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Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Fox's Den owners want to sell land for ag use

Change in zoning needed prior to sale

By William Kincaid

A pair of golfers play in the fog this morning on the back nine of Fox's Den Gol. . .

CELINA - The owners of Fox's Den Golf Course are seeking a new zoning classification on 89 acres of property so they can sell it as agricultural land to retire debt and pay taxes.
Unpaid property taxes on the golf course at 1221 Irmscher Blvd. total $61,578, according to the Mercer County Treasurer's Department.
If the request is approved, Fox's Den, a $4.5 million 18-hole complex opened in 1996, would continue operating as a nine-hole course on the remaining land.
"In an effort to save the business and produce a model that will sustain itself, the city of Celina is being asked to consider giving current ownership a zoning variance that would allow the sale of land on the course and retain nine holes, clubhouse and driving range," a document submitted to the city on behalf of Celina Golf LLC c/o Ted Bishop states.
The golf course generated as much as $775,000 in annual revenue during its first few years of operations in the late '90s. But over the last decade, annual revenue has fallen to as low as $325,000, resulting in a shortfall of $5 million, according to the document.
"Mercer County, like many Midwestern areas, suffered through some tough times as several corporations moved or shut down their operations," the document states. "...Never in the history of the Fox's Den GC has any money ever been distributed to investors. In fact, without the subsidies provided by Ted Bishop, one of the owners, the golf course would have closed several years ago."
Bishop could not be reached for comment.
Fred LeJeune, a volunteer board member of the Eaglebrooke Property Owners' Association, worries the course reduction and rezoning would have a negative impact on those who live in the housing subdivision surrounded by the links-style golf course.
The Celina Planning Commission will review the request to change the 89-acre portion of the golf course from low density residential to special at a meeting set for 7 p.m. Tuesday on the second floor of the new city administration building at 225 N. Main St.
If commission members recommend the change, Celina City Council members would have to hold a public hearing before voting on the request, according to city engineering assistant Karen Seibert.
Real estate agent Randy Bruns, who is working with Bishop, said the owners would like to sell the area as grain-farming land.
"The great thing about this routing plan is that the holes (1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 18) being preserved are those that have houses bordering on them," the Celina Golf LLC document states. "No current resident of surrounding residential community would be adversely affected or lose its current view of the golf course. The part of the course that would be converted into farm ground is currently surrounded by agricultural land."
However, LeJeune, who also is running as a Republican against Democrat Jess King for city council's Ward 2 seat in November, had deep concerns about the proposal.
"I am concerned that the Eaglebrooke homeowners will lose significant property value, aesthetic views and future home buyers with the loss of the complete golf course, in exchange for a partial unappealing golf course with radically increased agriculture manure odors within the city limits," LeJeune told the newspaper.
Furthermore, LeJeune questioned the effect of such a proposal on the entire city, noting the potential for decreased property taxes for the schools and other essential programs.
"It would be ideal, in my opinion, to see the entire 18-hole course placed on the market for sale, if the current owner is unable to sustain the business or maintain the property under the current zoning design, in consideration of the citizens who live in Celina," LeJeune said.
The owners of Fox's Den feel their proposal would allow them to keep golf in Celina.
"The facility will still have the same clubhouse, liquor license and driving range," the document states. "It can still host leagues and outings. By having nine holes of play, operational costs should be impacted positively and the course should sustain itself."
Only three planning commission members - Tom Hone, Ralph Stelzer and Celina Mayor Jeff Hazel - will be able to vote on the request; members Tom Hitchcock, also the city's safety service director, and Eric Baltzell live in Eaglebrook and must abstain.

The article erroneously stated that Republican Fred LeJeune is running against Democrat Jess King for city council's Ward 2 seat in November. King is running as an independent candidate, not a Democrat.
The error was made in reporting.
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