Naples Beach Hotel golf course: preservation talks suspended
An effort to strengthen enforcement of an easement to preserve Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club’s cherished golf course has lost momentum.
The effort has taken a back seat as The Athens Group – the future owner and developer – focuses on finalizing the purchase of the historic property, off Gulf Shore Boulevard in Naples.
The long-awaited sale is expected to close within a week. This will put the prized 125-acre property in the hands of the developer before the city can put more teeth into its existing easement agreement.
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Naples city council learned of the now stalled negotiations at a board meeting on May 13.
The update came from Ken Hart, chairman and CEO of Ausley McMullen, the Tallahassee-based law firm the city hired in September to explore options for the perpetual preservation of the world famous championship golf course. ‘hotel.
After considering the options, the company recommended that the city pursue a statutory conservation easement monitored by a land trust.
City council agreed and ordered Ausley McMullen to lead negotiations between the developer and the land trust in early April.
After an introductory speech, however, Hart said the developer was reluctant to move forward, canceling a follow-up meeting and stressing the need to focus on closing the property – and funding for the development.
“The developer controls what the bondage says and what’s in it,” Hart said.
He told City Council that the proposed statutory easement is the “gold standard” and the best insurance to protect golf course property in perpetuity.
In his previous recommendations to the city, Ausley McMullen said that a statutory conservation easement offers more certainty because of things addressed in Florida laws like “validity, enforceability, assignment and duration.”
Low current easement
In his update last week, Hart reiterated that “the current bondage doesn’t really accomplish much.”
In 2019, when the former Naples City Council approved plans to redevelop the hotel property, it accepted an easement from the Athens group covering 104.6 acres.
At the time, the city council chose not to involve a third party in the easement agreement, even though the Athens group seemed open to the idea.
Since March, the current easement has become a hot issue. It was then that The Athens Group began to publicly share the possibility of reducing the golf course from 18 holes to 10 holes and creating new recreational activities on open green spaces, including a golf instruction school. .
City councilors discussed the possibility of securing a more stringent easement agreement if the developer agrees to resume discussions with the land trust. This did not please the leaders of the Athens group, who were in the boardroom waiting to speak on a proposal involving height restrictions.
Jay Newman, chief operating officer of the Athens group, rose to address city council concerns and defend the developer’s position, sometimes showing his frustration with the board.
He said his company entered into the current deal voluntarily, as part of a “good faith process” that included city and community participation.
In addition, the promoter subsequently agreed to have the agreement supervised by a citizen oversight committee, in response to the unease expressed by the new advisers seated after its approval.
“Why did we do this? Newman asked rhetorically.” As always has been our case, we want to be a good partner. We are, will be part of the community. ”
The Athens group has already agreed to “very heavy restrictions”, under the current bondage, and will live with them, but it is no longer willing to bow, Newman said.
“We are not going to extend the restrictions that we have already agreed to,” he said. “There is no reason to do this.”
The Athens group, he said, has already made clear to the city and the North American Land Trust its reluctance to change the terms of the easement – the land trust that Ausley McMullen chose to negotiate with the developer a new arrangement.
Over the past few months, the developer has faced some unexpected hurdles and challenges that have forced it to focus on more critical issues than a stronger easement agreement, Newman said.
This includes the unexpected city council decision over a month ago to delay what should have been a controversial non-controversial platform approval, he said, apparently due to greater concerns from the council of administration as to what the high-end project will ultimately look like – including its golf course.
Going forward, he said city council should consider the developer’s claims on the basis of evidence and merit, and not on “outside factors” that should not affect its deliberations or decisions.
“It’s a two-way street,” Newman told the Council. “And we will continue to work with you in good faith and we hope that you will continue to work with us in good faith.”
The delay in the easement talks was only about a month, he said, and the developer intends to resume those talks soon.
Newman’s negative comments on the actions and reactions of the Council ruffled some feathers.
Councilor Ray Christman said he disagreed with some of Newman’s criticisms, but did not want to enter a “tit for tat”.
“Talks are not expensive,” he said, wondering when the developer will turn speech into action and revive the talks.
He directly asked when talks could resume and when they could reach the “finish line”.
Discussions to resume
The Athens group plans to resume negotiations in June, Newman said, shortly after his purchase of the property closes. However, he said, he didn’t know how long it would take.
Deputy Mayor Terry Hutchison said he has no doubts about the promoter’s commitment to sign an agreement for the implementation of Part Three.
“This is one of the long-term conservation decisions, if not the most important, for our community,” he said. “Let’s do it right and let’s do it.”
Asked how long it would take to do that, Hart, along with Ausley McMullen, said a revised deal could be reached in a few weeks once conversations restart.
“The land trust is very experienced,” he said. “I mean, it’s not their first bondage. So they’re not starting from scratch.”
As for the potential changes to the golf course and other open green spaces on the property, Newman told City Council they have become such a big distraction – with so much noise and opposition in the neighborhood – that they are now “on hold”.
“We’re moving forward right now with an 18-hole golf course,” Newman said.
In other words, the developer is moving forward with the site plan approved by the city in December 2019, at least for now.
“Until we apply to change it, that doesn’t change,” Newman said. “This is where we are at.”
Leaving the door open, he said recreational offerings could be revisited in the future, but the city would have to approve any significant changes.
The Athens group plans to raze the beach hotel and build a five-star 220-room resort and “best-in-class” residential condos on both sides of Gulf Shore Boulevard.
The recreational facilities in the project would serve not only condo owners and hotel guests, but also the community and other visitors who wish to use them.