Judge opens path for Carter Country Club owner to develop land

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/5/2020 9:30:57 PM
Modified: 8/5/2020 9:30:50 PM

NORTH HAVERHILL —The future of Carter Country Club, the historic nine-hole golf course off Route 4 in Lebanon, could be in jeopardy after a Grafton Superior Court judge recently lifted decades-old restrictions that shielded the property from development.

New London developer Doug Homan holds full rights to the golf course, meaning he could relocate or even demolish its greens and fairways, under a May 15 ruling issued by Judge Lawrence MacLeod.

MacLeod’s decision, which was maintained in a separate July 15 order, also nullifies legal rights to preserve the golf course previously bestowed on the nonprofit Carter Community Building Association.

“He now owns it outright without development constraints, according to that court order,” Jeremy Eggleton, the Hanover-based attorney who represents the CCBA, said Wednesday.

Eggleton said the CCBA is considering an appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. It has until Aug. 14 to make a decision.

The court case — which kicked off in 2018 when Homan sued the CCBA — largely revolved around the wishes of the late Meriden developer Edmond “Peanie” Goodwin.

Goodwin acquired a controlling majority of the country club’s stock in 1983 but after trouble developing the surrounding land, sold the 47-acre golf course in 1986 to Lynnfield, Mass., developer Fred Fish. In the sale agreement, he stipulated that “at all times, in perpetuity, a nine-hole golf course shall be maintained and operated on the premises.”

If a golf course was not available for more than one year, the title was supposed to revert to the nonprofit Carter Country Club Inc., which then transferred its rights to the CCBA and dissolved.

However, MacLeod ruled earlier this year that the legal handoff was invalid, leaving some to believe that the golf course protections lie with shareholders of the now-defunct Carter Country Club Inc.

“If there’s property left over when a corporation dissolves, it goes to the shareholders. It just automatically does,” said Lebanon attorney Barry Schuster, who helped negotiate the 1986 golf course protections.

Schuster said Thursday that the same is true of property restrictions, such as conservation easements.

Once a property owner dies or a legal entity goes away, those protections are passed down, he said.

But MacLeod took a different view in his May 15 ruling, siding with Homan and his Concord-based attorney Samantha Elliott who argued that the developer, and not those initially charged with preserving the golf course, inherited the rights.

In court filings, they contended that a 1991 ruling already divested the former shareholders of all interest in the land.

A 2008 state law also should have voided the protections because the shareholders failed to file a renewal notice before its 2011 deadline, Homan and Elliott argued. Messages left for both Thursday were not returned.

Eggleton sees problems with both arguments. The 1991 case, he said, didn’t address the golf course protections and explicitly set them aside for future court action.

Meanwhile, the 2008 law didn’t apply to charitable organizations like the CCBA, so the shareholders couldn’t have known to file a renewal, Eggleton said.

“It’s not like the shareholders of the original Carter Country Club accounted for this because they thought it was already taken care of,” he said, adding it was always the intent of Goodwin and his descendants that the country club remain.

“How can you take what is clearly the intention of both parties and then say just because of a scrivener’s error, it’s not valid?” he asked. “But the court ultimately disagreed with us on that.”

It’s unclear what Homan, the owner of Lake Sunapee Country Club, intends to do with the news.

Since purchasing the Lebanon property in 2012, he’s become a controversial figure among city officials and those living in the nearby Kings Grant neighborhood because of his attempts to build on the golf course and surrounding acres.

Built in 1923, the course was designed by Donald Ross, a noted golf course architect, and is his only nine-hole course in New Hampshire, according to the club’s website.

Some of Homan’s most recent proposals for the property include a 306-home subdivision uphill from Mechanic Street, aka Route 4 — which resulted in a 3 ½-year battle with neighbors and the Lebanon Planning Board — as well as a mixed-use development situated closer to Route 4.

Homan never won Planning Board approval for that subdivision plan, which would have seen the golf course relocated, and in 2018 he came forward with a new proposal for 186 senior housing units, 400 apartments, a 300-seat restaurant and 60,000 square feet of retail space.

However, it’s unclear whether his so-called “Kings Grant Village Neighborhood” will wind up before city planners.

Lebanon Planning Director David Brooks said Wednesday he hasn’t heard about the project since early 2019 and no formal designs were submitted to the city.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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