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Developer to auction off 230 Suffolk properties

Developer Robert Toussie will sell more than 230

Developer Robert Toussie will sell more than 230 parcels of land in Suffolk County at an auction next week in Hauppauge.  Credit: Corey Sipkin

Controversial real estate developer Robert Toussie plans to sell more than 230 parcels of land in Suffolk County at a two-day auction in Hauppauge next week. 

Toussie, 78, considered one of the largest owners of private land on Long Island, said he's eager to let go of some of the properties he's accumulated in his extensive portfolio over the last five decades.
The parcels, located throughout six towns,from Babylon to the Hamptons, are mostly zoned for residential use, with about 25 percent designated for commercial purposes, Toussie said. 

Starting bids will range from $7,000 to $6.5 million. If every property sells at the minimum bid, Toussie would make more than $33 million, he said.

"The idea is to rebuild, revitalize and re-energize Long Island," he said. "Right now young people can't find affordable homes here, and builders can't get property. Truth is, there's almost no available buildable land left in Suffolk County because I own most of it."

Kyle Burkhardt, senior director at Cushman & Wakefield Inc. in Melville and former president of the Commercial Industrial Brokers Society of Long Island, said inventory is so limited that any new land availability will be welcomed by developers. 

"An influx of developable parcels would be great for our market," he said.

Barbara Wanamaker, owner of Prime Properties Long Island in Huntington, which is focused on residential sites, said the auction should draw great public interest, but added that she doesn't think the sale of the properties will significantly affect the residential market "one way or the other." 

During his decades-long buying spree Toussie was routinely the highest bidder at surplus land auctions held by Suffolk County. 

He estimates he paid nearly $50 million for the "minimum of 500 parcels" he bought from the government.

Suffolk officials in 2001 and 2002 prohibited Toussie from buying property at its land auctions, after a dispute over the value of a property Toussie had sold to the county. In 2004, county officials had police officers escort him out of an auction after they barred him from bidding and Toussie continued to do so.

The developer then sued the county alleging officials discriminated against him and violated his rights.  After a 10-year court battle that ended in 2011, a federal jury awarded him $12,500. He originally demanded $30 million from the county. 

Toussie's business activities also have been the subject of federal and county investigations and a lawsuit by homeowners, Newsday reported.

In 2005 he was indicted on misdemeanor charges of failing to file federal income taxes in a timely manner after the U.S. Justice Department and the Suffolk County district attorney spent four years investigating his business practices. Federal prosecutors agreed to drop all charges when Toussie promised to file back tax returns and not violate any laws in the following five months, Newsday reported.

In 2010, 250 minority homeowners filed a lawsuit against Toussie and a local mortgage bank accusing them of predatory lending practices and of conspiring to sell shoddily built homes. He and the bank paid $455,000 to settle the charges. They denied the allegations. 

The legal disputes did not prevent Toussie from continuing to accumulate the properties he now hopes to sell. 

"I did really well here and made a lot of money on Long Island, and now I'm ready to give others, young people who want to buy homes, an opportunity to make their hopes and dreams come true," he said.

"I want Long Island to be as great for the next generation as it was for me. I would just love for people to be able to move here again. Interest rates are low, the economy is good. It's the perfect time." 

The auction, which has been promoted in print ads, will be May 14 and 15 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Long Island at Wind Watch Golf Club, at 1717 Motor Pkwy. in Hauppauge. Representatives from Bridgehampton National Bank will be on site to provide applications for financing for qualified borrowers. 

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Correction: Kyle Burkhardt's title was incorrect in an earlier version of this article. He is  senior director at Cushman & Wakefield Inc. in Melville and former president of the Commercial Industrial Brokers Society of Long Island.

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