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East County Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2019 1 month ago

Judge OKs University Park Country Club purchase

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Recreation District seeks to close on club, land before Nov. 22.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

University Park Country Club residents can move forward with the purchase of their community’s clubhouse, 27-hole golf course, other recreational amenities and about 100 more acres of land — for $16.75 million.

On Sept. 15, Manatee County 12th Judicial District Judge Edward Nicholas ruled that the formation of the University Park Recreation District — a special-purpose district formed in August 2018 to purchase and operate the University Park Country Club and recreational amenities — was done correctly, had a lawful purpose and benefited residents.

Those facts had been under legal scrutiny since January, when University Park resident Richard Garrett sued the Recreation District to invalidate its formation and prevent it from financing the purchase of the University Park Country Club from its developers.

“This was always about the process,” Nicholas said of the case. “It was about notice and opportunity to be heard. It was about the manner in which the University Park Recreation District was created.”

Garrett filed to drop his two related cases Sept. 12, after he and the University Park Recreation District Board and developer representatives made a deal that reduced the overall purchase price by $225,000, eliminated a clause increasing the purchase price over time and paid up to 40% of his legal fees. Garrett said he agreed to the deal because the district could capitalize on low interest rates in the bond market and save millions from what had been expected, which would allow the district to set aside more in reserves.

Nicholas said he was comfortable validating the bonds based on prior testimony and that Garrett had withdrawn his objections.

University Park Recreation District Supervisor Michael Smith said he was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“It’s been a long process, but we accomplished what we had intended to accomplish,” Smith said. “Today is the culmination of a lot of hard work and effort that will yield results to the residents of University Park for years and years to come. We’re very proud of the residents and their support to make this happen.”

There is a 30-day window for appeals of Nicholas’ decision. However, Smith said the district will move forward with securing up to $24 million in bonds. He expects the sale of University Park Country Club and lands to the district can be completed on or before Nov. 22, after the 30-day period has passed.

Smith said after the sale is complete, the district will survey residents to get a “base line” of their feelings about the club and facilities. A secondary survey will eventually follow to learn what types of improvements residents would like to see in the future.

The University Park Homeowners Association also began preparing to turn over control to residents before the end of the year, instead of 2029 per the community’s documents.

John Whyte, currently the lone homeowner representative on the board, said he expects election of a seven-person board to occur in November or December. That board will be tasked with managing University Park’s private roads and sewer, 39 ponds, nine wells, 15 irrigation systems and other assets; the Recreation District will manage the club, golf course and recreational amenities.

“Turnover is the final step,” Whyte said. “It’s a big day for us psychologically and in practical terms.”

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