The township’s involvement in the now-bankrupt Woodcrest Country Club auction elicited negative responses from residents during council’s May 13 meeting.
Residents accused Mayor Chuck Cahn, who was absent from the meeting, of having a conflict of interest with the property as a former member of the club.
“He was a member of the country club, but his history is irrelevant to what we’re trying to do here, which is preserve open space,” said Bridget Palmer, township communications director. “The two are totally unrelated.”
“The mayor has said publicly that we collectively share the same desire. The most ideal position would be a private entity to come in and buy the property and pay taxes,” said David Fleisher, council president. “The township would explore all possibilities for not just the potential preservation of it, but also future funding of it.
“It would be irresponsible for us not to get our ducks in a row, so the residents of Cherry Hill and/or the residents of Camden County get their seats at the table in the event there’s not another viable bidder.”
The country club sits on 155 acres, according to Palmer. The club was set for auction on May 20. According to Palmer, it is a public auction, so there’s no flat sale price. Bidding will start at around $6.5 million.
The township council has reached out to the freeholders for open space funds, specifically set aside for open space, Palmer said. Both entities are exploring the option of using the land as open space if a private bidder doesn’t come through during the auction.
“It would be used as any kind of public recreational use, which could be converting it to a park, athletic fields or trails,” Palmer said.
“Of course, running it as a golf course is still an option. What we’re really hoping is someone comes to the table, buys the property and runs it as a golf course.”
Council members stood behind Fleisher’s response to residents in the matter.
“It would be a disservice if this township didn’t have a plan,” Councilman Jim Bannar said. “I believe in that, and I believe we should keep that as open space.”
According to Palmer, if an entity came forward wishing to convert the land to a development, the township would do what it could to prevent homes being built on the space.
“We can’t control [the bidders], and there are no guarantees,” Palmer said. “The mayor met with several people who want to develop it, and we have said we would not want to develop it. We want to ensure the taxpayers have a say.”
Palmer noted the township is fully committed to only two options: having another private entity run the country club as a golf course or utilizing it as open space.
“That’s not something we would ever want to see developed,” Palmer said.
In other news:
Croft Farm Arts Center will be adding seats indoors, according to Palmer. There will be 100 more seats added, which will expand the types of programs offered at the location. According to Palmer, the project should be completed by the end of summer.
Council will meet again on Wednesday, May 29 at 7:30 p.m. No meeting will be held that Monday due to Memorial Day. A service will be held Monday morning at 11 a.m.