Homestead - South Dade

Since this golf course went brown, it’s battled ATVs, burglars and snakes

Piles of branches and trash have overtaken tee boxes at the Keys Gate Golf Course in Homestead.
Piles of branches and trash have overtaken tee boxes at the Keys Gate Golf Course in Homestead.

Wayne Rosen, a well-known developer of upscale homes, kept his promise — well, one of them.

After not getting the rezoning he requested last year to build single-family homes in an industrial area, Rosen — who had vowed to let Homestead’s Keys Gate Golf Course “go brown” — has not relented.

READ MORE: Video shows fire-rescue's capture of sunbathing python

True to his word, the golf course today is indeed brown. But it’s not just a matter of dead grass.

Piles of tree branches and trash have overtaken tee boxes. Ponds and water hazards are surrounded by knee-deep grass. Once-emerald fairways are now filled with weeds and sand. Dilapidated bathrooms with collapsed roofs are adorned with yellow police tape. Since the course closed, city officials have dealt with nuisances like slithering pythons, zooming ATV drivers and several burglaries.

Miami-Dade Fire Department's Venom One responded to reports of a large python in Southwest Miami-Dade on Feb. 6, 2017.

Shortly after purchasing the golf course in late 2013, Rosen shut it down because he planned to fix it up and bring in top-notch amenities. The course was built in the early 1990s, around the same time development was taking off. The promise of a top-tier golf course was used as a selling point, and oftentimes memberships were gifted to home buyers by real estate agents.

“From my yard I see a very lonely scene,” said Thomas Tansey, who purchased a home on the golf course in 2005. “We bought this house with the promise of a pristine golf course, but we were sold something that was ultimately taken away. You would have thought the developer was kidding when he said he would let it go bad. He wasn’t.”

Stay calm leads the list. Here is what the experts say people should do when they encounter the snake in South Florida.

Homeowners like Tansey say they are now battling dipping home values and frequent crime and safety concerns.

“My house has decreased almost by about $100,000,” Tansey said. “To top it off, every weekend, four-wheelers go to the back of the golf course, drive their trucks and go mudding, turning it into their own personal track. Sometimes you’ll also hear gunshots in the wind.”

According to Homestead police, in the last three months there have been three burglaries, a narcotics arrest and two reports detailing a squatter and criminal mischief at the golf course’s clubhouse.

“Since the course is not actively managed, the ATV riders feel that they can ride over onto that property and discharge their firearms recreationally,” said Homestead police Col. Scott Kennedy. “We’ve had reports of several wildlife incidents, mainly snakes. At this point it’s more than just a nuisance. [It’s] a safety issue.”

On Feb. 23, the city issued several citations against the property for being a public nuisance and a vacant property in overgrown condition and for having an accumulation of garbage and junk and improper landscape maintenance.

Rosen did not respond to voicemails or text messages.

It was not the first time Rosen had vowed to let Homestead’s Keys Gate Golf Course “go brown.” In 2015, just after the City Council voted to help him get a $3.5 million low-interest loan to restore his deteriorating country club, Rosen pulled out of the deal, blaming bad publicity from a Miami Herald article that noted the federal anti-poverty dollars were earmarked for projects that would eliminate slums or blight.

Two months later, Rosen came back, promising to fix up the golf course after all. This time though, the promise came with a condition — zoning approvals to build 91 single-family homes in an industrial area called the Park of Commerce, which sits near the Homestead Miami Speedway, Homestead Air Base and a beer warehouse.

Community meetings were held with hundreds of residents in attendance. Rosen announced that big-time golf course designer Jim Fazio would be leading the golf course’s makeover and presented sketches of the project.

The Council ultimately rezoned the property, but it wasn’t what Rosen had asked for. Instead of allowing single-family homes, council members voted to let him build townhomes.

After more negotiations with Rosen, the council agreed to let him build single-family homes on 70 acres just west of the Park of Commerce, an area that previously did not allow for single-family homes and was not part of the developer’s proposal.

Rosen, who has enjoyed unparalleled influence in the city, where he is responsible for huge swaths of residential construction as well as charter schools, didn’t budge though, saying that it’s the single-family homes — not townhomes — that would pay for the $12 million golf course renovation.

“You have to understand that you can’t ask me to build a golf course without having those single-family homes to help pay for it. It’s called cash flow,” Rosen said at the time.

It wasn’t long before the Speedway jumped in, filing an appeal in circuit court challenging the city’s decision to allow homes near an industrial site. The track’s operators fear that if people live that close, they’ll complain about noise and traffic and demand that the track’s operation be limited or even shut down.

“Residential encroachment will definitely impact us negatively,” said Al Garcia, the Speedway’s vice president. “Residential encroachment has had a devastating impact on similar race tracks across the country, leading to operating restrictions and closures. This has nothing to do with golf. We are solely objecting to residential development in the Park of Commerce, period.”

The Speedway claims Homestead was inconsistent with state law and its own city code by not requiring a traffic study, along with other information, before voting on the rezoning.

Homestead, which says the study wasn’t warranted, filed a motion for dismissal, which is still pending.

Rosen hasn’t offered any answers to why he hasn’t started renovating the golf course.

“These two issues should be completely independent of each other,” said Homestead Councilman Jon Burgess. “This is a private company that bought the golf course knowing what needed to be done and hasn’t done it, which is fixing it up or leaving it open; one or the other. Now residents are left with an overgrown field in their backyard when they bought into a golf course community.”

From the outskirts, the golf course looks acceptable. The property’s perimeter is trimmed and looks operational from its main entrance. The ghostly clubhouse, which once housed a restaurant, pool and banquet hall, sits boarded up and disheveled.

But not even a covenant between the developer and the homeowners association seems to have the power to make Rosen fix it. According to a Keys Gate Golf Course covenant signed by Rosen, the golf course “shall at all times be maintained, managed and operated.”

The document also details how the fairways, tees and greens should be maintained. The five-page maintenance document also explains how the country club should be operated year-round.

“For a private company to attempt to hold a city hostage is no way to do business,” Burgess said. “I don’t know any city in the world where a developer comes in and tells the council what to do so he can go and make money.”

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan