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Lone Pine Golf Course loses money; will have to be closed, says owner

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RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Lone Pine Golf Course, long a cheap haven for weekend golfers and beginners near Palm Beach, will need to close to stem financial losses, one of its owners said.

“We’re going to have to close the field,” said Joe Gerlach, who owns the field with four of his brothers. “We are not going to be in a situation where we lose money. We can’t keep this open out of the goodness of our hearts.”

The Gerlachs have an offer from homebuilder DR Horton for the 63.6-acre site.

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That offer, the details of which Gerlach said he cannot disclose, is contingent on Riviera Beach granting land use and zoning changes that would allow DR Horton to build 286 housing units on the site.

On June 9, the Riviera Beach Zoning and Planning Board rejected requests for those land use and zoning changes in a meeting with 25 to 30 residents who live near the golf course and pleaded that Lone Pine remain a course. of golf

The Planning and Zoning Board serves as an advisory panel to the City Council, whose members will have the final say on what happens to Lone Pine. A Riviera Beach spokeswoman said City Council members could address the issue as early as August.

Nearby residents don’t want Lone Pine to close

The course’s fate has already angered nearby residents, who say they bought their homes with the understanding that they would live in a golf community. And the course poses a dilemma for Riviera Beach officials, who must consider several competing factors:

  • A desire for additional housing and the tax base boost it could generate.
  • A desire to preserve open space and recreational opportunities.
  • A desire not to antagonize local residents who want to continue living in a golf course community.

Jupiter resident Lou Batko, 45, tees off at Lone Pine Golf Club in Riviera Beach, Fla., on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Photo by Andres Leiva, The Palm Beach Post

Riviera Beach, like other cities in Palm Beach County, has sought to encourage developers to build affordable housing. Builders get tax and other benefits if they agree to list units at below-market prices to make them affordable for teachers, government employees and other middle-income people.

DR Horton’s plan calls for “market rate” housing, according to Hope Calhoun, a land use attorney who represented the developer at the June 9 Planning and Zoning Board meeting. None of the units would be subsidized or for rent.

Calhoun said the least expensive housing units would start in the $350,000 range if the developer offered them today.

Lone Pine Golf Club co-owner Richard Gerlach accepts payment from customer Norman Greene, 82, for a basket of golf balls on the driving range at Lone Pine Golf Club in Riviera Beach, Fla., on Thursday, May 23. June 2022. Photo by Andres Leiva, The Palm Beach Post

The Palm Beach Post contacted each of the five Riviera Beach City Council members for comment on Lone Pine and DR Horton’s plan to buy it. Only one, KaShamba Miller-Anderson, responded. And she kept the powder dry on her.

“DR Horton and the Lone Pine community will come before us at one of our future meetings as an audience,” he said. “I would like to reserve my comments until then. I’m certainly open to hearing from all sides of the issue.”

If the June 9 meeting is any guide, council members can expect an impassioned plea from homeowners who live near the course. Wearing white and green T-shirts that read, “Keep it Green, Say NO to Rezoning,” they urged members of the Planning and Zoning Board to reject DR Horton’s request for changes.

“The golf course has been a major rain absorption area for the last 40 years and we still have flooding,” Francis Scott said. “I see a potential problem.”

Another area resident, Linda Brown, said, “My number one concern, out of many, is traffic. During rush hour, traffic comes to a standstill on Military Trail.”

Brown, like other residents, questioned the accuracy of a traffic study conducted on behalf of DR Horton because it was conducted during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when shutdowns and stay-at-home orders reduced traffic.

But Yoan Machado, a planner who represented DR Horton, said the study was done in a way that took into account typical traffic flows.

What would the new development plan look like?

Calhoun said plans for the Lone Pine site have been in the works since before 2020, when the zoning application was first submitted.

Through the complaints and objections of area residents, Machado and Calhoun discussed the merits of the development plan, including the installation of 10-inch-wide water pipes that, once joined by smaller ones that were used now in the community, they would increase the water pressure. long a source of frustration for area residents.

The development plan, which calls for the construction of 124 single-family homes and 162 townhomes, would also include an 11.4-acre lake that Calhoun and Machado say would help with drainage.

Presenters from DR Horton noted that their development plan, under city rules, should leave 35 percent of the site as open space. The developer proposes to go further, leaving 41 percent as open space.

However, none of that convinced area residents. Some said they feel cheated.

When he considered buying near Lone Pine in 1984, “it was sold to us as a golf community,” said James Elder. Homes with a golf course view cost $10,000 more, Elder said.

But Gerlach pointed out that homeowners in Lone Pine don’t earmark part of their homeowners association dues to support the course, as is common in communities with a golf course. There are also no mandatory memberships, another common tactic in golf course communities.

Lone Pine owner: Golf courses are expensive to maintain

“Golf courses have to be periodically replanted,” he said. “Our field hasn’t been replanted since 1992. We can’t charge what we need to charge. We are not making money here.”

Lone Pine’s comparatively low costs and laid-back vibe are part of its appeal, even as those attributes contribute to financial losses.

Golf has long sought to expand its reach to minorities, and Lone Pine’s location in Riviera Beach, where the majority of residents are black, has helped in that regard. It is not uncommon for black players to be seen playing at Lone Pine.

Some of the residents who opposed Lone Pine’s sale and rezoning said they would like the city of Riviera Beach to commit resources to improve the course.

“With Riviera Beach’s commitment to reinventing this community, think about it,” said Julian Jackson. “Just consider the next Tiger Woods coming from this community rather than another community.”

Gerlach said he and his brothers would love to see Lone Pine continue as a golf course. He said it would take a “$3.5 million investment to make it viable for the next 25 years.”

Would the city of Riviera Beach be interested in taking over Lone Pine?

The idea of ​​Riviera Beach owning the course has also been explored, he said.

“We have offered the golf course several times to Riviera Beach,” he said. “They have no interest. It’s going to cost them money every year.”

There has been no interest from individuals who want to keep Lone Pine open as a golf course.

“Do you know how many people have offered to buy it and maintain it as a golf course?” Gerlach asked. “Not one.”

The bottom line, Gerlach said, is that if the DR Horton deal falls through, he and his brother will look to sell to another buyer who could fence off the site and await demands that something be done with it.

“This will no longer be a golf course,” Gerlach said. “What other choice do we have? What else are we going to do? This is our heritage.”

His late father, Charles Gerlach, used the course losses as a tax deduction against profits in his other businesses.

But Gerlach said the course doesn’t serve the same purpose for him and his siblings.

“We would love to keep it as a golf course in the family, but it doesn’t make any money,” he said. “Other courses are newer and less expensive. It’s hard for us to compete.”

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