Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Should We Use Open Space Money To Bail Out Golf Course Developer?

I'll give you open space
Do you think it's a good idea to spend $300,000 in Northampton County's open space fund to help complete the purchase of a failed golf course? Northampton County does. Altogether, government officials plan to pay developer Alex Patullo $1,775,000 to purchase the now defunct Woodland Hills Golf Course, located in Lower Saucon Township. That's $11,486 an acre. "To me, it's a no-brainer," exclaimed Open Space Chair Scott Parsons. "This is exactly what our open space is about." That's what bothers me. The public's money is being used to provide a soft landing for a developer whose business plans went awry. People who pay their real estate taxes on time will bail out a golf course developer who himself has been delinquent on his own tax bill. This purchase will just make his remaining lands, which include a clubhouse, all that more valuable.

Bryan Cope warned Northampton County Council's Open Space Committee yesterday that, unless it is purchased and preserved, Patullo plans to build a 50-lot subdivision at the site. He claimed plans have already been submitted. So basically, he is holding a gun to the county's head. But just how successful would he be?

One thing Cope neglected to point out is that the land is zoned RA, or rural agricultural. Now I have no idea how he was ever permitted to build a golf course there, but I do know that a 50-lot residential development is no agricultural use. He would need a use variance. The Commonwealth Court denied his attempt to get a use variance for the clubhouse in 2011. Neighbors, one of whom includes prominent Attorney Steve Goudsouzian, stopped Patullo from turning the clubhouse into some sort of tavern.

But other points made by Cope made more sense. He noted that the high water quality of the Saucon Creek was damaged by pollutants when the property was used as a golf course. Even more important, township officials are concerned that further development in this area will make the chronic flooding along Easton and Lower Saucon Roads even worse during storms.

Before this was a golf course, this was farmland. Good farmland. I know because my best friend from grade school grew up across the street, on another farm.

Spending $300,000 to help some tax delinquent developer make his banquet hall all that more exclusive is a waste of public money. The highest and best use of this property is as farmland, not some goofy bird-watching sanctuary. I have written before about our disappearing farmland, which has resulted in a disappearing farmer. Establishing a farm is one way to reverse that trend. The zoning is in place to keep greedy developers from exploiting the land.

So this request should be denied.

It's a no-brainer.

I called Ron Angle, the Northampton County Bulldog, last night to explain what was being planned. He was highly critically of most "environmentally sensitive land" projects during his years on Council. After laughing, he told me, "You can't breed two hound dogs and expect to get a collie."

I have no idea what that means, but it sounds good.

He also said, "The people got what they wanted."

I know what that means.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would not worry about Lower Saucon twp. the bigshots down there have blocked major development of years. The Saucon Valley country club crowd is powerful and no damn housing development will go in.

Hell they stopped a route 78 exit they can stop a shitty development.

So in summation, "no cash for you!"

Anonymous said...

I thought Scott Parsons was for the working guy. He apparently isn't. Does he pay taxes?

Anonymous said...

I don't see the need to spend money bailing him out, since the township has successfully been shooting down various subdivision proposals for this property for probably about 10 years now. He even at one point had it under contract to Heritage Building Group, even they couldn't get anywhere with Lower Saucon.

Local golfers know that Patullo basically stopped maintaining the course while it was still open, which drove away any remaining customers, while he started pursuing development deals. Any golf course that wasn't performing in the late 1990s/early 2000s couldn't blame the economy since that was the peak era for golf in this country.

Anonymous said...

Do not bail out this private golf course. Northampton County has the land yo build their own course. They can use the Gracedale Property and turn it into a cash cow. The Valley is short 11 golf courses according to the JPC. They can build a course (they already own the land), contract out the running of the course to Palmer or Nicklaus and offset the cost of their parks program. Now that's a no brainer.

Bill Coker said...

Woodland Hills has existed since at least 1965 and was formerly owned by Bob Hutnik. Its downfall is all attributable to Patullo's lack of maintenance and attempt to get upscale prices for a low end course. Bailing him out is a joke.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I thought Scott Parsons was for the working guy. He apparently isn't. Does he pay taxes?"

I thought so, too, and he usually is. This is sheer nonsense.

A person named "Alex Patullo" was recently arrested in a road rage incident. I'd like to see that matter explored as well before deciding on this matter. Over all, I say no. It has a smell about it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Do not bail out this private golf course. Northampton County has the land yo build their own course."

There are no plans to restore the golf course. The plan is to turn it into some kind of nature preserve.

Scott Alderfer said...

I'm a Lehigh County resident, so it's none of my business. BUT ... consider that if the county purchases the land, the county can lease the property to a local farmer and make a modest but reliable return on their investment year after year in perpetuity. The county would likely be a better steward to guard against excessive runoff and contaminants heading for Saucon Creek. As the North American climate continues to change over the next couple of decades and California runs out of water to irrigate all of their ag fields, I think we in PA are going to increasingly regret not stopping more of our farm fields from being paved over for warehouses and townhouses.

Anonymous said...

A county golf course is a stupid idea. Golf courses nationwide are suffering. Golf is losing ground. Not many young people into golf. It is to the point were the golf industry is doing commercials and horror upon horror outreaching to poor kids trying to get them into golf.

It is dying and not something a government should decide to saddle itself with.

The Third Eye

Bernie O'Hare said...

Third Eye, Maybe you need a fourth eye. The county has no intention of getting involved in the golf course buz. This purchase is to turn the course into some kind of preserve.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Scott, the county isn't even purchasing it. It will go to some conservancy.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Alex Patullo arrested in the road rage incident is the son of the golf course owner.

Anonymous said...

Like hell. His investment failed, shit happens so don't come looking for taxpayer handouts. Especially when you don't pay your own taxes.

Hank_Hill

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I believe the Alex Patullo arrested in the road rage incident is the son of the golf course owner."

OK. Then this is a red herring. The sins of the son shall not be visited upon the father.

Peter J.Cochran said...

ANSWER; Bernie, Absolutely Not!! Golf people should pay their own freight!Let the market place determine the luxuries that are derived.This should not be on the backs of some working class guy that can't use this facility, especially if he or she would like but can't BECAUSE his taxes are too high , this would be an insult,kick in his or her teeth , Labor folks we do have that don't opt to get on some form of Obama welfare of some sort. The working folks should be hailed and rewarded not constantly being taxed and kicked around like unwanted dogs.