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Woodmere Club owners overcoming municipal building bans

Town of Hempstead considers park options

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Moratoriums might be an option for some municipalities in order to slow development and evaluate the potential impact of more building, but in the Town of Hempstead, bans on construction and subdivision appear to be nonstarters.

The town and the Village of Woodsburgh aimed to halt the development of the Woodmere Club, but so far are not winning the legal battle.

On Feb. 25, Woodsburgh’s board of trustees approved a settlement with the owners of the golf club and agreed not to extend the village’s moratorium or enact another one “relating to and/or affecting subdivisions,” as stated in the settlement.

“Every village has the right to put a moratorium in place, and they are for finite period of time,” said Woodsburgh Mayor Lee Israel. “We and the club owners agreed to drop the suit, and our moratorium will be done [on May 6]. We will continue our research and analysis. We will look into the impact on the community, on traffic, property and storm water.” Israel said that the village would compile a report summarizing its findings.

Last October, the village board enacted a 180-day moratorium on subdividing property of two or more acres. With only a few such properties in the village, the owners of the Woodmere Club — Efrem Gerszberg and Robert Weiss — said they believed the ban targeted their development plans. “We are pleased that Woodsburgh has recognized that their moratorium and any further extensions are illegal,” Gerszberg said.

Three years ago, Gerszberg and Weiss purchased the 118-acre property for roughly $9 million, and agreed to pay nearly $15 million in debt that the 107-year-old club amassed. It was made clear that the club would close in 2021 and the land would be transformed into a residential development.

Before any plans were unveiled, the Town of Hempstead enacted a building moratorium on construction on private golf courses, which began in November 2016. The club owners filed suit last May and won. The town is appealing the decision. “We have won both cases filed in court,” Weiss said, “and will continue to aggressively protect our legal property rights.”

Five Towns Civic Association Co-president Mario Alex Joseph said he believed the court decision against the town pushed the Village of Woodsburgh to settle. “Reading the court decision prompts forehead slapping,” Joseph, an attorney, said. “Multiple opportunities were extended by the court to the Town of Hempstead to support its position. It didn’t seem as though the court was particularly sympathetic to the position of the developer, but was left with no alternative by the town’s counsel.”

Joseph added that taxpayers should read the judicial decision that struck down the town moratorium, and that it answers the question, “What was the likelihood of additional success in that lawsuit?” he said, noting that the civic association was “waiting for the Town of Hempstead to follow through on its promises, while keeping the voters well informed.”

Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito said that a full report from the consultants the town hired to explore the feasibility of creating a town park or a park district should be expected in the near future. “We’re pretty certain it will be litigated,” he said, “so we want to make sure it’s all on point and correct.”

Creating a town park would most likely involve raising taxes in the town and getting a majority of board members to agree on that possibility. Establishing a park district would only raise taxes for homeowners within the district. The radius could be 1 mile or 1.5 miles, D’Esposito said, adding that a community survey could be conducted to determine whether a park district is a viable option. On May 17, town officials annouced that deadline to respond is June 14. A community meeting could be held as well, he said. With either option, the town would buy the land.

The Woodmere Club’s plan became public in March. It calls for 285 homes to be built on 114.25 acres in the villages of Lawrence and Woodsburgh and the hamlet of Woodmere. The preliminary proposal has 248 homes in Woodmere, 24 in Woodsburgh and 13 in Lawrence. The property also extends to within 300 feet of the Village of Cedarhurst.

Approval of the plan is required from each municipality. The minimum lot size is listed as 6,000 square feet, and the maximum is 262,117 square feet. Five additional sites would be set aside for storm water basins.

“Our current project plan conforms to all engineering and regulatory standards,” Weiss said. “Any attempt to target our project through changes to the current regulations or ordinances will be met with vigorous litigation.”

Have an opinion about the issues surrounding the Woodmere Club? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.

Updated to reflect addition of mail survey information and deadline for submission,