of Windermere Club homeowners filled the Waterford Pointe Clubhouse for their annual homeowners’ meeting Tuesday, Jan. 16, one topic of discussion prevailed as the most anticipated.
For three years, Windermere Club homeowners have been fighting against a redevelopment proposal for the Windermere Country Club. The club’s owner, Bryan DeCunha, has plans to redevelop it into 95 single-family homes.
THE ISSUE AT HAND
DeCunha purchased the Windermere Country Club in April 2011, but after the club’s membership declined, he shut it down in April 2016 and proposed converting 155 acres of the course to 95 homes in a new and separate subdivision.
To do so, he needed to obtain the development rights, which have belonged to Orange County as per a 1986 Developer’s Agreement. Additionally, under the golf course’s current zoning — represented by a 1985 Cluster Plan, according to a Planning and Zoning document — development is prohibited from deviating from the Cluster Plan, which requires 38% open space.
But the homeowners have resisted the redevelopment proposal.
In October 2016, the Orange County Commission denied DeCunha’s request for the county-owned development rights of the golf course, which he needed to rezone it for development.
Since then, he has been fighting the denial with two lawsuits against Orange County. These still are awaiting rulings from the judges on pending motions, and WCC also has provided the county with notice of a separate Bert Harris claim, which provides a formal process for resolving certain types of land disputes etween property owners and the government.
Weeks before the meeting, homeowners received two letters from DeCunha — the first dated Dec. 18 and the second Dec. 28.
The first was addressed to the attention of Windermere Club Homeowners Association President Leigh Ann Dyal. In the letter, DeCunha stated he had been asked by some Windermere Club homeowners to commit in writing a proposed Settlement Agreement to “clearly agree with the homeowners’ requested objectives and limit the proposed Tract A plan of development.”
Also enclosed with the letter and proposed agreement was a revised site plan for Tract A — the golf course.
The plan, reflected by the items outlined in the Settlement Agreement, “is the end result of WCC agreeing to numerous homeowners’ and HOA board members’ requests over the past three years,” the letter states.
In the proposed settlement, Orange County could ensure the existing homes would “receive numerous concessions that are not required by the Orange County zoning code, improving the existing owners’ property values,” DeCunha said.
Such concessions include: giving the former golf course homes waterfront lots or an additional 50 feet added to their backyards; eliminating the existing neighborhood’s security concerns and traffic caused by any continued public use of the existing clubhouse; limiting the houses in the new development to fewer than allowed by the applicable zoning; and sharing new amenities with the new subdivision.
Dyal sent a rebuttal letter to the homeowners, stating that the documents included were “merely a rehash of the same proposal he has made over the past three years; his attempt to provide new information or to clarify his desire to develop the Windermere Country Club was not presented in any form.”
In the second letter, DeCunha stated he sought to ensure they had the facts about WCC and clarify “several misstatements” in the recent correspondence from Dyal.
Dyal then sent a second letter to homeowners addressing DeCunha’s Dec. 28 letter, stating the Windermere Club homeowners “want to retain the former golf course property as permanent open space.” She added they have won every decision with Orange County unanimously at all levels thus far, and “it is crystal clear that Orange County Government is 100% behind the 1985 decision to retain the property as permanent open space.”
When asked why he sent the letters to the homeowners, DeCunha said his hope is that the issue is settled with a positive outcome for everyone.
“The idea proposed by some of Windermere Club’s homeowners — to create waterfront lots and larger lots — seemed like a solution that would benefit the homeowners, who have seen a devaluation of their property, and Orange County, who would receive greater tax revenues,” DeCunha said.
But the Dyals see it differently.
“We think that he thinks the court may be ready to make a decision, and that rather than having our community come together as a whole, he’d like to divide the community and show that there’s opposition (among the homeowners),” said Johnny Dyal, Leigh Ann’s husband.
The homeowners, Leigh Ann said, all have worked hard to purchase their properties and keep them maintained, and many paid a premium to live on a golf course and not have houses behind their properties.
“Just as the president, I’ve been the one in the lead for all of this because thats what the community wants,” Leigh Ann said. “I have not heard of anybody that wants development, except for two people. I’ve heard some people that want compromise and want something to be done about the course.”
THE END GAME?
During the meeting, Leigh Ann addressed fellow homeowners regarding the recent events in her president’s report.
“My goal as president is and always has been what is best for the community and doing what is best — what the community wants of me,” she said. “Everyone is asking the simple question: ‘What is the end game? What is plan B?’ Our community is definitely a unique case. We can all speculate what the end game may be, but it is premature without the outstanding lawsuits being resolved.”
Even so, DeCunha said he remains optimistic the homeowners, the HOA board and Orange County “will listen to the existing homeowners’ proposed resolutions and work to bring this issue to a close.”
“Many homeowners ... want to see this issue resolved,” DeCunha said. “They understand that an abandoned golf course only hurts their property values. ... They have suggested many different options that I would consider, but the HOA board is unwilling to discuss any potential settlement.
“Orange County, the homeowners and HOA board need to decide whether they are better off with a permanently closed golf course and clubhouse or the amenities proposed by their neighbors that are listed in the proposed settlement agreement as an immediate solution,” he said.