The atmosphere surrounding Woodcrest Country Club has been low-key in the three months since the 170-acre golf course was sold at auction for $10.1 million.
The legal equivalent of yelling "FORE!" — in the form of a lawsuit filed Wednesday by a housing advocacy group — has brought the 84-year-old Cherry Hill golf course back into the middle of development tumult.
The advocacy group, Fair Share Housing Center, filed an appeal in New Jersey Superior Court seeking to void a state ruling that excludes the large green space from sewer service.
Fair Share, which touts itself as "devoted to defending the housing rights of New Jersey's poor," argues the golf course has been designated since 1993 as "a site that would be used to satisfy part of the township's substantial affordable housing obligations under the Mount Laurel doctrine."
An attorney for Fair Share said Thursday that a recent ruling by the state Department of Environmental Protection to exclude the huge property on Evesham Road from sewer service is an attempt to block potential future development.
"We want the township to live up to its obligations for affordable housing," Fair Share Housing Center associate director Kevin Walsh said.
Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash, in a statement Thursday, alluded to a connection between the advocacy group's filing and the new owners of Woodcrest Country Club, a development company called First Montgomery Group, which won the May 21 auction.
First Montgomery develops and owns apartment complexes and shopping centers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware and is owned by Richard Haydinger and his three sons. The Haydingers narrowly beat out Camden County investors George E. Norcross III and Ira Lubert, who had bid $10 million.
"I would be remiss if I didn't point out an obvious question which is prompted by the filing of this suit, which is who is the beneficiary? Is this a means to end for development by First Montgomery Group? Nash said in the statement.
"There may be more than meets the eyes to this warrantless legal action and it is very possible this Trojan horse could be used to destroy a time-honored place in Camden County," Nash wrote. "And again, as I've already said, over my dead body will high density development take place at Woodcrest Country Club."
A message left for Haydinger at his Marlton office was not returned Thursday afternoon.
At the time of the auction, his son Matthew Haydinger said, "We are aware it's an area and a piece of land that impacts a lot of people, and we are absolutely taking that into consideration."
The day after the auction, the Inquirer reported a website that appeared to be connected to First Montgomery described a "grand re-opening" of the golf course.
Three weeks later, it did just that, opening the course in early June to golfers.
First Montgomery has given no inclination in the months since to seek a zoning change for the property, which currently is not zoned to allow residential development.
But Nash said he would be shocked if there wasn't a connection between First Montgomery and the court filing by Fair Share Housing Center this week.
"I may be a politician, but I wasn't born yesterday," Nash said in a telephone interview.
Walsh said Fair Share simply wants Cherry Hill to provide the 1,800 affordable housing units that it has been mandated to through state laws. He said the township currently has 700 to 800 units with plans for a couple hundred more.
"We think the exclusion is simply an attempt to block the [golf course] from development," he said.