Golf course in limbo again

PAT FRIDGEN
Bill Woodcock, sales manager for Admar Custom Homes, stands next to the build-out plan for The Fairways. His company will develop the dark section at the bottom of the plan in several phases. The light green, now the golf course, will also become housing if GIBG prevails in court.

The summary judgment issued Sept. 28 favoring the Greens of Greencastle Limited Partnership has been appealed by the defendant in the case. Lawyers for Greencastle GIBG LLC filed papers Oct. 26, within the 30-day appeal period, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Federal Judge Yvette Kane of Pennsylvania's Middle District Court ruled that the covenants in the original deed for the Greens of Greencastle golf course were valid and supported the belief of local developers that the property had to remain a golf course as the title changed hands, and could not be converted into a residential subdivision. GIBG, a South Norwalk, Conn. firm, purchased the golf course on June 1, 2005 and on July 19, 2006 submitted plans to Antrim Township to develop The Preserve, 191 lots on the 212 acres.

Local developer Dan Sheedy and Admar Homes, owner of lots on Shannon Drive South, paired up to take the matter to court, citing the wording of the deed. They filed a petition for removal Aug. 31, 2006, and in early 2007 asked for a summary judgment.

When the judgment was released last month, there was excitement and a sense of relief. Admar Custom Homes, which had stopped active sales from its model home, opened the door again. Sales manager Bill Woodcock manned the office and started promoting the upscale houses.

But before the month was over, the situation changed and now new home sales are again at the mercy of court proceedings.

Woodcock said the owner of Admar, Farhad Memarsadaghi, had stated, 'We will never give up.'

The Frederick-based company has already put in a road along one end of the golf course, built several homes, and has a longterm vision of developing its 160-lot property in phases.

Woodcock saw an immediate interest in The Fairways when the decision was rendered. Many people stopped by as first-time visitors. It was a refreshing change from the date the case went to court, which "effectively shut the place down."

For the past three years, anyone who looked at lots and studied the house plans was told about the litigation, which pretty much halted sales. "It's imperative to be upfront with people," Woodcock said.

Now he agrees with his boss. "We're in it for the long haul. We intend to build a wonderful family-centered golfing neighborhood."

He hopes the appeal will be dropped or that a favorable resolution can come quickly.

The story of the golf course

According to court documents, the action before Kane was to enforce a restrictive covenant to the land owned by GIBG that was adjacent to and formerly a part of lands owned by the Greens partnership. The plaintiff originally also sued for recovery of financial losses because of GIBG's proposed use of the land, but then offered to drop that claim to streamline the case.

In 1990 Robert L. and Diane S. Elder purchased the golf course property from the plaintiff. On the deed were numerous covenants and restrictions, including one that the property could only be used for the construction, operation and maintenance of a golf course facility and could not be subdivided without consent of the plaintiff. When the lender foreclosed, it was sold at sheriff's sale to Greencastle Links LP, which deeded the property to Greencastle Golf Club LP and then in 2005 it was sold to GIBG.

GIBG filed a subdivision plan with Antrim Township, which led to the lawsuit to prevent the use of the land inconsistent with the restrictions.

Kane's judgment stipulated that GIBG could not develop the property in any manner contrary to the deed restrictions. GIBG and it's attorneys, Stephanie Resnick and Robert S. Tintner, partners at Fox Rothschild LLP of Philadelphia, disagree.

Who is GIBG?

In March 2006 Pure Golf of Walkersville, Md. announced it had been retained by Greenfield Partners LLC, a real estate investment firm in South Norwalk, CT to manage and operate the firm's new portfolio of 16 golf courses on the east coast.  One of those courses was Greencastle Greens. Pure Golf was to provide its own operations, sales and marketing, human resources and accounting staff for the fleet of courses.

Mike Reid, general manager of the Greens, said Greenfield joined up with IBG Partners in Washington DC. to form GIBG. IBG, founded in 1995, is a privately-held firm which acquires, develops and finances urban properties.

Greenfield Partners has offices in South Norwalk and Chicago. It formed in 1997 and specializes in acquisitions, development, asset management, finance, law, construction, investor relations, and architecture, according to its Web site. It has eight entities with nearly $3.5 billion of invested equity.

Reid has first-hand contact with the golfers who have played during the uncertainty. "For the last three years everything has been up in the air," he said. "Naturally, everyone wants to know the fate of the course. Absolutely, they want it to stay."

The law firm representing Greens of Greencastle - Wix, Wenger, Weidner of Harrisburg, and GIBG's attorneys at Fox Rothschild did not respond to requests for comment.