NORTHAMPTON — The Town Board Wednesday night voted unanimously to ask the Town Planning Board to explore the possibility of rezoning portions of the Sacandaga Golf Course to allow for a subdivision of the property so parts of it could developed as residential properties.
Town Councilman William Gritsavage gave a report to the board about a proposal from John Mulcahy, a businessman who owns a camp on Lincoln Avenue, near the golf course. Gritsavage said the current owner of the property, Richard “Dick” Osborne, who is in his 80s, has been trying to sell the golf course for a number of years, but has been unable to do so. Gritsavage said Osborne wants about $400,000 for the approximately 54-acre property and Mulcahy is interested, but only if the Town Board agrees to rezone the property to allow the subdivision so he can recoup his investment by creating 10 subdivisions of the course and selling them off, reducing the size of the nine-hole golf course, but perhaps making it more economically viable.
“If the planning board looks at this and they like it, and they send it back to [the Town Board] and we don’t like it — we don’t have to approve it,” Gritsavage said, explaining that only the Town Board has the power to legally change the town’s zoning law.
“If we were to turn this into a [use] variance [request], then the Zoning Board of Appeals would have the final say, if we do it as a rezoning, then it’s [the Town Board’s] say entirely.”
Gritsavage and town Councilman Art Simmons were part of a committee formed to discuss Mulcahy’s golf course proposal. According to Town Board meeting minutes published on the town’s website, Mulcahy first came to the Town Board in September with a plan to purchase the golf course, subdivide it, and lease back the golf course to the town for operation.
Dan Casey, who said he was associate of John Mulcahy, attended the meeting and said Mulcahy’s intention is not to run the golf course for longer than necessary, but to sell it after selling off nine of the 10 subdivisions he has proposed. He said Mulcahy intends to invest some money into the operation and upgrade of the golf course, retain Osborne to maintain it as long as possible, and then sell it. Casey said Mulcahy’s interest in the property is contingent on his ability to recoup some of his investment by selling off some of the subdivision lots.
“I’ve looked at the financials of that golf course, and it would take a lot of work to make that viable, to get an investor to come in and run it,” Casey said.
Town Code Enforcement Officer Matt Ginter said Northampton’s comprehensive plan calls for the protection of the golf course as an asset for the town to attract tourists. He said the golf course is in its own “Golf District” which does not allow for residential development. He said the only way to protect the golf course and allow the residential development is to rezone the property.
“By moving the boundaries we are still protecting the golf course by not allowing residential to be developed on it,” he said.
Mulcahy’s plan calls for six subdivisions near the 8th hole of the course, all of which would be connected to municipal water, three subdivisions on the southern end of the property, not connected to municipal water, and one property on the lake, the subdivision he does not plan to sell. None of the subdivisons are connected to municipal sewer service. The holes affected by the plan would Nos. 3, 4 and 8.
Ginter said the golf course has been in operation since 1898 and still relies on water infrastructure built more than 100 years ago by the FJ&G Railroad company.
Gritsavage said the planning board will need to determine the size of the subdivisons, some of which will probably need to be big enough to allow for septic systems and well water.
“I’m in favor of this because this might be our last good opportunity to save the golf course, because of the situation. The owner is getting older and nobody else seems to be interested in purchasing it,” Gritsavage said.
Before the Town Board considered Gritsavage’s motion to refer the issue to the town planning board, Councilman Ivar Anderson suggested a possible alternative plan for the golf course.
“I’m all in favor of throwing it to the planning board, because whoever does anything with it is going to have to go to the planning board. But in talking to New York state Parks and Recreation and Historic Preservation, they say we should be applying for a historic preservation grant for this because of its age and its unique character and because it’s been there for so many years. Also, they have grant money for towns such as us to buy, maintain or do whatever with a course like that, and I think that should be taken into consideration also,” Anderson said. “There’s going to be lots of time, and I’ve also heard there may be other people interested in buying it. None of them have come up, but maybe this will motivate them.”
Town Supervisor James Groff was skeptical of Anderson’s proposal.
“With our luck of getting grants lately?” Groff said.
“Apparently, I’ve talked to [a state official] who is the one that takes care of this area for us and she said this seems like an ideal candidate,” Anderson replied. “We have to start now because the [grant process] starts May 1 and it goes through June-something, but she said there was money left over last year as a matter of fact, there weren’t enough applicants for the amount of money that they have, and I just think it’s something we should look at it. I’m not discounting anything, I just think whatever way we can [preserve the golf course] we should do it. I was on the comprehensive plan committee and we were all very serious that it’s got to stay.”
Groff said he would prefer the golf course stay in the private sector and be run as a tax-paying for-profit entity. He suggested a compromise.
“I don’t know how the public would receive this, there are some people in the public who really don’t want us to buy it. I’ve heard that too,” he said. “If the board wants to, we could always start [the grant application] process and start the [planning board’s reconsideration of the zoning law] process,”
Casey said he thinks it’s possible Anderson’s idea might be a good approach, but it could discourage Mulcahy’s interest in the property. He said Mulcahy has to spend a lot of money on legal fees and other considerations to go through the process of trying to get the land rezoned, as well as receive approvals from the Adirondack Park Association for his plan, which he may not want to do if the Town Board is simultaneously pursuing a grant to purchase the property.
“That could put a monkey wrench into the whole thing,” Casey said.
After the town board voted to refer the issue to the planning board, Simmons said he views the golf course as a valuable asset for the community, but he’s not sure if the town should own it.
“I’m waiting to hear what the planning board says,” he said.
Ginter said the Northampton Planning Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 7 p.m.