A judge on Thursday voided the transfer of the lease...

A judge on Thursday voided the transfer of the lease on the Nassau Coliseum property to Las Vegas Sands. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A state appeals justice on Friday put a temporary hold on a lower court's decision to void a 99-year lease agreement that would allow Las Vegas Sands to develop a $4 billion casino resort on the Nassau Coliseum property.

The ruling by Justice Lourdes M. Ventura of the Apellate Court, Second Division, means the Coliseum lease that Nassau County transferred to the company this summer will remain in place until a decision is made on an appeal the county filed earlier Friday. Ventura set a hearing for Nov. 21

State Supreme Court Justice Sarika Kapoor on Thursday ordered the lease voided and that votes by the county Planning Commission and legislature approving the lease transfer be "annulled."

Her ruling was the result of a lawsuit Hofstra University filed against Nassau County in April, alleging the Planning Commission violated the state’s Open Meetings Law by not properly notifying the public of a meeting to consider the lease. Hofstra officials declined to comment on the county's appeal.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A judge on Thursday blocked a 99-year lease agreement that would allow Las Vegas Sands to develop a $4 billion casino project on the Nassau Coliseum property.
  • Hofstra University sued Nassau County in April, alleging the county Planning Commission violated state Open Meetings Law because it had not properly notified the public of a meeting on the lease issue.
  • It was unclear what effect the court's decision would have on Sands' proposal for a state gaming license, or on the proposed project Sands and Nassau County officials have touted as key to a major revitalization of the Nassau Hub area in Uniondale.

County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who announced the lease agreement a day before it cleared the Planning Commission in April, addressed the appeal in a statement Friday: “We are confident that the erroneous application of the law to this set of facts will be overturned." 

"I will continue to stand for the proposal by the Sands to develop a world class luxury hotel, spa, entertainment center, and casino which will bring $5 billion dollars in construction, good paying permanent jobs, and tax relief for our residents," Blakeman said.

The court's decision came as Sands prepared to submit an application for one of three competitive state gaming licenses key to the project, which company and county officials have touted as a revitalization of the Nassau Hub property in Uniondale. The 72-acre site is the largest tract of undeveloped county property.

Sands, based in Las Vegas, announced in January it had negotiated a deal to take over the Coliseum lease from Nassau Live Center LLC, as part of its bid for a gaming license that allows Vegas-style casino gambling, including traditional table games like poker and blackjack.

Sands has paid the county more than $54 million as part of the lease agreement. Sands also paid the former lease holder, Nassau Live Center LLC, $241 million, according to SEC filings.

On Friday, Sands spokesman Ron Reese said the company would move forward with its gaming license bid and other approvals needed for the development.

“Las Vegas Sands is proceeding proudly and enthusiastically with our proposal for an integrated resort and entertainment center at the Nassau Hub. We are grateful for the wonderful response we have received from the Long Island community and we will be continuing our very comprehensive outreach as we present this transformational project,” Reese said in a statement.

Ruling voids votes by lawmakers, planners

In her 32-page decision, Kapoor wrote that the Planning Commission failed to property notify the public earlier this year as it met and eventually voted to recommend approval of the lease transfer.

"Hofstra has demonstrated that the failure to post the resolution was not merely technical, but rather was 'an attempt to avoid public scrutiny' of the proposed lease transfer," Kapoor wrote.

The ruling also said Nassau must conduct a comprehensive environmental review of the proposed development, and that the county legislature had failed to take a "hard look" at the Sands casino project.

Instead, the legislature considered only the technical issue of transferring the lease from one entity to another.

Kapoor kicked the matter back to the Planning Commission and the legislature, ordering them to “conduct a proper public hearing in accordance with all relevant statutes and rules, including the Nassau County Administrative Code and the Open Meetings Law … ”

Hofstra President Susan Poser said in a statement late Thursday: “We appreciate the court’s thoughtful ruling … The court recognized the public’s right to participate in decision-making about the current redevelopment plan for the Nassau Hub. We look forward to contributing to the planning process and advocating for the use of the Hub in ways that will best contribute to our thriving community, while protecting against environmental and other harms.”

Sands: Ruling won't impact bid for license

Reese on Thursday declined to comment directly on the lawsuit but said the court’s decision "does not impact our pursuit of a license or how we are preparing our bid or what we believe is our likelihood for success."

The county had argued that Hofstra did not have legal standing to file its lawsuit. But Kapoor ruled Hofstra did have standing because the school had argued the proposal could "have a harmful effect" on the campus, located within walking distance from the Coliseum property. Poser has suggested developing affordable housing and restaurants, grocery stores, green spaces or other industries there.

Because the county legislature, Kapoor wrote, “engaged in improper segmentation by not considering the future development planned by Sands, the Court finds that the Nassau County Legislature did not take the requisite 'hard look' at the relevant areas of environmental concern raised by the lease transfer … ”

The lease transfer had broad support among Nassau County lawmakers from both political parties.

But Sands still had other hurdles to clear.

In August, Sands submitted a land-use application to Hempstead Town which included requests for zoning changes. The town started its environmental review of the project, as required under state law.

This followed the Planning Commission's approval of the lease transfer in April, and the legislature's approval of the lease transfer in May, in a 17-1 vote with one member abstaining.

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