The nine-hole course in Lebanon, N.H., which was designed by Donald Ross and built in 1923, was thought to be protected by a 1986 sale agreement that stipulated “at all times, in perpetuity, a nine-hole golf course shall be maintained and operated on the premises.” But a Superior Court judge recently lifted those restrictions for the property, which is owned by a developer who also owns Lake Sunapee Country Club.
The future of Carter Country Club, the historic nine-hole golf course in Lebanon, N.H., could be in jeopardy after a Grafton Superior Court judge recently lifted decades-old restrictions that shielded the property from development, the Valley News reported. New London, N.H. developer Doug Homan holds full rights to the golf course, meaning he could relocate or even demolish its greens and fairways, under a May 15 ruling issued by Judge Lawrence MacLeod.
MacLeod’s decision, which was maintained in a separate July 15 order, also nullifies legal rights to preserve the golf course previously bestowed on the nonprofit Carter Community Building Association (CCBA), the Valley News reported.
“He now owns it outright without development constraints, according to that court order,” Jeremy Eggleton, the Hanover-based attorney who represents the CCBA, said August 5.
Eggleton told the Valley News the CCBA is considering an appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. It has until August 14 to make a decision.
The court case, which kicked off in 2018 when Homan sued the CCBA, largely revolved around the wishes of the late Meriden developer Edmond “Peanie” Goodwin, the Valley News reported. Goodwin acquired a controlling majority of the country club’s stock in 1983 but after trouble developing the surrounding land, sold the 47-acre golf course in 1986 to Lynnfield, Mass., developer Fred Fish. In the sale agreement, he stipulated that “at all times, in perpetuity, a nine-hole golf course shall be maintained and operated on the premises.”
If a golf course was not available for more than one year, the title was supposed to revert to the nonprofit Carter Country Club Inc., which then transferred its rights to the CCBA and dissolved, the Valley News reported. However, MacLeod ruled earlier this year that the legal handoff was invalid, leaving some to believe that the golf course protections lie with shareholders of the now-defunct Carter Country Club Inc.
“If there’s property left over when a corporation dissolves, it goes to the shareholders. It just automatically does,” said Lebanon attorney Barry Schuster, who helped negotiate the 1986 golf course protections.
Schuster said that the same is true of property restrictions, such as conservation easements, the Valley News reported. Once a property owner dies or a legal entity goes away, those protections are passed down, he said.
But MacLeod took a different view in his May 15 ruling, siding with Homan and his Concord-based attorney Samantha Elliott who argued that the developer, and not those initially charged with preserving the golf course, inherited the rights, the Valley News reported. In court filings, they contended that a 1991 ruling already divested the former shareholders of all interest in the land.
A 2008 state law also should have voided the protections because the shareholders failed to file a renewal notice before its 2011 deadline, Homan and Elliott argued. Messages left for both were not returned, the Valley News reported.
Eggleton sees problems with both arguments. The 1991 case, he said, didn’t address the golf course protections and explicitly set them aside for future court action, the Valley News reported. Meanwhile, the 2008 law didn’t apply to charitable organizations like the CCBA, so the shareholders couldn’t have known to file a renewal, Eggleton said.
“It’s not like the shareholders of the original Carter Country Club accounted for this because they thought it was already taken care of,” he told the Valley News, adding it was always the intent of Goodwin and his descendants that the country club remain.
“How can you take what is clearly the intention of both parties and then say just because of a scrivener’s error, it’s not valid?” he asked. “But the court ultimately disagreed with us on that.”
It’s unclear what Homan, the owner of Lake Sunapee Country Club, intends to do with the news, the Valley News reported. Since purchasing the Lebanon property in 2012, he’s become a controversial figure among city officials and those living in the nearby Kings Grant neighborhood because of his attempts to build on the golf course and surrounding acres.
Built in 1923, the course was designed by Donald Ross and is his only nine-hole course in New Hampshire, according to the club’s website.
Some of Homan’s most recent proposals for the property include a 306-home subdivision, which resulted in a 3 ½-year battle with neighbors and the Lebanon Planning Board—as well as a mixed-use development, the Valley News reported. Homan never won Planning Board approval for that subdivision plan, which would have seen the golf course relocated, and in 2018 he came forward with a new proposal for 186 senior housing units, 400 apartments, a 300-seat restaurant and 60,000 sq. ft. of retail space.
However, it’s unclear whether his so-called “Kings Grant Village Neighborhood” will wind up before city planners, the Valley News reported. Lebanon Planning Director David Brooks said August 5 he hasn’t heard about the project since early 2019 and no formal designs were submitted to the city.