Disputed Cherry Hill country club opens to the military for a day

Posted: November 19, 2013

CHERRY HILL Ask Matthew Haydinger how his development plans for the Woodcrest Country Club in Cherry Hill might affect surrounding communities, and he will insist not very much.

Haydinger's First Montgomery Group, the owner of 4,000 rental units and several shopping centers in South Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, has applied to build 844 rental units on the 178-acre golf course, a gracious patch of undulating greenery 15 miles from Center City and smack in the middle of the teeming South Jersey suburbs.

Haydinger grants there would be increased traffic. But he said the company expects road improvements would go a long way toward solving any traffic problems that might result if the company's development plans win approval. Most important, commercial development would take place on only 20 acres or so, and the golf course would be maintained as a for-profit club, he says.

"It's a great piece of property and a great location. We grew up several minutes from here," Haydinger said of himself and his brothers Rich and Mike, who run the company with him.

As part of the family's effort to polish the project's image with local residents, the Haydingers opened up the club house and golf course to military families and members of the public for several hours Sunday. The military connection is important to First Montgomery, Haydinger said, because more than half the company's 4,000 rental units are occupied by military members and their families at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

Local military leaders sent out word of the event via e-mail to military families. As of 1 p.m., the event appeared to have attracted more than 100 visitors,

First Montgomery was the high bidder in an auction of the property in May, paying $10.1 million. Its purchase caused an outcry from local elected officials, who vowed to prevent any development on the site.

The state Department of Environmental Protection excluded the property from regional plans for sewer development, and the company, as well as the Fair Share Housing Center, a Cherry Hill group that pushes for low-cost housing, appealed the decision.

The development company also sued Cherry Hill in October, arguing that the township had failed to plan for enough low-cost housing. The lawsuit said 20 percent of the project's proposed units would be for low-cost housing.

Haydinger and the company's director of marketing, Jamie Berman, said Sunday that the company intends to preserve the golf course and operate the club as a for-profit venture. Haydinger, noting that the property is zoned for hospital use and other institutional development, said the company might eventually shift from housing to development of a medical or nursing facility.

The golf club, founded in 1929, is cherished by many Cherry Hill residents for its pastoral setting and its unique place in local history. It began as a club for the region's Jewish elite who could not gain access to other country clubs.

That the development plans seem vague - either high-density housing or perhaps a medical facility on a portion of the property - seems a direct result of the regulatory uncertainty hovering over the project. While local officials have said they will resist any development, Haydinger insists he has the right to build on the land.

But all of that is only in the conceptual stage.

What was easy to see and grasp Sunday was the happy buzz of military families and other visitors whizzing around the property on golf carts.

Since the new owners took over in May, Berman said, about 10,000 people have visited the club and played on its golf course. It is an activity that she says her company wants to continue long into the future.


cmondics@phillynews.com

215-854-5957

@cmondics

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