Eminent Domain Issue Comes to North Hills: Manhasset Press (Manhasset NY), 3/17/06

Lawsuits Filed Over Future of Deepdale Golf Club

By Joe Scotchie

Last year, in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, the US Supreme Court ruled that local municipalities may seize private property for development purposes.

That ruling has set off numerous controversies and conflicts throughout the country. Now, the implications of eminent domain have come to North Hills.

Two separate lawsuits have been filed in federal and state courts in an attempt to prevent the Village of North Hills from condemning Deepdale Golf Club, a 175-acre privately owned facility.

"This proposed condemnation may be the most extreme abuse of eminent domain in the country," claimed John Wilson, a North Hills resident who initiated the lawsuit filed in state court. "North Hills is trying to seize a private golf course for the purpose of creating a private 'Village only' golf course. This has nothing to do with a master plan that promotes the public good or eliminating blight... Rather, it is a naked grab for private property in an apparent effort to satisfy the private desires of a few elected officials."

Marvin Natiss, mayor of the Village of North Hills has declined to discuss the lawsuits.

"In light of the pending litigation, he's [the mayor] been advised by the village attorney not to make any comments at the present time," said a statement by a village spokesman.

When filing the state lawsuit, Wilson added that the village's plan is "fiscally irresponsible as it is illegal," further claiming that the cost of acquiring the course will likely exceed $100 million.

"The cost will be borne by village residents in the form of higher taxes," Wilson said. "Moreover, the village will have to sell a portion of the property to developers in order to help pay the bill. That means more congestion in our already congested village."

In addition to the state suit, legal action has been filed in federal court. That suit, filed by the law firm of Wacthell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz on behalf of Deepdale's Board of Directors alleges, "The Village's threatened bad faith use of power of eminent domain to condemn Deepdale is unconstitutional and unlawful and should be enjoined."

The suit added that the planned condemnation of Deepdale would violate the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which, the attorneys' note, "[prohibits] the government from taking private property unless it is for 'public use.'"

"No court has ever held that it is 'public use' for a village to condemn a private golf course so that its residents can use it as their own de facto private golf club," the suit further states. "And no court has ever held that any government ... can take some one else's private property on the basis that it will further increase the property value of the surrounding multimillion dollar homes owned by private residences."

Meanwhile, the state lawsuit, filed by the law firm of Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, P.C., charges that the village used "incentive zoning" regarding a condominium project in order to "build a financial war chest to acquire Deepdale."

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