Woodmere Club ruckus as DEC investigates chemical spraying

Jeff Bessen for Long Island Herald

July 22, 2021

Originally published in Long Island Herald on July 22, 2021.

The Woodmere Club continues to be a source of controversy, stemming from its plan to be transformed into a 284-home residential development.

The 113-year-old club ended golf memberships last year, and the redevelopment plan has spawned a number of lawsuits over the past few years, including a $200 million federal suit the club’s owners have brought against the Town of Hempstead and the villages of Lawrence and Woodsburgh.

As if that weren’t enough, in April, a chemical applied to the golf course to stop the grass from growing may have had the unintended consequence of killing birds, squirrels and other animals that have been found dead on club property.

Residents have reported the dead animals to the South Shore Audubon Society and its president, Brien Weiner. Winter in turn wrote a letter to State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat who represents the Five Towns and chairs the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee.

“Residents have reported an abundance and variety of birds using the golf course since its closing,” Weiner wrote. “However, after the grounds were treated with an unknown chemical in April 2021, dead birds and other wildlife have been appearing on the property. Birds are an indicator of the health of our environment — the canaries in our coal mine — and whatever is killing the birds is also present in our air and water and can harm us too.”

Weiner told the Herald that she wanted to know what chemical was used, and whether it could be linked to the animal deaths.

After Kaminsky was made aware of the situation, he contacted the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The reports of noxious chemicals being applied at the Woodmere Club — coupled with the grotesque images of dead animals — are extremely troubling,” he said. “That is why I urged the State Department of Environmental Conservation to investigate this issue and take the necessary steps to protect the health of our community and its wildlife. I will continue to monitor this situation and advocate for an expeditious remedy.”

The DEC said that it had opened an investigation after receiving a complaint in May.

“Unfortunately we cannot give much detail when discussing ongoing investigations,” Spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo wrote in an email, but, she added, “DEC received a complaint in May regarding the use of chemicals at [the] Woodmere Club. DEC’s investigation is ongoing. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.” The DEC would not reveal the name of the chemical.

Efrem Gerszberg, one of the two developers who bought the club in 2017, said that the chemical “was legally allowed to be sprayed and there is no correlation with what we sprayed and the [dead] wildlife.” Robert Weiss is the other developer.

The $200 million lawsuit filed by Gerszberg and Weiss is challenging the creation of a Coastal Conservation District that the Town of Hempstead and the villages of Lawrence and Woodsburgh approved last year. It would pare the number of houses that could be built on 114.5 acres of the club’s 118 acres from the proposed 284 to 83.

The Coastal Conservation District would divide the club property into three subdistricts. An 83.3-acre parcel — 70 percent of the site — would be designated an open space and recreation subdistrict.

There would also be a single-family residential subdistrict comprising 29.4 acres, or 24 percent of the property, and a 5.7-acre clubhouse/hospitality subdistrict, accounting for 5 percent of the land.

Gerszberg and Weiss are aiming to build a development called Willow View Estates. Their plan calls for 247 homes within Woodmere’s boundaries, 24 in Woodsburgh and 13 in Lawrence. “

The lawsuit is moving forward very nicely,” Gerszberg said, adding that he anticipated a decision by the end of 2022.

The last public Nassau County Planning Commission hearing on the proposed development was Nov. 17. A public comment period closed on Jan. 8, and the comments were given to the developers to finalize an environmental impact statement, county officials said.

The pending litigation has halted the application approval process. If the court rules in the developers’ favor, they will proceed with the 284-home plan. If the court rules for the municipalities, the 83-home Coastal Conservation District plan could move forward.

Have an opinion on the proposed development at the Woodmere Club? Send a letter to jbessen@liherald.com.