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County considers purchasing Cherry Creek Golf Links for open space

Suffolk County is considering the purchase of Riverhead’s The Woods at Cherry Creek and Cherry Creek Golf Links, just short of 300 acres combined, for open space purposes.

The properties at 900 and 967 Reeves Ave. have been on the market for about five years, according to the owners, and were recently listed for $25 million on LoopNet, a commercial real estate site. 

LoopNet described the properties as a 5,000-square-foot sports and entertainment facility. In addition to Stonewalls Restaurant, at The Woods, the offering includes two 18-hole golf courses, clubhouses, a fully equipped pro shop, practice facilities and maintenance facilities. According to LoopNet, the facilities were built in 1996. Their development rights remain intact. 

The Woods are located south of Reeves Avenue, and the Golf Links are located north.

The Suffolk County Legislature is considering having two appraisals done, one for the courses as open space with all buildings and pavement removed, and one for open space but with one or more of the buildings remaining for county use. The county planning department will prepare the separate appraisals, which would be the first step in any acquisition by the county. 

A pending resolution originating from County Executive Steve Bellone’s office was formally introduced in the Legislature’s environment, parks and agriculture committee on Jan. 2, proposing that appraisal of the land be authorized in accordance with the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program. It was discussed at the committee’s Feb. 4 meeting and was tabled.

According to Suffolk County planning director Sarah Lansdale, who spoke at that meeting, the property owners indicated that if acquisition of the land as open space were to proceed, they would take responsibility for removing all current structures and improvements before finalizing the transfer. 

While legislators had previously discussed the possibility of acquiring the land for use as a golf courses, Ms. Lansdale said Monday that it could only be purchased for open space, and not as a golf course. 

Legislator Al Krupski (D–Cutchogue), a member of the committee, said Feb. 4 that “… there’s a lot of preserved farmland in the area, so this would add to the land preservation efforts there.” 

Mr. Krupski recommended finding a person or group interested in managing the grasslands for the purpose of sustaining wildlife species or other related natural endeavors — without putting a burden on the county parks system. 

Mr. Krupski agreed to work on a formal partnership with the Town of Riverhead. Committee chair Kara Hahn (D–Setauket) said the 100-point system used to evaluate open space currently rates the golf courses at 18, whereas the county normally requires open space acquisitions to rate at least 25. Creating an inter-municipal partnership would add five points to that score, while a management agreement with a nonprofit organization would add another point.

Mr. Krupski said last week that committee members are working toward garnering letters of support for the deal.

“It’s an interesting proposal because it would allow the golf course to naturalize,” he said. “We got a letter from North Fork Audubon and I think [a few weeks ago] we got a letter from the Pine Barrens Commission about how this could be an important piece of habitat if it were allowed to naturalize.”

At Monday’s committee meeting in Riverhead, members voted that the resolution be discharged without their recommendation, meaning that it has been moved out of committee and will go before the full Legislature at its next general body meeting March 3.

“The committee is not saying it’s necessarily supporting [the resolution],” Ms. Hahn said Monday. The reason for the discharge without recommendation, she said, was a combination of missing information as well as changes that may be needed, but may not have been made yet. 

Namely, she explained, there is uncertainty about whether the county is looking to buy the courses with or without the clubhouse or clubhouses.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar supported the possibility of having the property appraised as open space.

“However, we need to thoroughly complete our due diligence,” she said. 

Ms. Hahn said she hopes that by March 3, Ms. Aguiar will present the Legislature with a formal letter authorizing an inter-municipal agreement between the town and county to manage the property.

Ms. Aguiar said in an interview that there would be no cost to the town for the acquisition as open space, and there is also the possibility that the land will be left natural with minimal maintenance requirements. 

“We need to make sure this is what the community wants,” she said. “Today was only supporting a possible appraisal.”

She said the Legislature and Town Board must work together on any future inter-municipal agreement regarding the land. 

Vincent Sasso, 80, of Greenlawn and Charles Jurgens, 95, of Northport are owners of the properties. Mr. Sasso said in an interview Monday that they have been looking to sell the golf courses because of their ages, but that the county has not yet reached out to him. 

He said,  “We offered it to everybody, but that was offered a long time ago and they never got back to us. Now, all of a sudden they’re calling … but they’re not going to steal it. We’re not going to let it go that cheap.”

Mr. Sasso said he and Mr. Jurgens put the property on the market five years ago. He said real estate broker Daniel Sullivan of Brown Harris Stevens in Westhampton has been handling the potential sale. 

According to a county official, Mr. Sullivan sent the county a letter of interest on behalf of one of the property owners.