Residents of the Salt Pond community, just outside Bethany Beach, have been in the center of booming development in the area recently and are now seeking to reduce its impact on their way of life.
The planned development of a shopping center anchored by a Harris Teeter supermarket just outside the Salt Pond, on land formerly occupied by a miniature golf course, has raised concerns about increases in traffic, noise, people and lighting on the residential community.
So, representatives of the Salt Pond Homeowners Association (SPHA) have been keeping themselves involved with the development process at the planned Salt Pond Plaza, to try to reduce those impacts.
“We’ve been following it through the permitting process, and we’re working to have a constructive, collaborative relationship with the tenants coming in there, and to minimize any negative impacts,” said Salt Pond homeowner and SPHA committee member Cheryl Wisbrock. “They’ve made themselves accessible,” she added. “We feel good about it.”
Meanwhile, homeowners in the Salt Pond have also grown increasingly concerned about the potential sale of the golf course at the Salt Pond, whose ownership was retained by Salt Pond Associates (SPA). SPA is owned and operated by Salt Pond developer Rupert Smith, who also designed the course.
“SPA could continue to operate the golf course as it does today, convert the land to open green space, or sell it to another golf course operator or to a developer,” SPHA documents state of the course’s future. “The end result could be development of part or the whole golf course, or management by a golf course operator who does not maintain the course adequately.”
Many of the Salt Pond’s homes line the edges of the 18-hole course, which is considered a centerpiece to the community even though it is not owned by the residents. But with development pressure still heavy in coastal Sussex County, there are fears that Smith will sell the course to someone who would then develop its picturesque 59 acres for additional residential units.
The SPHA board said SPA has already “expressed an interest in building homes on the golf course.”
“Development of the entire golf course into single homes or multi-family condominiums as the developer or others might do is inconsistent with all of our expectations when we purchased here, and, most importantly, will significantly degrade the overall quality of life we experience here and negatively impact property values of each of the current owners,” the SPHA board’s formal statement on the subject to homeowners reads.
The SBHA estimates some 10 to 20 percent of the value of Salt Pond properties comes from the golf course.
Purchase option on the table
Property owners in the Salt Pond have been discussing the prospect of the course being developed for months now — most recently at a July 14 informational meeting — and SPHA board members are poised to ask them whether they’re prepared to make the ultimate commitment to preserving the golf course and their views.
In negotiations with Smith regarding a possible purchase of the golf club, the SPHA board on May 25 obtained an agreement with Smith that gives the SPHA the exclusive option to purchase the lands and golf club business for $2.3 million, “thereby preventing the future development of this open space by the developer and giving the association the final say on how the golf course property will be managed and cared for in the future,” according to SPHA documents.
SPHA estimates the value of the property to be more than the $2.3 million figure, based on the asking price of existing Salt Pond lots for around $300,000 each. The SPHA has until Nov. 2 to exercise their exclusive purchase option.
On Saturday, Aug. 11, at 10 a.m., the SPHA will hold a special meeting with balloting on the issue. The question will be whether the association can we get enough homeowners onboard with the purchase — two-thirds of the 538 lots, or 359 votes — to formally make the decision to purchase the golf course, as required by the Salt Pond’s bylaws and covenants.
If the vote is successful, a special assessment would be made to collect the funds needed to buy the golf course property and it would become part of the Salt Pond community’s common areas. The SPHA estimates that the one-time assessment, per lot, will be around $5,000, to cover the cost of the purchase, associated expenses and start-up costs.
The SPHA board is also working on arranging financing options for homeowners who aren’t able to pay that one-time assessment in cash, to help facilitate the purchase and make a solid vote for the purchase feasible, with installment payments over the next three years and bank financing to be offered for the assessment cost.
The SBHA estimates that a $500,000 property in the community could lose $50,000 to $100,000 in value, which they emphasize could be prevented with a $5,000 investment by each homeowner.
Board strongly recommends purchase
“The Board, wishing to gain control of the golf course for the community to manage open space and lands in the best interest of the residents and to retain the resort quality lifestyle that attracted us to Salt Pond, is therefore recommending a favorable vote on the resolutions,” the SPHA documents state.
“SPHA owners have a unique opportunity to ensure that the golf course land remains open space, to protect our property values and to sustain the character, ambience and quality of life in the Salt Pond,” the documents read. “If SPHA does not purchase the golf course, it is extremely likely that the golf course will be developed,” the board warned.
Should the SBHA purchase the course, board members said it is unlikely that property owners will get free or reduced memberships, since the course currently operates at only a modest profit. It would most likely be operated with an aim to at least break even, to be self-sustaining so that no further special assessments are needed.
“We now have a unique opportunity to control the single biggest threat to this community and to protect that open space and our property values,” SPHA board members advised homeowners in May.
In the coming weeks, it will be up to those Salt Pond homeowners to decide whether they want to cement the future of the golf course as open space or whether they will risk its loss to the continuing pressure to build even more residences near the Delaware shore.