Judge won’t reconsider trustee for Woodcrest club

Posted: February 15, 2013

A federal bankruptcy judge Thursday rejected a plea by Woodcrest Country Club to reconsider her decision appointing a trustee to oversee the club's transition out of bankruptcy.

The trustee, Bonnie Glantz Fatell, then told the court that she had already taken control of the 155-acre Cherry Hill property and said in a letter to club members she was considering its possible sale.

Fatell, of the Blank Rome law firm, told Judge Judith H. Wizmur she was "hopeful but not certain" she could open the club for the spring golf season.

Wizmur's decision to not reconsider the appointment of the trustee was a victory for Sun National Bank of Vineland, N.J.

Sun is the historically Jewish club's chief secured creditor and had sought appointment of the trustee. In addition, members of the Brown family that controls the bank are principals in a company called Crestwood, which has made an offer for the club. Sidney R. Brown, the bank's vice chairman, was a member of Woodcrest's board.

Woodcrest, in legal filings opposing the trustee, has called Crestwood the bank's "alter ego."

Fatell, whose appointment was formalized Monday, told Wizmur that she had changed the locks at the club and posted signs saying it was closed for the time being.

In a letter on the club's website, she assured members that their property was safe and that they would be notified when they could pick up their belongings.

She denied rumors that the club would be sold at the end of February.

Irv Richter, Woodcrest's president, did not attend the hearing but said in an e-mail that he did not believe Fatell would be able to open the club as anything but a public golf course without clubhouse amenities, if at all.

He said he doubted Woodcrest members, "who are used to a full-service country club," would sign on and would likely look to join other clubs.

"I don't think the trustee will have enough time to accomplish her goals and the question remains, 'At what price?' " said Richter, chairman and CEO of the construction management company Hill International Inc.

Woodcrest filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May as it was about to undergo a sheriff's sale sought by Sun, which financed a disputed and ill-fated clubhouse expansion.

In a reorganization plan filed in January, Woodcrest reported claims of more than $20 million, including $11.8 million by the bank. The plan promised Sun $3.4 million, based on an appraisal of the property.

According to court papers, Woodcrest has counterclaims against the bank "perhaps as high as $8 million."

The bank's attorney, Diane Vuocolo of Greenberg Traurig L.L.P. in Philadelphia, told Wizmur that Sun would work with the trustee.

She said round-the-clock security at the club provided by the bank was terminated Wednesday after the trustee took possession and noted that Sun had paid the water bill after receiving a shutoff notice.

Wizmur set Feb. 28 for an update in the case.

The Appellate Division of Superior Court in Trenton is slated to hear Woodcrest's appeal of its foreclosure Feb. 26.

The par-71 course dates to 1929 and later began operating as a daily-fee public course. It became a private club and haven for area Jewish golfers starting in 1948.

One of the founders, Robert Galanter, had said before his death that at the time the club was formed, there was an unwritten agreement among other clubs in South Jersey not to accept Jews.

Contact Joseph Gambardello

at 856-779-3844 or jgambardello@phillynews.com.


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