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Foes seek to void ground lease for Stony Brook hotel

Groups opposing the construction of a hotel in a wooded area on Stony Brook University's campus have filed suit against the State University of New York, which leased the land for the project.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Monday, asks the court to void the ground lease - first approved in 1986 and amended in 1989 - saying the lease's terms were not followed and had, in fact, expired.

"By its explicit terms, the authority granted to SUNY by the special enabling legislation . . . expired if the attorney general, the director of the budget and the comptroller of the state of New York did not approve a lease to a private developer by August 2, 1990," the lawsuit said.

The suit goes on to say that SUNY failed to enter into a "bona fide lease with a bona fide private developer." The suit said SUNY entered into a lease in 1989 with Stony Brook University Foundation Realty Inc., which the lawsuit called a "shell company" that had no experience or license and "was not capable" of constructing the hotel.

"The time period expired in 1990," for compliance with the ground lease's requirements, such as making payments in lieu of taxes, said George Locker, a Manhattan attorney representing the Stony Brook Environmental Conservancy Inc.; Michelle Pizer, president of the Stony Brook University Environmental Club; and Stony Brook and Manhattan resident Muriel Weyl, who brought suit.

"It's just puzzling to me where SUNY believes it has the legal authority to enter into this new agreement," Locker said.

Locker was referring to the university's announcement in October it had chosen a developer - Harbor Construction Management of Port Jefferson headed by Robert J. Frey, a former Stony Brook Foundation trustee - to build the 135-room hotel on 11 acres near Nicolls Road and the university's main entrance. Frey said he "obviously" differed from the lawsuit's position, adding his company's contract with the foundation realty had been reviewed by officials in Albany "before it went forward."

SUNY said it will review the lawsuit, adding, "SUNY is supportive of Stony Brook University's efforts to form public-private partnerships to enhance academic excellence, to create jobs and to stimulate overall economic activity and quality of life for the community."

The university said in a statement that a lawsuit challenging the ground lease brought by a group of hoteliers in 2004 was dismissed by the courts, first in 2005 and on appeal in 2007. The university added a hotel was needed and "will mean a great deal to our academic mission," as well as generate revenue for the surrounding community.

Locker said the plaintiffs do not oppose building a hotel elsewhere on campus.

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