Critics see favoritism for golf club

The town’s dealings with Great Rock Golf Course in Wading River have become a bone of contention ever since the golf course owners asked the town for help in keeping the business afloat. The group wants to build rental villas along the course, but it would need some sort of zoning adjustments from the Town Board.

“I can assure you this is not going to be a giveaway,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter told neighbors of the Great Rock Golf Club in Wading River at Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting. Some of them nevertheless accused him of bending over backwards to help the commercial club and its operator.

“Don’t be so quick to determine that I’m in Great Rock’s back pocket,” Mr. Walter told the residents at one point.

Great Rock’s owners are seeking permission to build 54 villas along the course, and recently submitted a petition signed by about 100 neighbors of the course calling for a public hearing on the villas proposal. The villas would generate rental income and enable the owners to keep the golf course and restaurant in business.

Under current zoning, the Town Board would have to allow for a code amendment or zone change to allow the villas.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Walter had suggested that Great Rock give the deed to the property to the town in exchange for the code amendments. Under that plan, Great Rock would lease the land from the town and continue operating the golf club, restaurant as well as the villas.

During Tuesday’s meeting, at which several neighbors of the golf course spoke, Mr. Walter emphasized that whatever plan the town follows would have to have a public benefit.

But neighbors wondered what it would be.

“What’s so special about Great Rock that you bend over backwards to help them?” asked Michelle Andriani, who lives near the course. “Many businesses have had trouble, and you don’t seem to go to the extreme you are for Great Rock.”

“My personal feeling is, I don’t feel it’s the town’s job to lubricate the process and make it easier for them to expand their facility,” resident Brad Slack said. “My feeling is that the town’s job is to protect the quality of life of the residents of the town.”

Mr. Slack said neighbors have been negatively affected by loud events at Great Rock. Mr. Walter said he, too, lives near Great Rock and has heard the noise from his house.

In response to Great Rock’s claim that the golf course and restaurant can’t make money, Mr. Walter said he had requested certified tax returns for the past three years, along with access to bank records of every corporation with an interest in Great Rock. “Until they do that, I’m not interested in entertaining anything,” he said.

Vic Prusinowski, a consultant for Great Rock, said in an interview that the organization is not seeking a “bailout,” as critics have charged.

He said Great Rock would pay additional property taxes if the villas were permitted, adding that Great Rock’s owners agree there should be a public benefit. He said all they were asking for at first was a public meeting to discuss possible ways to help the club.

Mr. Prusinowski added that the golf course is not three months away from closing, as Mr. Walter had stated publicly two weeks ago at a Town Board meeting.

“They’re not going out of business,” he said. “They’re just looking for a way to stabilize the profit structure in that zone.”

Mr. Prusinowski said that if the golf course use were abandoned on the property, between 20 and 30 single-family homes could probably be built there, as the land is zoned for two-acre minimum lot sizes.

But, he added, “We’re not looking to increase the population of the town.”

He said the number one issue on the minds of people they’d talked to while gathering petition signatures was school taxes, and that the proposed villas would be age-restricted rentals that would not affect the school district.

As for noise, town attorney Dawn Thomas said in an interview that there are covenants restricting Great Rock’s use of a portable tent on the property to golf-related events and barring amplified music.

She said the club had signed a stipulation agreeing to the restrictions in June of last year. The town has alleged they have violated it three times since then, but Ms. Thomas said those alleged violations were not noise-related. The town, rather than go to court on the violations, signed another stipulation of settlement with Great Rock last month in which Great Rock agreed to pay a $4,000 fine.

The Town Board resolution authorizing that settlement stated, “In light of the costs attendant to proceeding to a trial with the attendant uncertainties of litigation, it is in the best interests of the Town to accept the settlement proposal.”

Ms. Thomas said Great Rock was not issued a violation for the Republican victory party that was held there last year because it was not held in the tent. Former Supervisor Phil Cardinale, a Democrat, sent code enforcement officers to that event — at which Mr. Walter was celebrating his victory over Mr. Cardinale in the race for supervisor — to see if it was in violation of any codes.

Mr. Walter, before Tuesday’s meeting, had said he wanted to hold a public meeting to try to find ways to help the financially struggling Great Rock organization keep the golf club running.

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