Council addresses golf club issue

Golfers finish a hole at the Watertown Golf Club. WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES

WATERTOWN — The owner of the Watertown Golf Club is making progress in resolving some encroachment issues at Thompson Park that sparked criticism from a competitor last spring, City Manager Rick Finn said.

Mr. Finn insisted that golf club owner Michael E. Lundy has done what he was told to do in resolving the encroachment issues at the park.

Last year, P.J. Simao, who owns Ives Hill Country Club, learned that the golf club was encroaching on city parkland at the city-owned park, with a septic system, gravel parking lot and cart storage area located on city property.

The city gave him until this past Monday to resolve the issues. An original deadline was set for July 31.

Mr. Finn will give the city an update on Mr. Lundy’s progress at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think he has any outstanding violations,” Mr. Finn said.

However, Mr. Simao disagreed, accusing the city of allowing Mr. Lundy to not abide by the agreement to correct the encroachment issues.

“The city is just kicking the can down the road,” Mr. Simao said.

Calling it “a sham agreement,” he also accused city officials of misleading the public and the courts that the work would be done when they knew it wasn’t going to be.

“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” he said.

Mr. Lundy, who couldn’t be reached for comment, removed dozens of golf carts from city land, which was done in conjunction with the demolition of the old pro shop.

He also took steps to make some minor changes to the public golf course that would eliminate other encroachment issues at Thompson Park, the city manager said.

However, there are two other major encroachment issues remaining, including whether to use city sewer facilities or install a septic system.

The city still needs to get approval from state lawmakers to connect the sewer line into the golf course. The city would be required to pursue so-called “home rule” legislation for the sewer line connection to the golf course.

“We need to get their blessing first,” Mr. Finn said, adding that the work would have to wait until next spring.

Mr. Finn said that the sewer line connection is preferred over installing a septic system at the golf course, adding a septic tank would be a potential environmental problem.

The controversy over golf club members parking on parkland was resolved by putting up a sign at the location that gives permission for the public to park there, Mr. Finn said.

Mr. Simao warned that home rule legislation could take a year or more, questioning whether the city will continue to allow Mr. Lundy to get by without solving the septic tank issue.

Mr. Lundy has still promised to create a gravel parking lot at that location, but has told the city he hopes to complete that work by the end of the year, Mr. Finn said.

Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero has been asking for the information from Mr. Finn.

“I guess we’ll see what more will be discussed,” she said.

Before Monday, Mr. Finn will make sure that a water pumping station was actually removed and three tee boxes encroaching on city property were also moved.

Last year, Mr. Simao filed a lawsuit, alleging that the golf club is using the land without paying any additional rent on its lease with the city.

In June, state Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky ruled that Watertown Golf Club Inc.’s encroachments onto city parkland were a separate issue from any pertaining to the club’s lease of city land.

Since then, Mr. Simao appealed Judge McClusky’s decision.

The parking lot won’t have to go through site plan review because it will be considered a city project.

City projects — whether they are in Thompson Park, another city park or any other parking lot it would build — don’t require site plan approval, Mr. Finn said.

Nonetheless, it must go through an environmental review process to determine its environmental impact on the park, he said.

Time line

Feb. 3: Watertown Golf Club owner Michael E. Lundy acknowledges at a city Planning Board meeting that an overflow parking lot used by the club is on city, not club, property.

Feb. 8: P.J. Simao, owner of competitor Ives Hill Country Club, learns of the parking lot encroachment through the release of Planning Board meeting minutes.

April 2: A survey of golf club land confirms that golf cart storage, a gravel parking lot and a septic system are on city property.

April 15: City Manager Rick Finn states at a City Council meeting that the encroachments exist, including the parking lot, golf cart storage and septic system and tells the council, “This is a very serious thing.”

April 22: Mr. Simao files a motion to renew an earlier dismissed state Supreme Court lawsuit over the city’s lease with the club, contending the new information about the encroachments would have changed the suit’s outcome.

May 30: Mr. Lundy files an affidavit in Supreme Court that states his plan is to build a new septic system. Designs for the work will be completed and approved by DEC by July, he says. A stone parking lot on club property will be completed by the end of July. A fenced-in enclosure for golf carts will be torn down and a new cart storage facility will be completed by July. Mr. Lundy says this will require an environmental review which will be completed by July, with construction completed within 90 days of approval. A redesign of the golf course layout will be required, Mr. Lundy said, with this expected to be done by the end of September.

May 30: Mr. Finn files a letter to Mr. Lundy with the court stating the completion date for the removal of the existing septic system and installation of a new system is July 30. Also, a new parking lot at club expense will be completed and the removal of the golf carts from city property will be completed by July 30. The removal of some tee boxes and cart paths that encroach on city property will be corrected by no later than Sept. 30, the letter said.

June 11: The City Council agrees to put up a public parking sign at the overflow parking lot, allowing both club patrons and the public to use it.

July 19: Judge James P. McClusky denies Mr. Simao’s motion to renew.

Oct. 2: Mr. Finn reports that progress has been made on resolving the encroachment issues, although the issue over the septic system will likely have to wait until spring to be resolved as the city will need state Legislature action for it to occur.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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