Homebuilder proposes development of bankrupt Highland Country Club; creditors to be repaid

Jeremy Boren
| Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

A custom homebuilder that wants to transform Highland Country Club's overgrown fairways into an upscale housing development plans to repay dozens of former club members and creditors who feared losing their money in the shuttered club's bankruptcy.

Heartland Homes hopes to build a mix of more than 300 townhomes and single-family homes on the former 18-hole golf course's 120-acre property in Ross. Before it can begin, it needs to obtain approval from township planning officials and it must clear more than $2.5 million in claims creditors and members have filed against the club's former ownership group.

“They wanted to undertake this effort to pay those involved,” said David Rudov, a bankruptcy attorney representing the property owners. “A lot of people want to see this done.”

Martin Gillespie, president of Heartland Homes, and partner David Caste, teamed to form Limerick Land Partners, which in April bought the club and J&J Holdings, the club's bankrupt ownership group,.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey A. Deller tentatively approved the repayment plan and set a hearing for Nov. 27 to finalize it. More than 100 creditors must vote by Nov. 20 on the plan.

J&J Holdings HCC LP, a partnership of Jeff Cuny of Cranberry and Jeff Garbinski of Franklin, Butler County, bought the club, in December 2009 in a deal with a group of longtime members. Highland closed in October 2011 and stopped collecting membership fees. In December, a judge sentenced Garbinski to 18 months of house arrest and two years of probation after he pleaded guilty to stealing money from the club, which opened in 1920.

Rudov said Slovak Savings Bank in Brighton Heights, the largest creditor, would get payments on a more than $2 million delinquent mortgage once lots begin to sell.

Ross, North Hills School District and Allegheny County are in line for repayment for a combined $90,911 in delinquent taxes.

Sixteen lifetime club members, who were promised free access to the course and its facilities when they sold the club to Cuny and Garbinski, are slated to receive $3,000 payments, 60 percent of their original $5,000 investment. Eighty other members will receive about $1,500 as compensation for free rounds of golf they were promised but didn't receive.

“They could have elected to go straight to liquidation and not paid anybody,” said Richard Schubert, a former Highland member and a lawyer with the Downtown law firm AlpernSchubert P.C. representing fellow members. “I think they're trying to do the right thing as much as possible under the circumstances.”

Schubert said members approved the settlement.

“Clearly it's a nice prospect that a developer is going to come in with a residential proposal,” said Ross Commissioner Dan DeMarco, who hasn't reviewed Heartland's plans. “We want to get those back taxes that are owed.”

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com.

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