New Tampa golf course dispute heads to court
TAMPA — The dispute over a closed golf course in New Tampa is moving from the clubhouse to the courthouse.
The owner of the former Pebble Creek Golf Club is suing a neighborhood activist, claiming she waged “a campaign of harassment and spreading blatant lies” towards Bill Place and his company, Ace Golf.
Social media posts, letters to developers, emails to fellow residents and comments to the media caused two potential buyers, Pulte and KB Homes, to walk away from residential development plans, according to the lawsuit filed. last week in Hillsborough Circuit Court.
The target of the lawsuit is Leslie Green, a Pebble Creek resident, founder of the Save Pebble Creek Facebook page and critic of the conversion of open land at the old course into single-family home sites.
“Save Pebble Creek is a joint effort by residents to limit rezoning that would allow further development at the expense of green space in our community,” Green said in an email to Tampa Bay Weather. She declined any further comment.
The lawsuit alleges defamation and interference with a contractual relationship and seeks at least $30,000 in damages.
The 54-year-old golf club, once the centerpiece of a thriving New Tampa community, closed on July 31, 2021. The old sign near Regents Park Drive and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard reads, “ Pebble Creek Golf Club. Open to the public” is nothing more than a white and gray wall. The most common sign on land reads “Private Property.” No Trespassing” in orange letters.
The closure was a precursor to the conversion of the 150-acre property into residential development. The closure came six months after Place unsuccessfully applied for a brownfield designation from Hillsborough County to cover the cost of cleaning up chemical contaminants from the ground.
Place, who bought the club in 2005, declined to comment. In the lawsuit, he repeated his earlier public statements about dwindling memberships and the need for $1 million worth of upgrades to the course and buildings.
Green disputed his claims, and his social media posts and correspondence included allegations that Place or Ace Golf had engaged in a “golf course flop plan”; intentionally caused a decline in membership and revenue; deliberately damaged the course to “cause” it to fail; and used a “trustworthy men” playbook to plan, gain trust and negotiate their way to take away the families’ peaceful existence, the lawsuit said.
Ace Golf and Pulte Homes signed a letter of intent in June 2021 to redevelop the course, but the homebuilding company withdrew interest two months later after Green sent “general communications to Florida developers with intended to dissuade every developer from doing business with Ace Golf or Place,” and then “escalated its efforts…by adding direct communications to Pulte Home,” the lawsuit alleges.
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He alleged a similar pattern with KB Homes, which followed Pulte as the designated developer. She too retired at the end of August 2021.
Green made more than 600 posts on the Save Pebble Creek Facebook page and opened a GoFundMe account to raise money for the effort, the lawsuit said. By Friday afternoon, 47 people had donated $3,025, surpassing the goal of $3,000.