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POLK COUNTY – For roughly the past year, Lake Ashton residents have been working toward a deal to purchase the two 18-hole golf courses located inside the large retirement subdivision, located a few miles west of Eagle Ridge Mall.

“Mr. (Larry) Maxwell wanted to get out of the golf business,” Lake Ashton Community Development District II board member Bob Zelazny said.

Maxwell is a Lakeland-based real estate investor who developed the Lake Ashton community nearly 20 years ago. Initially located solely in Lake Wales, the community has since expanded inside Winter Haven city limits, also.

Now that the Lake Ashton community is nearly built out to capacity, Maxwell reportedly told board members representing residents that he wanted to sell the golf courses — not to another investor, but to the residents themselves.

Board members told the Sun that Maxwell offered to lend the residents $477,000 to purchase the courses and use the profits from their operation to repay the loan.

The sale should be finalized in the coming weeks, board members said.

The Lake Ashton community is governed by two sets of elected officials who represent the residents on two Lake Ashton Community Development Districts, with one set representing Winter Haven residents and the other set representing Lake Wales residents.

Over the course of 2019, there have been more than a dozen board meetings, during which time the golf course was the topic of heated discussion.

According to multiple board members and residents, a small but vocal group of Lake Ashton residents living inside Lake Wales city limits opposed the deal. Those who spoke to the Sun characterized this group as older residents with less disposable income who do not golf as much as the development’s younger residents.

Several board members and residents said a majority of residents were in favor of purchasing the golf courses because closing the courses would dramatically reduce property values. Also, the sale price was 25 percent of the appraised value, according to three written estimates completed earlier this year.

Lake Wales City Commissioner Al Goldstein lives in Lake Ashton and described the golf courses as the “Berlin Wall” of Lake Ashton over the past year. Goldstein said now that the land deal is nearly complete, Lake Ashton might feel like a less divided community.

The Lake Ashton Community Development District II, representing Winter Haven residents, is set to purchase the golf courses for $477,000 according to the proposed sale contract. The Lake Ashton CDD I board, representing Lake Wales residents of Lake Ashton, will pay the other board $230,000 to keep equal access to the golf courses, but not take ownership risks.

Lake Ashton CDD I board chair Doug Robertson said there are now around 1,650 homes inside Lake Ashton, at an average value of $250,000. If the golf courses were closed, property values could go down by as much as 25 percent, he said — a combined $100 million loss in property value.

“We avoided that risk by purchasing the golf courses,” Robertson said.

The purchase is not without other risks, however. Robertson and other residents told the Sun that if for some reason the golf courses ceased being profitable, the two CDD boards may have to consider raising property taxes to repay Maxwell.

The golf courses will remain closed to the public after the sale, board members said.

Contact Charles A. Baker III at cbaker@d-r.media.
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