A sunny golf season notwithstanding, the Country Club of Woodbridge is costing the town’s taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, and, with its ageing infrastructure, will squeeze the dollars available for other capital projects even further, that was the message Finance Director Anthony Genovese had for a joint meeting of the boards of Selectmen and Finance September 29.
First Selectman Ellen Scalettar, calling the future of the Country Club “the single largest issue confronting our town,” had asked Genovese to recap for the joint boards “how the town got where it is,” including costs so far and anticipated expenses. The presentation is available on the town’s website, www.woodbridgect.org.
Total expenditures, including the debt service for the purchase of the property is $11.8 million from 2009 to the present. Yet only 7% of Woodbridge residents use it, noted Board of Finance member Andrew Esposito, concluding that “it becomes a very expensive [service],” for a small number of people.
The revenue for golf and pool for the same period was $2.7 million.
Looking back: The town purchased the 155-acre property in 2009 with the overwhelming support of its residents. At the time it seemed that the looming insolvency of the Woodbridge Country Club might lure a large-scale development. At the 2009 annual Town Meeting, those present voted 435-34 for the purchase. In addition to the golf course, the property came with a swimming pool, tennis courts and an ageing, 43,000 square foot club house, as well as several ancillary buildings.
An appraisal at the time priced it at $7.4 million, and the town bought it for $ $6.9 million. Several long-term options were presented at the 2009 Town Meeting, including hiring someone to operate the golf course or the town selling all or part of the property for controlled development.
In August of that year, the town hired MDM Golf to operate the country club, now renamed Country Club of Woodbridge. MDM and the town parted ways in 2011 and the town subsequently contracted with Billy Casper Golf. But the season weather-wise was not a good one and the operation continued to lose money. After Ellen Scalettar took office in 2013, she renegotiated the contract with Billy Casper, capping the town’s responsibility for losses. In return, the pool and tennis was put under the auspices of the Recreation Commission.
In the six years since taking ownership, the town has tried three times to elicit proposals from the business community. In 2010, only MDM Golf responded, and the town continued with its short-term lease arrangement. In 2011, Toll Brothers responded to the town’s invitation to develop 17 rocky acres along Woodfield Road by building active adult housing, The proposal was voted down in referendum, 587 – 1,190.
In the fall of 2013, the town asked Milone and McBroom, as a consultant, to sort through the options, listen to residents’ input through community conversations and make a recommendation. The report looked at a number of scenarios, and came back with the recommendation to develop 31 acres for active adult housing and maintain golf, pool and tennis.
In the summer of 2014, the town put out another RFP, based on that recommendation, but inviting alternative proposals at the same time. They received two responses, one for senior rental housing, the other an expanded and reconfigured Toll Brothers proposal. An ad hoc committee of town residents who had vetted the RFP responses recommended the Toll Brothers proposal for active adult housing. The Rose Watermark proposal for rental units was withdrawn.
The Toll proposal would build 96 attached townhouses (32 buildings) and 74 detached single family homes for active adults (55+).
Financials: In Fiscal Year 2015, from July 1, 2014 to June 30 2015, the golf and clubhouse cost $310,000, the pool $114,000 and debt payments were $407,000.
Future capital needs include $100,000 for the pool to replaster and replace the heater. The club house is “rotting away,” as was mentioned during the discussion, with a leaking roof, a 40-year-old furnace with an in-ground fuel tank.
Debt: The town’s annual debt service is about 8.6% of the budget.
Next steps: First Selectman Ellen Scalettar suggested for the joint boards to take a formal tour of the property. Selectman Joe Dey suggested to develop a timeline, which Scalettar agreed to, following the field visit.
Board of Finance member Sandy Stein recommended to keep the comments that residents made at the community conversations on the table. “Woodbridge does not make major decisions fast,” she cautioned.
The town has not been able to come to a consensus in the four years it’s owned the property, Selectman Susan Jacobs concluded during the discussion. “And it’s not for a lack of trying.”
Selectman Beth Heller encouraged fellow town leaders to keep trying. “We can’t go back in time,” she said. “So let’s move forward.”
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent