A picture of a sign reading “What Should We Build” standing next to the now-closed golf course on Nesconset Highway in Terryville gained a few chuckles, before heads turned down in thought. Just what should be there? And who, if not the property owners, will do it?
The Heatherwood Golf Course, owned by Commack-based Heatherwood Golf and Villa, has been under strenuous controversy for the last few years as it tried in vain to build an apartment complex on the site. The site was closed this year, and the property facing the road has started to become overgrown.
The apartment complex would have halved the number of holes at the golf course from 18 to nine on property that covers both Port Jefferson Station and Centereach. Back in 2014, the owners were granted a zoning change to the Heatherwood property to allow them to build the new condominiums for people 55 and older. Both Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) dissented. In 2018 the town planning board conditionally approved plans for the property.
In a phone interview, Cartright said owners have three years since the planning board approved its plans, specifically Aug. 20, 2021, to finish the last four of 16 conditions of the approval, otherwise they would not be able to start construction.
In 2019, the property owner had sent two separate proposals to the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency for a payment in lieu of taxes agreement. The IDA shot down the owner’s first $7 million proposal, with some on the board citing the minimal number of jobs such a project would create. Just a few months later in November, the owner came back to the IDA with a newer, less intense $2.2 million tax break proposal. In a four to three split vote, that new PILOT proposal was rejected yet again in December.
And local civics haven’t budged from their antipathy toward any of those same PILOT agreements. Civic members from both Port Jefferson Station and Three Village have previously shared concerns about lost tax revenue for school districts as well as traffic concerns.
Sal Pitti, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, said he felt the property owner was being “vindictive” in letting it become overgrown because the IDA did not acquiesce to any new tax breaks. He called owners “greedy” for trying to relinquish the one true benefit to the community the project would have, that being school taxes.
“If they did the project normally, think about all the money they would have saved back then,” Pitti said. “The guy’s pushing for what he wants and how he wants it, and that’s why he’s letting the property get so overgrown.”
Representatives of Heatherwood did not return a request for comment by press time.
Since its second IDA rejection, the owners have been largely silent about plans for the property. The Heatherwood Golf Course was officially closed this year. Weeds and grass have grown long in the absence of much or any care, and Cartright said the owners have been put on notice and are on a 14-day clock, starting from last week, before town workers move in to cut the grass.
The question of who erected that cheeky sign belies the question: what is the future for the property? Suggestions on Facebook ranged from a park to a vineyard to a shooting range.
Cartright said that as far as she knows the developer is still moving forward with their plans. As much as community members would like to see another public park, the councilwoman made it clear the town cannot simply buy up private land.
“It’s not our land — you have to have a willing seller to purchase anything as open space,” she said. “Though they still have an obligation for cleaning up their property.”
But Heatherwood has long had everything it needs to start up a new apartment complex, though it has before cited the need for those tax breaks before they can start any real development.
Pitti said that while the owners still need to keep the property facing the street somewhat nice, it wouldn’t be so bad to see the rest of it reclaimed by nature. Better yet, he asked, why not let it return to being a golf course.
“I think the community loved it when it was a golf course,” he said. “It wasn’t like it wasn’t profitable — people went and used that golf course, even during the winter months — it was a sport people enjoyed, it was a clean well-kept property.”