More than 15 years have passed since the last round of golf was played at the Dodger Pines Country Club, and still the property sits idle.
That’s not likely to change anytime soon.
“Obviously, we’re planning to develop it at some point,” said Jennifer Orsi, vice president of Sunfield Homes Inc., the New Port Richey-based development and real-estate company that owns the 222-acre property adjacent to the Vero Beach Regional Airport.
“We put together a proposal a couple of years ago, but the city had some issues with the plan, so we’ve put things on hold for now.”
The issues, according to Vero Beach Planning Director Tim McGarry, involved the design of a proposed residential development of 780 single-family homes.
Sunfield wanted to build a more traditional community with limited access and cul-de-sacs to put more homes on the property and, thus, generate greater profits.
Under the city’s master plan, however, the property is zoned for more “innovative land use,” McGarry said, citing a desire for “more connectivity” within the development through a grid-like street pattern and more access roads into the community.
In addition, McGarry and his staff wanted larger setbacks to provide more of a buffer between the development and the property line along the city-county boundary.
There were also density issues.
“We did a wholesale review of the plan and there were just too many problems, so we rejected it,” McGarry said. “They could’ve tried to go forward without our recommendation, but they would’ve needed waivers to get around our code.
“They also could’ve addressed our issues and re-submitted their plan, but we haven’t heard from them,” he added. “There’s nothing on the books now, so if they do want to do something, they’ll need to start over again.”
Orsi said her father, Michael, who owns the company, is planning to make a trip to Vero Beach soon to visit the property and discuss his options with Carter Associates Inc., the local civil engineering and surveying firm he contracted after Sunfield purchased the land in late 2013.
“Our intention is to do something there,” Orsi said. “We didn’t purchase the property to do nothing with it.”
Four groups have owned the property since the Los Angeles Dodgers sold it to Vero Beach developers Don Proctor and Jerry Swanson in 2002.
Over the years, the old clubhouse was leveled; Safari Pines Estates, the mobile home park that was located near the club’s entry in the southeast corner of the property, was removed; and some fencing was erected by Orsi after residents of nearby neighborhoods complained about wild hogs roaming the area.
Other than that, not much else has been done. The once-popular, par-73 Dodger Pines golf course – which featured a rare par-6 hole that covered 670 yards – is now unrecognizable, grown-over and covered with weeds.
While Sunfield hopes to eventually develop the property and build a residential community there, McGarry said the company will need to address noise issues because of the land’s close proximity to the airport.
“They’re not in the high-noise area, but they are within the noise impact area, so they’ll need to meet noise-buffer standards with insulation,” McGarry said. “They’ll also have to sign a waiver acknowledging that they’re building next to an airport, so they can’t come back later and complain about the noise.”
John Blum of Carter Associates said one of the previous owners, Southstar Development Partners of Coral Gables, was required to take its plans to the Vero Beach Airport Commission.
If Sunfield does follow through with its plans to develop the property, county officials will expect the company to at least share in the cost of widening 26th Street between 43rd and 58th avenues to accommodate the inevitable increase is traffic.
The county’s capital improvements plan already includes the widening of 26th Street, and the county has been purchasing the necessary right-of-way along the north side of the road for years. However, the project continues to be pushed back because, with the Dodger Pines property still undeveloped, there isn’t yet a need to widen the road.
“If the developer decides to move forward, they’d need to update their traffic study with the city and county,” County Community Development Director Stan Boling said. “But to develop that property, the road would need to be widened, and the developer is probably going to have to widen it – with the county’s input.”
Even if the property remains undeveloped, Boling said, the county eventually will move forward with the widening project, which would include improvements to the intersections of 43rd and 58th avenues.
“We’ve been budgeting money with the long-term goal of getting it done,” Boling said. “It’s just a question of when.”
Though the property is currently zoned for residential development, McGarry said the owners could seek a rezoning if they wanted to build something other than homes.
In fact, McGarry said he would welcome mixed-use zoning on a portion of the property to accommodate what he called “employment-based development” – something he believes is compatible with the airport area.