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Alachua County fines owner of West End Golf Club as residents’ frustrations grow over upkeep

golf club
The West End Golf Club is at the center of controversy as neighboring residents want the abandoned golf course converted into a green space. (Shawn Humphrey/WUFT News)

Newberry residents who frequented the former West End Golf Club’s greens can walk its abandoned trails overgrown with towering weeds that have sprouted in the two years since the course closed.

The property had accrued fines totaling $37,500 from code enforcement violations since its closure in 2019. The debt forced Alachua County to issue a lien on the 75-acre plot, barring it from being sold and effectively obstructing any tentative plans for new development.

Peter Min, who manages the property, requested the fine be reduced and the lien be released during the March 3 hearing. Terry Zinn, the special magistrate who presided over the hearing, reduced the fine to $15,000. Min now has until April 9 to pay the reduced fine or it will revert to its original amount.

“I don’t [think the fine is reasonable], only because we had no idea, no notification,” Min said. “Then when we were notified, we took care of it immediately.”

Min said his recent move from Gainesville to Chicago prevented him from receiving timely word of code violations at West End. But the county said it provided adequate notice.

The county said it issued the fines due to two fallen pine trees on the property which it deemed a hazard. He said he hired Top Tier Tree Specialist to remove the trees and debris, which cost him $1,250.

The pines were removed, but residents have called the county to report numerous other potential code violations.

“The defendant has spoken that Paul Hornby was the person who called,” Tioga resident Marylou Mansfield, 71, said. “I think the truth is probably about 60 of us called. Because not only were those trees in violation but there were a number of things that code told us could not be resolved. We are very frustrated with that.”

Min said Hornby, 62,  had approached him in the past as a potential buyer. Mansfield and Hornby both said this was not the case and expressed frustration that Min mentioned Hornby during the hearing.

Hornby, who has lived in Newberry for 33 years, is the advisory board president of Gator Junior Golf Club. The organization called West End its home before the course closed. He also presides over the West End Community Alliance for Recreation and Education, an organization to which Mansfield and other residents belong as well.

As tentative development plans have come and gone, groups including the community alliance and Friends of West End have kept fighting.

“I think the bottom line here is we want to see a multiuse, multigenerational recreation facility,” Hornby said. “And that could take on a number of different looks.”

Residents of neighborhoods surrounding West End have fought fervently to preserve the site as they say it was intended to be used. They protested twice in early March outside the former golf course holding signs pleading for the site to remain zoned as recreational land.

Underneath West End Golf Club’s facade, a code enforcement officer had issued a notice of violation last month due to broken windows on the property. Beneath the notice, there was a pile of shattered glass.

On the other side of the building, there was more broken glass. A water fountain had fallen from the wall and onto the ground. Much of the course’s grass was brown, and weeds had overgrown its benches and hole markers. Trucks near the course’s maintenance shed had been vandalized and racial slurs had been graffitied onto the shed’s walls.

“I used to play golf out here,” Betty Harlan, 71, said. “I was in two leagues. It makes me so sad to see the condition that the golf course is in now.”

In the decades since the course first opened, the area around it has changed significantly. Tioga Town Center opened across the street in 2004. Nearby, the Buchanan Trails housing development is currently under construction.

As it stands, the former West End Golf Club sits on a desirable plot of land for commercial developers. But many residents bought homes bordering the property because of the appeal of having a golf course within walking distance.

Susan Prewitt, 79, said she has heard that money talks since the course closed. But she does not view commercial development on the property as an inevitability.

“Why do you have to be defeated before you even start?” she said. “It’s senseless to me.”

Residents will continue fighting to preserve West End as a green space after the fine’s reduction. The course has 50 years of history, but area residents said they feel that something has been missing in the two years since it closed.

“There was a community feel to that place,” Hornby said. “That’s what people want to see again.”

Shawn is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.