The former Kings Point estate of composer George M. Cohan.

The former Kings Point estate of composer George M. Cohan. Credit: David L. Pokress

ALBANY -- With one short sentence, New York's top court ended a 12-year legal fight over the former Great Neck estate of legendary entertainer George M. Cohan.

It wasn't musical by any standard, but by stating "Motion for leave to appeal denied," the New York State Court of Appeals put an end to an eminent domain lawsuit that centered on part of the 6.25-acre parcel.

The court certainly didn't leave everyone laughing when it said goodbye to the case, as Cohan once advised. The ruling denied the new owner's request for $2.2 million in damages he said he was owed when the Great Neck Park District seized part of the land.

The property (which includes a villa listed on the National Register of Historic Places) was once the home of Cohan, the songwriter, playwright and producer famous for "Over There," "The Yankee Doodle Boy," "Give My Regards to Broadway" and hundreds of other songs and musicals. Referred to as the man who owned Broadway in the decade before World War I, Cohan sold the property in 1920 to the Annenberg family.

The latest drama began in 1999 when Kiumarz Geula, through his company, Kings Point Heights Inc., bought the property and sought to subdivide it into one parcel with Cohan's villa, one including the waterfront and two lots in between.

The Great Neck Park District quickly began eminent domain proceedings to seize the 2.4-acre waterfront portion -- which includes some underwater land -- intending to add it to the adjacent Steppingstone Park.

In 2001, the company sued the district for $2.95 million in direct damages for the value of the land, and $2.2 million indirect for loss of water access. Lower courts awarded the former but not the latter. Tuesday, the state's highest court declined to hear Geula's appeal, letting the lower-court decisions stand.

"We managed to keep it to a reasonable number," said Saul Fenchel, who represented the park district. "Obviously, there wasn't sufficient problems regarding the issue of just compensation."

Fenchel said the district already has paid "virtually all" of the $2.95 million in direct damages. The waterfront has been added to the park.

Geula, who bought the Cohan property for $5.2 million, sold the two vacant lots for a combined $4.7 million, according to a court official. He also began a "mammoth" effort to renovate the villa and move in, according to John Santemma, his lawyer. The conclusion of it all, Santemma said, is very frustrating.

"Before the taking, the fellow who owned this land could walk down to the water, go swimming, fishing, whatever," he said. "Now, he can't. There's a chain-link fence. And there is no compensation anywhere for the loss."

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