Lebanon golf course appeal headed to NH Supreme Court

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/19/2021 10:51:36 PM
Modified: 5/19/2021 11:48:18 PM

LEBANON — The New Hampshire Supreme Court will hear arguments next week in a case that could determine the future of Carter Country Club, the historic nine-hole golf course off Mechanic Street in Lebanon.

Justices are being asked to decide whether New London developer Doug Homan owns the property outright — and is therefore free to make changes or do away with the course, as a Superior Court judge ruled last year — or whether protections planned more than three decades ago are still enforceable.

The nonprofit Carter Community Building Association argues it holds the rights to a 1986 retainer that could be used to prevent the golf course from being redeveloped for housing

Those rights stem from a sale agreement between the late Meriden developer Edmond “Peanie” Goodwin and developer Fred Fish.

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.

Goodwin, who was selling the 47-acre golf course after trying to develop some adjoining land, sought to preserve the course and stipulated in the 1986 agreement 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.

“The language of the deed creates a reversion interest. It says as much in black and white,” Hanover attorney Jeremy Eggleton, who represents the CCBA, wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court.

Eggleton is appealing two rulings made by Grafton Superior Court Judge Lawrence MacLeod last year.

In the first, MacLeod found that the handoff between the old Carter Country Club Inc. and the CCBA was invalid. He then ruled last May that Homan, who purchased the golf course in 1990, rightfully inherited the protections.

In his briefs, Eggleton argues that both court orders run contrary to the intention of lawyers, shareholders and the nonprofits that negotiated the golf course protections, citing affidavits from those involved in talks.

He also says that the CCBA should be allowed to enforce the protection. It was chosen by Goodwin and shareholders to protect the golf course because of its “recreational focus that would not be tempted, as the City might, to convert recreational property for tax, housing, or economic purposes.”

Concord-based attorney Samantha Elliott, who represents Homan, argues in filings that the protections can’t be classified as a reverter and are instead a right of reentry. The distinction between the two is that the holder of a right of reentry can choose whether to take control of a property after an agreement is broken, while the person holding a reverter isn’t given that choice.

A right of reentry also is often nontransferable, unlike a reverter, Elliott wrote.

She goes on to say that a 1991 court case already divested the former shareholders of all interest in the property and warns that the case would have a major impact on Homan’s business interests.

If the justices side with the CCBA, “Carter, a private entity, cannot use a large tract of land for anything other than a nine-hole golf course and cannot sell the land for any other use,” she said. “There is no corresponding public benefit.”

Homan, the owner of Lake Sunapee Country Club, has indicated on multiple occasions that he hopes to develop the golf course and surrounding properties for housing.

For 3½ years, Homan sought Planning Board permission to build a 306-home subdivision uphill from Mechanic Street.

He never won Planning Board approval for that subdivision plan, which would have relocated the golf course.

Homan then came forward in 2018 with a new proposal for 186 senior housing units, 400 apartments, a 300-seat restaurant and 60,000 square feet of retail space. That project was never formally submitted to the city.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case at 1 p.m. Thursday, May 27.

Two justices with Upper Valley ties have recused themselves, according to the court’s oral arguments calendar. Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald, a Hanover native who graduated from Dartmouth College in 1983, and James Bassett, who is also a Dartmouth graduate, will not hear the case.

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

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