South Blooming Grove finishes review of 600-home Clovewood project – Times Herald-Record

Posted By on August 12, 2022

The former Lake Anne Country Club under construction

Drone video of the former Lake Anne Country Club under construction

John Meore and Peter Carr, Times Herald-Record

SOUTH BLOOMING GROVE - No one has shot a hole of golf at the former Lake Anne Country Club for more than 20 years. The ramshackle rental homes have long been vacant. Investors who bought the giant tract for $15 million in 2006 have pursued one goal since then: to build homes there.

They will soon get their wish.

Plans for a 600-home development next to Schunnemunk Mountain came closer to approval on Tuesday when two South Blooming Grove boards concluded a four-year environmental review they led for the Clovewood project. With their approval of a 24-page summary of their findings, only a few steps remain for construction to begin at a 708-acre site that already has been cleared.

"I am so thrilled," Mayor George Kalaj said after the Village Board and Planning Board unanimously approved the findings statement during a Zoom meeting. "It was very important that we move this forward."

The project means big growth for a village that had nearly 4,000 residents in 2020 and has become a largely Satmar Hasidic community in the last few years. Planners estimate the 600 four-bedroom homes alone will house roughly 3,100 people, based on the larger family sizes in the nearby Satmar village of Kiryas Joel. The estimate rises to about 3,800 if the buyers add an accessory apartment to every home, according to the environmental review.

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The project site takes up nearly a quarter of the village's 5-square-mile territory, but more than half of the property is spared from development in the plans. The 600 houses are set to be built on 347 acres, along with six playgrounds and four community centers.

One of the most pressing questions about the project was how so large a housing development would find enough drinking water in an area that has had longstanding groundwater struggles. Planners have answered that in the environmental review by saying the six on-site wells they plan to use can furnish up to 785,520 gallons per day, far more than the 260,000 average daily gallons they estimate 600 houses would use.

The property, and the visions for its future use, had a long, colorful history before getting to this stage.

Lake Anne Country Club was a former bungalow colony with a golf course and dozens of rental homes. Marvin Greene, the businessman who owned the property since 1952, hatched a series of wide-ranging redevelopment schemes over the years that never came to fruition, including plans for a Chinese theme park, a landfill, a 500-room hotel and a high-stakes bingo operation run by a Native American tribe.

In a tragic twist, the 88-year-old Greene was beaten to death by two men in a robbery in 2000.

Four years after his death, Blooming Grove officials discussed buying the massive property and turning it into a town park. But Greene's family instead sold it to a dozen investors who later said in a bankruptcy court filing that they wanted to build multi-family housing for the growing Satmar community. The same year the land was sold, residents voted to incorporate the village of South Blooming Grove in an effort to tighten control over future development.

The full property the investors bought covers 852 acres and includes a 158-acre parcel that is outside village borders in the town of Blooming Grove and is not part of the Clovewood plans, according to Orange County property records.

Greene's family, which had lent the buyers $10 million of the $15 million purchase price, began foreclosure proceedings in 2011 when the investors - known as Keen Equities - defaulted on the mortgage payments. Keen Equities halted the foreclosure by filing for bankruptcy in 2013, declaring that it owed the Greenes $6.5 million in principal and interest. The bankruptcy case is still open, with Keen making regular payments to the Greenes under a court-approved schedule.

No formal development plans were submitted until 2014, when Keen proposed 620 homes - 512 single-family lots and 54 duplex lots. That proposal evolved into the 600-home Clovewood project that began in earnest with the submission of a draft environmental impact statement in 2018.

South Blooming Grove's population was shifting by then with a steady influx of Satmar families, largely from nearby Kiryas Joel and from Brooklyn. That turnover led to swift political change, with voters electing all new municipal leaders in 2020 and 2021 and the new mayor replacing the entire planning board. It was those two new boards that ushered the Clovewood environmental review to a close by approving a final environmental impact statement last month and the findings statement this week.

Speaking after this week's vote, Simon Gelb, the project's planner, alluded to the long planning process and gave "special thanks" to the two new boards that completed the environmental review. He recalled first meeting with village officials to discuss the plans in 2013.

"I am grateful for everyone's involvement in this project since its inception," Gelb said.

The Clovewood development will have entrances on Clove Road and Route 208 and be connected to two roads in the adjacent Capitol Hill neighborhood, according to the review. Sewage will be treated by a new plant that will be able to handle up to 280,000 gallons per day. The plans feature two housing types of 2,500 square feet and 3,750 square feet.

Chris McKenna covers government and politics for the Times Herald-Record and USA Today Network. Reach him at cmckenna@th-record.com

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South Blooming Grove finishes review of 600-home Clovewood project - Times Herald-Record

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