Oyster Bay officials had already made two multimillion-dollar offers to buy a private golf course last month after publicly saying the town was in a fact-finding stage, according to correspondence obtained by Newsday.
Shareholders of P.G.C. Holding Corp., owner of the Peninsula Golf Club, voted on March 18 to sell the property to Florida-based Great American Properties for $4.4 million or to anyone making a greater offer, with certain conditions attached, according to a shareholder resolution. The owner sent the resolution to Oyster Bay officials in response to the town’s inquiries into purchasing the property, according to correspondence obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request.
The town offered to match the $4.4 million sale price for the nine-hole, approximately 50-acre property in East Massapequa in an April 13 letter to P.G.C. Holding president Nicholas DeSibio.
"The Town has received an appraisal of the subject property and is prepared to enter into the Contract of Sale in order to purchase the property," the letter from town attorney Frank Scalera and deputy town attorney Harold Mayer stated. The offer was conditioned on town board approval, the transferability of the title and "usual and customary conditions of property transactions in Nassau County." The letter said the town was prepared to pay "all cash" and "anticipates closing expeditiously."
The public first learned the town was considering purchasing or seizing the property through eminent domain when a $5,000 payment for a March 24 appraisal appeared on the agenda of the April 20 town board meeting. Sea Cliff resident Arthur Adelman questioned why the town was appraising land it didn’t own, why it would take land off the tax rolls if the town planned to buy it and why the appraisal was to be approved retroactively.
Supervisor Joseph Saladino said, "No decision has been made on this property."
Scalera said at the meeting that discussions with the owner had been preliminary.
"We haven’t got anything back yet," Scalera said. "We just put our intent out there."
Saladino added at the meeting that town officials were "currently gathering information to make decisions from there."
By this time P.G.C. Holding had already sent its corporate resolution to the town and the town had responded with a second offer.
Saladino said in an interview that his statements at the April 20 meeting had been in response to Adelman’s questions about the appraisal and downplayed Newsday’s inquiry regarding his public statements that the town was "fact-finding" when the town attorney’s office had already made conditional offers to buy the property.
"I answered the question for the resident that we are spending the money as part of the negotiation to determine what we’re dealing with," Saladino said. "One of them is to find out what’s the value of the property."
Saladino said the town is "still collecting information and any kind of any conversations with the owners would be considered collecting information to make final decisions."
Scalera said in an interview "the offer is not the end of the transaction, it’s the beginning of the transaction."
Oyster Bay Democratic leader David Mejias said the town’s Republican officials "should have been honest with the people that they were going to spend $4.4 million . . ."
"Their idea of transparency is they get caught lying and the truth coming out," Mejias said.
Under a restrictive covenant imposed by Nassau County in 1946, the property must remain a golf course in perpetuity. Saladino said that the town wants to preserve the land as open space and that there is no guarantee the county won’t lift the covenant in the future.
Last month, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran wrote to Saladino that the county would enforce the restrictive covenant to keep the property as a golf course.
"The residents have asked for this open space ... for the continuation of a guarantee of the continuation of the golf-park resource," Saladino said. "It’s an important environmental component of the town and it protects the community in a flooding situation."
The conditions set by the owners for the sale include retaining the club’s current staff for five years and free tee times for the 68 shareholders for 10 years. The buyer would also agree that if the property was developed, the shareholders of P.G.C. Holding would get an additional $60 million.
On April 19, town officials again wrote to P.G.C. Holding, stating Oyster Bay "is prepared to meet the asking price of $4,400,000 and will commit to maintain the property as a public golf course" but could not agree to the other conditions. Scalera said in an interview that for legal reasons the town can’t allow a group to use the facilities for free. Saladino told Newsday that it would be unfair to taxpayers to promise to keep all staff rather than determine the best way to run the golf course, if the town acquired it.
In an April 28 letter to P.G.C. Holding, the town wrote that "some of the conditions from the Corporate Resolution that you forwarded would be difficult or impossible for the Town to comply with" and suggested as an alternative that the property be rezoned for recreation.
Scalera said that the owner won’t agree to changing the zoning code to recreation from residential, which would add another layer of protection against development. Huntington-based attorney Christopher Modelewski said towns don’t necessarily need the assent of owners to rezone property.
"If it [the town] thinks it’s a good idea and it’s consistent with the master plan, they can just go ahead and do it themselves," Modelewski told Newsday.
At the April 20 meeting, Scalera said that based on the size and zoning, an owner could build more than 100 houses on it, but did not mention the county’s restrictive covenant.