Camden County to bid on Woodcrest Country Club

A golfer taking a swing at Woodcrest Country Club in Cherry Hill in 2003. The club filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year and did not open this season.
A golfer taking a swing at Woodcrest Country Club in Cherry Hill in 2003. The club filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year and did not open this season.
Posted: May 17, 2013

Camden County will bid on the Woodcrest Country Club in an effort to preserve the bankrupt Cherry Hill golf course as open space when the property is sold at auction Monday.

But county officials have not disclosed how much they might spend on the 155-acre property, which will cost potential buyers a minimum bid of at least $6.5 million.

Revealing a dollar value would violate collusion laws and undercut the county's bidding position, a county spokesman said.

A Marlton real estate group has already entered into an agreement with a bankruptcy trustee to buy the club for $6.25 million, with a minimum bid increment and fees raising the bar for a higher bid by more than $300,000.

The freeholders voted Tuesday to spend $655,600 from the open space fund for the 10 percent deposit required to participate in the closed auction.

In an executive session, they also discussed "parameters" for the bid, said Freeholder Jeff Nash.

While he said he could not disclose those details, Nash said the county "does have flexibility - reasonable flexibility."

"We will be aggressive," he said.

The vote to bid on the club - which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year and did not open this season - followed an announcement by Cherry Hill last month that it hoped to partner with the county in a bid to ensure the course remains undeveloped.

With the county playing the lead role in a bid for the property, the township doesn't yet know what it might need to contribute, "if anything," said Cherry Hill spokeswoman Bridget Palmer.

"At this point, it looks like the county is going to be putting up the lion's share," she said.

The township has about $1 million in its open space fund, and "any expenditure we would make would require council approval," Palmer said. "Our goal would not be to add any tax burden or spend any money we don't have."

The county's open space fund has about $11 million, Nash said.

The fund generates about $6.5 million a year through a tax of two cents per $100 of value, approved by voters in two referendums starting in 1998, said Jack Sworaski, director of the county Division of Environmental Affairs.

Properties the county has helped buy since then include the Stafford Farm in Voorhees, a $20 million purchase made in partnership with the state, the Township of Voorhees, and the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, Sworaski said. He said the county contributed $4 million.

The county also participated in a $10 million purchase of Timber Creek Park, now owned by the county, in Gloucester Township, Sworaski said. Gloucester Township contributed to the purchase, as did the state Green Acres Program.

Green Acres awards grants for open space purchases and contributes up to 50 percent of a property's appraised value.

An appraisal recently commissioned by the county valued the Woodcrest property at $6.5 million, said county spokesman Dan Keashen. The property was assessed earlier this year at $5.4 million, according to county tax records.

The county would seek reimbursement for a Woodcrest purchase from Green Acres, which is out of money but accepting applications.

In deciding when to spend open-space money, said Nash, a property like Woodcrest is precisely "what the fund is for."

"The area is very crowded. The existing road system can barely accommodate what's there now," said Nash, who lives in Cherry Hill. He said further development of the area "would be a nightmare" for residents.

The group with an agreement to buy Woodcrest, First Montgomery Group, has developed apartment units in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

The group has not commented on its plans for the club, but "we are aware it's an area and a piece of land that impacts a lot of people," Matt Haydinger, one of its principals, said Wednesday.

"We are absolutely taking that into consideration," he said.

The property is zoned for institutional uses, and Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn has said the township will not tolerate changing the zoning.

Other potential bidders include the Union League of Philadelphia, which is interested in running the club as a golf course, its lawyer said at a court hearing.

The lawyer, Edmond George, said this week that "we're not going to have any comment on that before the auction."

Former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski also has shown interest in the club, according to Cahn.


Contact Maddie Hanna at 856-779-3232 or mhanna@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @maddiehanna

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