PLANT CITY With more than 2,000 homes, Walden Lake
is by far the largest development in the city.
Hundreds of those residents live on or are within sight of a pair of 18-hole courses owned by Walden Lake Golf and Country Club.
One of those courses - The Hills - recently closed. Residents now fear the course might be rezoned for homes and perhaps shops.
Residents are rallying to stop any potential development, which they say would forever alter their community and way of life.
"We don't want our green space developed," said Shelly Orrico, whose backyard is adjacent to the closed course.
Orrico and her next door neighbor, Sharon Philbin, have spearheaded a petition drive and organized neighbors.
Last week, Orrico, Philbin and others delivered a petition with 300 signatures to city commissioners. Commissioners were advised by City Attorney Ken Buchman not to take a stance because he said they are prohibited by law from taking sides outside of a rezoning hearing.
There's a lot at stake.
Residents who live on the golf course paid a premium for their homes. Many others enjoy the view.
Orrico said wildlife, including a bald eagle, live in the woods surrounding The Hills.
The property for now appears to be in limbo.
Residents say the 6,530-yard The Hills course has been sporadically maintained since it was shut down. Some residents complained to the city code enforcement office, and the course was recently mowed, Philbin said.
Code Enforcement Supervisor Dennis Sweeney said the management of the course has been cooperative and has responded to the two complaints he found were violations: overgrowth, and a dilapidated fence along Griffin Boulevard. The managers had the property mowed and removed the deteriorated sections of the fence, Sweeney said.
The residents have established a Web site, www.savethecourse.com, which includes a gallery of photos of weed-filled fairways and sand bunker, a dead tree and broken timbers on a wooden walkway.
Walden Lake's other 18-hole course, The Lakes, which is adjacent to the country club building itself, remains open.
The golf and country club, which opened in 1977, has been owned since 2006 by Vision Golf, LLC. Two years ago, the corporation filed for bankruptcy protection.
Steve Mercer, managing partner of Vison Golf, couldn't be reached for comment.
Philbin said Walden Lake was "once a premier golf course." The country club itself has also suffered, she said.
"People stopped supporting it because it was no longer fun to go there," she said.
Senior Planner Phillip Scearce said Vision Golf has not submitted any plans to the city. Development of the golf course would require rezoning and perhaps an amendment to the city's long-range growth plan, Scearce said.
The entire process would likely take more than a year, he said.
Philbin, Orrico and others are still gathering support from Walden Lake residents for their cause.
"Our goal is to get everyone in Walden Lake behind us," Philbin said. "Everybody needs to get involved to stop this."