Supervisors voted 4-0 on September 18th to investigate the feasibility of placing a conservation easement on the property. The move would preserve the historic site and protect it from development. The plan would then be to sell the property to a new owner, who would assume all financial risks.
In August, C&RB reported on how supervisors of Exeter Township, Pa. approved a proposal for conceptual design of site improvements for Reading (Pa.) Country Club that would include a second point of access, parking lot expansion, relocating the maintenance shed, paving all of the golf cart paths for additional use by runners, walkers and bicyclists, and repairs to the stream bank.
At a recent meeting on September 18th, the supervisors voted 4-0 to authorize the administration to investigate the feasibility of placing a conservation easement on the property, reported the Reading Eagle.
The move would preserve the site and protect it from development. The plan would then be to sell the property to a new owner, who would assume all financial risks.
The supervisors’ vote was the end result of a special public meeting to discuss the future of the country club, which the township acquired in 2005.
The nearly 100-year-old club’s golf course, designed by Alexander Findlay, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and that listing also recognizes its clubhouse, designed by Harry Maurer, for its late 19thand early 20thcentury architecture in the Norman/Tudor revival style.
Before accepting public comment at the September 18th meeting, Township Manager John A. Granger made a presentation, during which he suggested four options to deal with the golf club and its currently closed restaurant and catering operation, which have been operating at a loss each year since the township acquired it, reported the Eagle. That acquisition was by eminent domain, a move to thwart plans for a 550-townhouse development.
In April, C&RB reported on the options that the township was considering for the facility, which included leasing the facility to another restaurateur or allowing the township to rent the facility to private parties and caterers for various events and either keeping the 18-hole course intact, reducing the course to nine holes, or closing the course and using the land for active or passive recreation.
“Can the township still realize the original purpose to acquire the site and to better manage any future development, while eliminating the risk and financial costs to the township?” Granger asked before presenting the fourth option: the conservation easement.
But the plan to sell after placing the easement on the property didn’t sit well with some of the 40 residents in attendance, the Eagle reported.
Dr. Christ L. Ganas, who lives near the club and who also served as Chairman of the supervisors in 2005, said the current supervisors weren’t seeing the true reason for the property’s purchase at that time, reported the Eagle.
“Certain facts were not brought out here,” Ganas said. “If these 550 homes would have been built, it was estimated that would add 1,500 children into the school district, which would have required the construction of two new school buildings.
“When that decision was made, we felt that we would have automatically been spending over $50 million for just school buildings. As far as we were concerned, spending $18 million to acquire the property was the smart thing to do.”
Peter Gipprich, another nearby resident, said he believes there are other opportunities the board could investigate for the facility’s management, the Eagle reported.
“You are sitting on a gem, and I would hate to see something being done that is premature without seeing all of the options,” he said. “I am not in favor of just giving this up.”
All four supervisors weighed in with their opinions, the Eagle reported. “A golf course is a tough operation, and most clubs making it are doing it through sweat equity,” said Supervisor David G. Speece Jr. “Government has other costs, so the next best scenario is to put restrictions on the land so that we don’t lose what we worked for all these years. If you have the right measures in place, a buyer will see the value.”
Supervisors John Cusatis and Vincent Biancone both said the government should not be in the business of running a golf course, reported the Eagle.
Supervisor Chairwoman Lisa VanderLaan said it’s not feasible for a government entity to operate a for-profit business. “Every single thing we do there costs us more, because it is owned by the government,” she said.
The supervisors also discussed the possibility of a temporary restaurateur to make the restaurant more attractive to potential buyers, the Eagle reported.
The next step would be for Granger to investigate putting together a request for proposals for the property, the Eagle reported.
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