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Developers sue to block preservation at Woodmere golf club

Hempstead created a coastal conservation district at the

Hempstead created a coastal conservation district at the Woodmere Club that limits development. Credit: Jeff Bachner

The owners of the Woodmere Club have filed a lawsuit against the Town of Hempstead — the sixth one related to the dispute — seeking at least $205 million and to block the town’s coastal conservation district that limits development.

The town board passed a resolution in July that ordered the Woodmere golf club to preserve 83 acres as open space, including a clubhouse and a nine-hole golf course.

The lawsuit filed last month in U.S. Eastern District Court also names as defendants the villages of Woodsburgh and Lawrence, which passed companion resolutions supporting the district.

New zoning by the town limits developers and owners of the club to building 59 homes after a two-year moratorium by the town blocked developers' plans to build 280 homes on the 118-acre property in Woodmere.

The latest litigation follows five previous lawsuits filed by developers challenging the town’s building moratoriums, which were deemed illegal by a judge.

The lawsuit claims the new coastal conservation district is "an unlawful attempt to cloak the wolf of eminent domain in the sheep’s clothing of ‘zoning’ and through that scheme to take Plaintiffs’ property through a jointly-adopted new ‘zoning’ ordinance."

Hempstead spokesman Greg Blower said the town does not comment on matters subject to litigation, but that the town board "has been proactive to preserve and protect the environment throughout Hempstead."

Club owners Efrem Gerszberg and Robert Weiss purchased the 18-hole golf course in 2017 and had planned to close the golf course in 2021 to develop the property to build homes. The golf course closed this year during the pandemic and has not reopened.

"We will develop our property after the conclusion of the lawsuit. We are prepared to litigate our constitutional rights all the way to the Supreme Court and have allocated the legal funds to do so," Gerszberg said in a statement.

No development has taken place at the site while studies are conducted on traffic and environmental impacts at the property and the surrounding communities. The town had explored creating a park district, but could not agree on taxes needed to maintain it.

The new coastal zone preserves 70% of the 118 acres as open space and preserves tidal wetlands and marshes while making flood improvements to areas subject to storm surges and flooding. Officials said residents in the Five Towns were concerned about traffic the new development would bring to the area.

But developers argued the new district specifically targeted the Woodmere Club and eliminated 80% of their property and the ability to develop 250 housing lots.

Developers said they spent $2 million on environmental studies and plans, which they say were discarded when the town created the coast district.

"As for the few token lots Defendants purposely permitted Plaintiffs to develop under the new zone as a fig leaf to cover their naked land grab — a tiny fraction of what Plaintiffs had the right to do before — that gesture is wholly illusory," the lawsuit states. "Defendants intentionally included onerous and burdensome conditions and restrictions in their new zone that will triple the cost to develop these few lots."

Woodmere Club dispute

  • Owners buy 118-acre golf course in 2017

  • Hempstead Town creates 83-acre conservation district on the course in 2020

  • Six lawsuits have been filed relating to the dispute

  • Developers say they've spent at least $1 million in attorney fees and $2 million in plans and studies

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