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PONDERLODGE GOLF CLUB
The 239-acre Ponderlodge Golf Course, in bankruptcy and on the brink of foreclosure, was purchased by the New Jersey Green Acres Program on March 1, 2006. The Lower Township tract sold for $8.45 million, settling roughly $8 million in accumulated debt, including back taxes of $291,000 paid immediately to the township.
The deal was originally supposed to include the county and Lower Township as part of the purchasing team, but they were relying on grants and low-interest loans which didn’t come through in time. If the transfer of Ponderlodge hadn’t been consummated by March 1, the largest creditor – Steamboat Capital of Princeton – could have foreclosed on the property and sold it for development. The only way to preserve the tract was for the state to step in alone and close the deal.
K. Hovnanian, the seventh largest builder in the country, had previously had the property under contract to purchase for an undisclosed sum. When the Lower Township Planning Board turned down their request for a zoning change, which would have permitted them to build 390 units where only 81 were allowed, K. Hovnanian pulled out.
The state is now leaning toward having the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife manage the preserve. That has set up a new battle – environmentalists vs golfers. The state appears to intend to use the property for the general public’s enjoyment of nature walks, bicycle trails, birdwatching, and other passive recreation, plus as a wildlife sanctuary. Some local residents and Lower Township want the property kept as a municipal golf course.
The reality: Cape May County has an overabundance of golf courses. County owned golf courses in New Jersey are a bust financially, so taxpayers basically end up subsidizing the golfer’s low green’s fees. Golf courses are expensive to maintain, and they use an extraordinary amount of precious water and add much fertilizers and pesticides to the ground. On the flip side, a nature preserve adds valuable ground to the Atlantic Flyway, one of three main routes in North America for migratory birds. The preserve would offer more recreation opportunities to a more diverse group of people than a golf course.
Stay tuned and we’ll see how this emotional issue plays out.