NEW PORT RICHEY - Wearing red shirts to show their solidarity, homeowners from Timber Oaks filed into the county commission meeting one after another until they had filled every available seat and had to use folding chairs in the lobby.
They were there to make sure Pasco commissioners followed the recommendations from their staff, their planning commission and their development review committee to deny a permit for 230 homes and townhouses on what used to be their golf course. After nearly two hours of testimony, commissioners unanimously rejected the application.
"I was very surprised to see it come forward," Commissioner Jack Mariano said. "Usually when you see a development get hammered every step of the way they go away, so I give them credit for resiliency.
At one time, the 78.5-acre golf course was the centerpiece of Timber Oaks, a 2,000-home community that was built nearly 40 years ago just off Little Road. Pacer Golf bought the course in 1998 and operated it until 2006.
Now it's one of at least a half dozen defunct golf courses in Pasco County.
"From the mid-1990s to the real estate boom, there was incredible overbuilding of golf courses in the Tampa Bay area," attorney Clarke Hobby said. "A lot of the older courses simply couldn't compete."
Hobby represented the Timber Oaks Homeowners Association, but he also represents the owner of the defunct Gulf Harbors Golf Course, which is negotiating a sale to Pasco County.
A decade ago Gulf Harbors residents were fighting plans to build 120 homes on their 50-acre golf course. Gulf Harbors is a waterfront community off U.S. 19 of about 2,000 homes. Golf course owner Mary Catherine Hinshaw closed the course permanently about two years ago.
Commissioners voted unanimously last month to add the property to its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program (ELAMP) list. They are currently negotiating a sale price.
Hobby called it a "win-win" for the county and the community because it guarantees the site will never be developed. "It's a benefit," he said. "If you've got a legacy golf course that has been abandoned, if you're able to preserve it that's great for the community."
Keith Wiley, the county's environmental lands manager, said preservation isn't always the best solution for defunct golf courses, but Gulf Harbors is a unique property.
"A lot of the vegetative characteristics are not what you would expect to see in an old golf course," Wiley said. "This course was designed around the salt flats. It's unique in that it supports a very high population of migratory water fowl."