By Michele Justic
Golfers traditionally shout “fore” as they swing, but in this case “five” is the number threatening the quality of life for Five Towns residents. In five years, residents can potentially lose out on the pristine views of blooming trees and grassy fields at the Woodmere Club if something isn’t done to curtail development plans. The 109-year-old golf course has been forced to sell due to declining membership. On Sunday, April 30, the board of directors agreed to sell to Weiss Properties and 2020 Acquisitions, which may build residential units upon the club’s closing. Cushman & Wakefield orchestrated the recapitalization. Troon Management will run the golf course through 2022 until financial operations are in order.
The plan has met with opposition. A petition on change.org garnered close to 900 signatures and continues to grow as word spreads. Legislator Howard Kopel created his own petition for Nassau County interests. He states, “As a resident of the Five Towns, I am opposed to the sale of the Woodmere Club land for the purpose of building a dense housing development. It is my belief that the sale of the Woodmere Club land, and a subsequent dense housing development, creates numerous neighborhood concerns as to traffic impact, environmental implications, decreasing housing values in neighboring areas, loss of trees and plants, and the potential for decrease in air quality, additional green fly and bug infestations as a result of birds being displaced or killed, additional flooding to the neighborhood due to increased impervious coverage area, ability of the sanitation district to take on all the new homes, sewer-system capacity, and increased dangerous conditions in the event of evacuation for emergency.”
The Town of Hempstead publicly approved a 180-day temporary building moratorium on residential development on privately owned golf course properties, with Councilman Bruce Blakeman appearing on national media confirming the rationale. Supervisor Anthony Santino stated in a press release, “We on the Hempstead Town Board want to ensure that the local residential nature and area character of our neighborhoods is preserved when a private golf course endeavors to develop a portion of its property. We will be looking at lot sizes of golf course parcels that are the subject of residential development proposals to ensure that any such home construction would complement surrounding village residential properties.” The moratorium will end in June unless it is renewed.
The issue is made more complicated by the fact that the 110-acre land spans the Town of Hempstead property of Woodmere and part of Woodsburgh and is close enough to Lawrence and Cedarhurst villages to be subject to their jurisprudence as well. Mayor Ben Weinstock of Cedarhurst confirms, “I’m getting a lot of pushback from constituents that don’t want the property developed.” As of yet, no formal applications for subdivisions have been made for Cedarhurst, so no formal decisions have been reached.
Brian Stolar, village attorney for the Village of Woodsburgh, reminds us that future development plans are not clear at this point. Stolar notes, “There are no pending applications for residential development. The purchaser is and has been a developer of various types of properties, residential and mixed-use type. The village officials plan on having conversations with the purchaser up front to help guide us as we move forward. If there is going to be an application for residential development, there is a village approval process with a board of trustees and a planning board. We can’t predetermine an application. There are a lot of significant potential issues to be dealt with before it becomes residential. The Village of Woodsburgh has 1-acre zoning. Significant potential impacts need to be dealt with.”
Robert Weiss, president of Weiss Properties, comments on the five-year plan. “Our long-term vision for the property centers on positioning it for high-end residential development consistent with the character of the surrounding area.”
Cindy Grosz, a community activist who lives in Woodmere, says, “Transparency and accountability are key. There are too many accounts where things are done without the consent of those it most affects. There should be routine open meetings since we are all affected.”
Can our area handle a “sixth town,” as the newly created 5Â Towns Civic Association dubs the planned project? Mario Joseph, resident of Woodsburgh and founder of the law firm Joseph & Smargiassi, LLC, and Martindale Hubbell 2017 AV Preeminent Attorney-Judicial Division, has taken the lead in saving our green spaces, as he fears, “Flooding and traffic is about to become even more miserable with a 300-home development to replace the Woodmere Club.”
An apocalyptic vision comes to mind when visualizing up to 600 new cars utilizing Broadway, Peninsula Boulevard, and Rockaway Turnpike on a daily basis, an extreme decrease in grassy lands to absorb rainwater from the notoriously easily flooded Five Towns land, a savage removal of an ecological resource for birds, frogs, and other native species, etc.
Penina Popack, Park Commissioner of the Lawrence Yacht and Country Club, asserts, “This pending sale of the Woodmere Club is an entire Five Towns issue. We need to educate the residents. The villagers can’t be quiet and just pretend it’s just a Woodmere issue. Our quality of life and so much more is at stake here.” Popack fears “unbearable congestion on top of the congestion we’re living with now in addition to flooding of the land. In emergency situations, police officers, paramedics, and fire fighters will have great difficulty reaching the houses and life-threatening minutes are added at a time when every second counts. Our evacuation routes will also be clogged.”
Lawrence resident Leah Popack, a political science student at Touro College, speaks for many among the younger generation of Five Towns residents when she says, “All my friends are livid. Some don’t know about it and once they find out they are shocked. I will make sure all my friends know. They all want to get involved to fight this. This is not the community we grew up in.”
Longtime real-estate broker Anessa Cohen, a Cedarhurst resident, shares her thoughts. “This would be a disaster. How are we going to solve the water and sewage issues? The congestion would put Broadway on lockdown. It would make us into a city. Some of this area is swampland and should be designated as such.”
Corey Chabbott, a Lawrence resident and finance major at Queens College, adds, “The glaring issue is that Broadway is an un-traversable road. Adding extra homes in our neighborhood–there’s no room for the cars let alone the infrastructure required to support that. We don’t have the space to support this type of proposed development.”
Supporters correctly note there is a shortage of housing in the Five Towns and, assuming these new units sell, they would bring in more taxes. Yet that is offset by the heavily decreased property values–and therefore decreased property taxes–of the neighboring homes that will lose their view and gain more flooding. The question also remains if these planned units in this congested area prone to flooding would sell. In addition, Penina Popack fears the traffic and inability to find parking “will kill neighborhood business and drive more people to shop online,” thus decreasing sales tax while squashing the retail real-estate market.
Local business owner Brandon Margolis comments, “The community certainly has a vested interest in seeing that its infrastructure and character are not put on the backburner in pursuit of profit dressed as progress. We have recently formed the 5Â Towns Civic Association to represent our community’s best interests.”
Rena Saffra, a Cedarhurst resident, comments, “Developing the golf course will result in the loss of green space which is home to so many species of flora and fauna including flood-mitigating plants, wild pheasants, frogs, toads, and rabbits. It also serves as a vital migration ground for thousands of geese, ducks, and other water fowl. Birds and amphibians feast on insects and their larvae which are abundant in the watery marsh lands of Reynold’s Channel. Developing the land will destroy this delicate balance in our ecosystem. Disease-carrying mosquitoes, biting green flies, and other insects that are now limited to areas close to the water will multiply uninhibited by their natural predators and move further inland.”
The 5Â Towns Civic Association claims allowing this project to develop would be in violation of Executive Order 13186, “Responsibilities of Federal Agencies to Protect Migratory Birds.” Saffra concludes, “The quiet bucolic nature of the area is a huge asset to our community and it remains one of the last pieces of precious open green space in our midst.”
Woodsburgh village attorney Brian Stolar acknowledges, “The club is a part of the history of the village and we would love to see it continue as such. There was a similar situation on Long Island where a luxury developer took over a country club and it’s remained a club. They came in with a reputation for building residential and they maintained it as a club.”
Robert Weiss notes, “We are investing millions of dollars to upgrade the facility, and have hired Troon Golf, one of the country’s leading golf-management organizations, to operate the Club and expand catering options.”
[Troon Golf was contacted for a response but did not submit a statement before deadline. We hope to report further developments as they occur.]
Margolis suggests, “While the moratorium allows everyone to construct a plan, the key ways to prevent the potential development are through community involvement, which will bring about zoning changes and/or the action of regulatory bodies such as FEMA and the EPA. When our officials know that our votes follow our opinions, they act.” For over a century, the golf course operated on land zoned residential. It was a de facto recreational zone on legal residential land. According to a growing body of opponents, the land cannot sustain a residential structure. According to Joseph, “After months of contacting Congresswoman Rice, Senator Gillibrand, and Senator Schumer about the FEMA and EPA interests impacted, the Army Corps of Engineers and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation are conducting studies on South Shore flooding conditions.” The main strategy at this point is to implore the local leaders to change the zoning designation. In previous transactions, as part of the Town of Hempstead Building Zone Ordinance, project sponsors needed to complete an Environmental Assessment Form regarding the impact it would have on the community.
The 5Â Towns Civic Association is encouraged by the fact that they have “successfully blocked the development of a separate piece of the Woodmere Golf Club where a proposed 22 townhouses were to be built. Due to vocal opposition, the Village of Woodsburgh has stopped that project totally.” A clear line of communication is needed, so Five Towns residents are urged to contact their legislators–Honorable Town Supervisor Anthony Santino (firstname.lastname@example.org), Honorable Bruce Blakeman (email@example.com), and Honorable Anthony D’Esposito (firstname.lastname@example.org)–and express their disapproval of the plan and their hopes to maintain quality of life in the Five Towns. Additionally, texting the word “resist” to 50409 and following the prompts that follow will put together a form letter to our representatives in Washington DC. Anyone interested in learning more or getting involved can contact email@example.com.