Villages Developer should get a clue and stop peddling worn-out buildings to the AAC

With apologies to the legendary rock group The Who, when it comes to the Amenity Authority Committee’s stance on the worn-out Hacienda Hills Country Club, the lyrics to one of the group’s popular songs quickly comes to mind – “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

In case you aren’t aware of it, another chapter in The Villages Developer’s ongoing efforts to unload a tired old building on the AAC for top dollar came back to the forefront at Wednesday’s meeting. That’s when AAC members learned that the Developer has no intentions whatsoever of gifting them the building but would be more than happy to sell it to them for “full market value.”

Can you say greed? We knew that you could!

Hacienda Hills Country Club

During the meeting, Recreation Director John Rohan – the unfortunate puppet in this ongoing charade – approached the podium to give a conceptual presentation on the shuttered country club. Amazingly, Rohan was armed with a pencil drawing of possible uses for the building and surrounding property that looked like it had been thrown together five minutes before the meeting by a couple of kids at The Villages Little Buffalo Learning Center – right before nap time.

Ann Forrester

But AAC Chair Ann Forrester and other members of the group were having none of that calculated presentation until they have an idea of how badly the Developer wants to stick it to them.

“The community has been very, very vocal about this particular site,” Forrester said. “Our biggest job is to protect our money.”

AAC member Don Deakin agreed.

“Until we know that, it is time we are devoting to discussion without knowing what the cost will be,” he said.

We applaud Forrester, Deakin and the other AAC members for taking that stance because we’re guessing Rohan was sent there with his pre-K-generated drawing to try to build excitement – especially among Villagers in the audience – for the possibilities at the country club site if the AAC were to buy it.

Don Deakin

But until the AAC knows the facts about the price, listening to Rohan drone on about the site would have been pointless.

By now we’re guessing that most of you know the country club has a checkered past. It was shut down by a health inspector in November over unclean surfaces and roaches. A reader was told it was closed because of a ventilation issue but that lie was cleared up quickly with the published health inspector’s report that certainly told a different – and disgusting – story.

In February 2018, the pool at the facility became one of many shut down in the community after health inspectors found problems with the chlorine and pH levels. In December, a new general manager was brought in to attempt to right the ship. And in April the facility shut its doors for good.

Apparently, the Developer also thinks short memories abound because there’s a history of selling the AAC crappy buildings that lead to nothing but trouble.

The interior of the once-popular Hacienda Hills Country Club.

Case in point: In 2013 the group purchased the old El Santiago Club restaurant from the Developer for $350,000. At the time, the late Rich Lambrecht – a well-known protector of amenity fee dollars – was serving on the AAC and quickly expressed skepticism about the purchase.

“We don’t know if it’s full of mold or what condition it’s in,” he said at the time.

Guess what. The AAC purchased the building and quickly found out that it owned a giant lemon. All it needed a fresh coast of bright yellow paint.

Some residents wanted the AAC to reopen the El Santiago Club as an eatery, but the group rightly decided to stay out of the restaurant business. It ultimately had to raze the unstable building and today a beautiful and popular recreation center sits on the site.

Now here’s the part you’ll probably find amusing – just a few months later, the worn-out-building-peddling Developer came calling on the AAC again, this time with the offer to sell them the Tierra Del Sol Restaurant. Still reeling from the sting of the entire El Santiago Club debacle, the group wisely said, “No thanks.”

A crew demolishes the El Santiago Club restaurant in March 2015.

Is it just us or does anyone else see the Developer as Lucy from the Charlie Brown cartoon strip? Lucy shows up with her football, promises to hold it for Charlie Brown so he can kick it. She pulls it away at the last second and he falls flat on his back – again and again and again.

Substitute the football for a tired building and the analogy works perfect. But what the Developer apparently didn’t count on is Charlie Brown isn’t the potential buyer. Instead, it’s a group of very smart people who are quite savvy and luckily have long memories.

Gail Lazenby

In May, Community Development District 3 Supervisor Gail Lazenby – an influential voice who has been in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown for many years and spent a great deal of time working for The Villages Public Safety Department – raised some of the same concerns we’ve expressed. He cited past acquisitions of properties at Silver Lake, Chula Vista and El Santiago and pointed out that all ended up being converted into recreation centers at residents’ expense.

On Friday, Lazenby reiterated his adamant opposition to the acquisition of the country club, calling it wasteful spending. It’s a message AAC members have heard from many residents. And it’s one every member should take to heart because as Lazenby pointed out, the Developer might be spouting off about wanting top dollar for the building now, but he could come back at a later date and suddenly offer a greatly reduced price as a ploy to unload it.

“We thought getting El Santiago was ‘what a deal’ until the building – which was full of mold – and had to be demolished,” Lazenby said.

The AAC is expecting to learn about the price tag for the country club at its September meeting. We’re guessing the members aren’t going to like what they hear, because unlike when Founder Harold Schwartz and his son, Villages architect H. Gary Morse ran the community, greed seems to be the name of the game these days among the jet-setting, fourth-generation Morse family members and their married-into-big-money spouses.

We’re confident the AAC’s members already see right through this flimflam deal that’s being cooked up by the Developer. We know they’ll work together to make an intelligent decision and look out for the precious amenity fees they’re charged with overseeing. And we’re guessing their message back to the Developer will be short and succinct – “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”