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Opposing the ‘Sixth Town’

Woodmere Club plans divides officials, residents and developers

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As the run-up to the redevelopment of the Woodmere Club continues, the Five Towns Civic Association is raising several concerns, including the reporting of misinformation, the loss of open space and a possible decline in the real estate value of existing homes.

Rena Saffra, a member of the organization, which has opposed the proposal, wrote a four-page letter in response to what the group views as inaccurate information making its way to the community. “We wanted to set the record straight, because so much misinformation about the proposal is being put out there,” Saffra said. “We wanted an opportunity to explain where we’re coming from in regards to this potential development.”

The association has deemed the proposal the “Sixth Town” because of its size. “The developers have claimed that their proposal is not a Sixth Town,” the organization stated in its letter. “Make no mistake, it most certainly is. The Village of Woodsburgh consists of 257 homes the Sixth Town proposes 284.” A portion of the planned development is in Woodsburgh, though a majority of the proposed homes are in Woodmere, and some are in Lawrence.

Woodsburgh Village Clerk Michelle Blandino said the village actually has 221 homes. Hewlett Harbor has 429; Hewlett Neck, 160; and Hewlett Bay Park, 147.

Efrem Gerszberg and Robert Weiss bought the Woodmere Club three years ago for a little more than $9 million, and assumed the club’s nearly $15 million debt. They are planning to build 284 single-family homes on 114.5 of its 118 acres. The club will remain open through Oct. 31 for house members — those who do not play golf — to play tennis or cards, swim or use the gym. There will be no locker room or food service for members. Catering for events and parties will continue.

Gerszberg and Weiss have also offered a required alternative-development plan calling for an upscale 200-unit apartment complex for residents 55 and older and 65 non-age-restricted single-family homes, which Weiss said has been the focus of substantial interest. “In only two weeks of opening our VIP list on our website, woodmereclubnews.com, we already have received over 85 requests for age-restricted condos,” he said. “We have also received over 100 requests for single-family lots.” The alternative plan is part of an ongoing State Environmental Quality Review, which requires all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts as well as social and economic factors during the decision-making process.

Gerszberg and Weiss are currently suing Woodsburgh, claiming that the village’s vision plan, adopted in December, illegally targets the club and that the plan itself is illegal, as is its proposed upzoning of the club’s 37 acres in Woodsburgh. Village officials fired back in their own letter: “The owners state that the village has been pretending to create a master plan whose sole purpose is to target the Woodmere Club property and to move all development within the Village of Lawrence. This is nonsensical and obscures the facts.”

The loss of open space that more than likely would occur if the proposed homes were built, and a potential decline in property values, are major concerns for civic association members. “Open space is far more valuable than hundreds of homes,” the group stated. “Once green space is gone, it’s gone forever. If either of their proposals are approved, the character of our neighborhood and the quality of life we enjoy will never be the same.”

Maryland-based real estate expert Dona Dezube said that real estate value near open space is determined by the condition of that open space. “If there’s a desirable public park or other recreational open space nearby, it boosts the property value of nearby homes by 8 to 20 percent,” Dezube wrote in an email. “With that said, a park or golf course that is not maintained and overcrowded can drag down nearby home values.”

Saffra and the civic association noted that the proposal does not offer anything to Five Towns residents. “We have told the developers how disappointed we were that there is no plan to create, build or gift anything whatsoever to the community,” she said. “It was our recommendation that they try to ingratiate themselves to the community rather than being so adversarial.”

Gerszberg said that claim was false. “We have offered to build a Sabbath park, provide a library in the Woodmere Club, allow a JCC on site, a catering hall and provide over 10 acres of open space,” he said. “Most importantly, we have offered an amenity that is in very high demand in the Five Towns, an age-restricted condominium option.”

An inter-municipal agreement among the Town of Hempstead and the villages of Lawrence and Woodsburgh to create a specific zoning code for the Woodmere Club was approved in January. It will allow the municipalities to collaborate to create a coastal conservation district for the club. Such a district is dedicated to enhancing and maintaining the natural resources of a coastal area.

Weiss said he believed the inter-municipal agreement was illegal. “Unfortunately, once Mr. Blakeman, Mayor Edelman and Mayor Israel illegally rezone our property, we will withdraw all the above offers and allow a federal judge to deem their zone change illegal,” Weiss said, referring to Hempstead Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman, Lawrence Mayor Alex Edelman and Woodsburgh Mayor Lee Israel. “We will then have the judge approve our 284 single-family lots.”

Have an opinion on the proposed Woodmere Club development? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.