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Oyster Bay officials acknowledge lawsuit threat if town proceeds with eminent domain of private golf course

Oyster Bay's outside consultant, John Ellsworth of Melville-based

Oyster Bay's outside consultant, John Ellsworth of Melville-based Nelson, Pope & Voorhis LLC, said the town government is better suited than a private owner to maintain the golf course at the Peninsula Golf Club in East Massapequa. Credit: Adam Richins

The Town of Oyster Bay is preparing to be sued if it proceeds with seizing a private golf course using eminent domain, town officials said at a hearing Tuesday.

"We expect and anticipate that there will be some litigation," Councilman Steven Labriola said during the hearing on the potential condemnation of the Peninsula Golf Club in East Massapequa.

The shareholders of P.G.C. Holding Corp., the owner of the course, approved its sale to a Florida company in March for $4.4 million. The property has been protected from development for 75 years by a restrictive covenant that requires it to remain a golf course.

Deputy Town Attorney Karen Underwood, responding to a question from Sea Cliff resident Arthur Adelman about why the town had denied his Freedom of Information Law request for a copy of the town’s appraisal of the property, said the town can’t reveal it at this stage in the eminent domain process.

"Once it reaches the court stage then obviously it can be revealed, but it would not be a benefit to the town or the taxpayers to reveal that number at this time," Underwood said.

Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, characterizing Underwood’s remarks, said, "The negotiation shouldn’t take place in the media, shouldn’t take place in a public forum … the town will provide all information to the public at the appropriate time."

P.G.C. Holding’s attorney, Arthur Feldman of Uniondale-based Farrell Fritz PC, urged the town not to interfere with the purchase, noting that the terms of the sale require it to remain a golf course and that it was in "the owner’s interest that the golf course remain a golf course."

"Eminent domain is an extremely powerful tool or weapon of government that should not be used without justification," Feldman said.

In an email Tuesday, Feldman said his client "will leave all available options on the table" when asked whether they would sue if the town seized the property by condemnation or rezoned it without paying compensation.

In a presentation to the board, the town’s outside consultant, John Ellsworth of Melville-based Nelson, Pope & Voorhis LLC, said the acquisition of a second golf course — the town owns an 18-hole course in Woodbury — "would be a tremendous complement to the town’s existing facility, creating a more comprehensive golf offering to the town’s residents."

Ellsworth said the town government is better suited than a private owner to maintain the golf course. He also said the town has an interest in preserving the land as open space and said Nassau County could withdraw the restrictive covenants in the future.

County Executive Laura Curran has said the county would enforce the covenants and preserve it as a golf course.

The expected buyer, Richard Schaub Jr., owner of Florida-based Great American Properties, did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

The town board will accept comments on the condemnation for 30 days before it is voted upon.

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