The driving range near the front entrance to Saddlebrook Resort and its residential community would be moved if Mast Capital’s redevelopment plan is approved. (Photo by Charmaine George)

Saddlebrook is becoming Sagabrook, as attempts to revitalize the former great resort continue to be mired in confusion and discontent.

The latest efforts on Feb. 7 to push through an amendment to the resort’s comprehensive plan (in order to change the land-use designations) failed when the Pasco Board of County Commissioners (BCC), after six hours of listening to both sides, chose to delay making any decision.

District 2 Commissioner Seth Weightman acknowledged that some of the changes provided to the BCC by Mast Capital, which owns Saddlebrook Resort, were only being seen that day for the first time and would require further study. His motion for a continuance until the April 4 meeting in Dade City passed unanimously.

“I get the sense we’re all at an impasse,” said Weightman, whose district includes Saddlebrook Resort.

At a Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 5, members were undecided before reluctantly passing it onto the BCC but also telling Mast it needed to add more details.

After six more hours of debate between Mast officials and more than a dozen Saddlebrook representatives and residents, the result was similar, although a vote was not held.

However, Mast did provide a few updates for a plan that has been criticized for lacking details.

It no longer plans on developing Area 4 (which includes the golf courses) with single-family homes and townhomes, instead creating a restricted area which will encompass the existing golf courses. 

But, it also showed more detailed plans for removing nine of the 36 holes of the two Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses – introducing a representative from the golf architect company Reece Jones – and showed approximately where in Area 4 the driving range would be relocated. Some of the 27 tennis courts could be eliminated as well.

Mast also promised those homeowners who had a view of the golf course would keep those views no matter what.

But, the residents who spoke want the golf courses and driving range — which also is home to the resort’s golf academy —  protected, and argued that the tennis courts are part of what made Saddlebrook famous and should be preserved.

“How do you attract people without an 18-hole golf course?,” resident Pat Hogan asked. “If 27 holes is such a great option, why aren’t there more of them?”

Hogan acknowledged that the golf course is in need of repair, “But it doesn’t need to be torn up.”

And, the mixed-use development planned for Area 1 — a 35-acre Village Center just east of the resort’s main entrance on S.R. 54 that would replace the current driving range — continues to be a non-starter for the residents.

It includes 75,000 sq. ft. of commercial/retail and office space, 35 townhomes and 465 apartments.

Residents argued that the Area 1 plan is not compatible with Saddlebrook’s overall nature-rich design, would ruin the natural beauty of the resort’s entrance, as well as create a traffic nightmare on the already overloaded S.R. 54.

“There’s got to be a better way,” said resident Keith Swope. “We’ve been praying for someone to come take over, and now that they have, we are left with a lot of questions.”

A 19.52-acre parcel further east on S.R. 54, labeled Area 2, will be included in Saddlebrook’s boundaries according to the Mast plan, but will have no connections into the resort property. It will include 120 townhomes and 25,000 sq. ft. of retail and commercial space.

Mast paid $15 million for Saddlebrook last year, and the developer said it had big plans to restore the resort and community to their former glory. 

However, after a series of meetings with residents — Mast has been criticized for not meeting with all five homeowners associations in Saddlebrook at once — and multiple attempts to get its plans passed on to the state for approval, Mast has been unable to convince the county and planning commission members its plans are ready.

“I’d hate to see it fail because we don’t have a good plan,” said District 1 Commissioner Ron Oakley. “I honestly believe (the residents) do want something, they just want (a better plan) than what they’ve been shown by Mast.”

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