Wading River golf course needs town help to stay afloat

Great Rock Golf Course in Wading River will be closing unless the Riverhead Town Board allows its owners to build up to 54 golf villas on the property, Supervisor Sean Walter announced at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.
“Great Rock has admitted to me that they are probably ready to shut the golf course facility down, period,” Mr. Walter said. “They’ve represented this on several occasions and they’re now two or three months away.”
He said that if the course closes, along with Blackwell’s Restaurant, which is on the property, the developers would then seek to instead build single-family homes over the course, even though the owners and the town have in the past disputed the current zoning on the land.
“Nobody wants to see the golf course close,” Mr. Walter said.
Great Rock has sought permission for several years to build golf villas on the property. The current proposal seeks 54 villas, or three per hole, alongside the existing golf course.
The villas would be owned by the owners of the golf course, a group headed by developer Paul Elliot. The units would only be rented to people who are at least 55 years old. In the case of a couple, at least one of them must be 55 or older, and no one under age 18 would be allowed to live there, according to Great Rock’s proposal.
At least one occupant of each villa must also be a member of Great Rock Golf Club, and each villa would be no bigger than 1,500 square feet.
Over the weekend, Great Rock went door to door in the neighborhood around the golf course and gathered 100 signatures in favor of having the town call a public hearing on a proposal to allow the villas, which are not permitted under current zoning.
Former town councilman Vic Prusinowski, a consultant for Great Rock, said he and Mr. Elliot did 90 percent of the house calls over the weekend.
Great Rock pays about $170,000 in taxes and has a huge mortgage, Mr. Prusinowski explained. Permitting the villas would help keep both the golf course and the restaurant in business.
“We canvassed roughly 170 homes,” he said, noting that there are 140 in the Great Rock subdivision, but they visited homes just outside the neighborhood as well.
“The overwhelming sentiment was that people would like to save the golf course,” Mr. Prusinowski told the Town Board.
The petition only asked signers to support a hearing, and didn’t ask them to take sides on the issue, Mr. Prusinowski said.
Mr. Walter said that when Great Rock’s principals asked him for help, he responded that they would have to show him there is public support for their plan. The 100 signatures collected in two days does just that, he said.
But rather than call a formal Town Board hearing, Mr. Walter said he hopes to hold a public meeting to discuss the proposal, which could be held at Town Hall. He is asking Sid Bail of the Wading River Civic Association, who was not present at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, and Dominique Mendez, a civic activist who has filed complaints about noise coming from Great Rock in the past, to host the meeting.
“We’re going to solicit input to try and fashion an excuse that allows the golf course to stay open, because the alternative is not something people want to hear,” Mr. Walter said.
Ms. Mendez didn’t seem too keen on that plan.
“Just because they lobby doesn’t mean you have a public hearing on it,” she said in an interview afterward. “Every single business that wants to overexpand in a residential neighborhood claims a hardship.”
Ms. Mendez noted that Great Rock’s owners have been fined and taken to court by the town for noise and code violations from catered events.
“They had illegal events blowing us out of our homes with all the noise, and dozens of neighbors’ complaints,” she said.
Reached by phone later Tuesday, Mr. Bail said he was “surprised” to learn of Mr. Walter’s proposal involving him.
“I am not going to host any meeting,” he said. “I’m totally flabbergasted by what the town appears to be doing. They seem to be going out of their way to help the Great Rock folks.”
A 2009 letter from town planning director Rick Hanley to Paul Elliot of Great Rock stated that there is a covenant on the property that limits Great Rock to just the 140 residential lots it had already built out and sold to residents.
Mr. Bail said he doesn’t believe they are entitled to any more homes.
“I don’t wish Great Rock any ill will, but three years ago, I had a conversation with Mr. Elliot in which he said they were on the verge of failing, and they’ve survived,” he said. “Is the town going to go in the business of massaging the zoning every time a business claims they’re in distress? This whole thing stinks to high Heaven.”
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