A state appeals court has temporarily denied Nassau's request to...

A state appeals court has temporarily denied Nassau's request to keep a lease agreement in place with Las Vegas Sands for a $4 billion casino on the Coliseum site, above. Credit: Neil Miller

A state appeals court has sided with Hofstra University in denying Nassau County's request to keep a lease agreement in place with Las Vegas Sands, dealing a blow to the $4 billion casino resort plan on the Coliseum site. 

Attorneys for the county who are fighting a lower-court decision voiding the lease had asked the Appellate Division, Second Department, for a “stay” to allow the Nevada-based company to keep the rights to the county-owned property. Hofstra on Nov. 21 argued against allowing the lease to stay in place during the county's appeal.

“We are pleased that the courts continue to uphold the public’s rights to transparency and participation in these important decisions regarding the future use of the Nassau Hub,” Adam Schuman, an attorney for Hofstra, said in a statement Thursday. 

Town of Hempstead officials said Thursday they were halting the state-mandated environmental review of the project until further notice. Sands is seeking to change the zoning for the property for its project, which triggered the town's study of its environmental impact under state law known as SEQRA. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A state appeals court denied Nassau County's request to keep a lease agreement in place with Las Vegas Sands, which wants to build a $4 billion casino resort plan on the Nassau Coliseum site. 
  • The county is fighting a lower-court decision voiding the lease, and had asked the appeals court for a stay to allow Sands to keep the rights to the county-owned property.
  • Hofstra University had argued against allowing the lease to stay in place during the county's appeal.

“After reviewing the opinion with outside counsel, with the town attorney as well as my chief of staff, we are of the opinion that the process has now been put on hold pending further action by Nassau County or additional clarification from the courts,” Town Supervisor Don Clavin told Newsday.

Ron Reese, senior vice president for Sands, said that despite the legal hurdles, company executives “remain fully committed to this transformational project and the unprecedented career opportunities and new tax revenues it will bring for the citizens of Nassau County.”

The appeals court decision, handed down late Wednesday, is the latest turn in what could be a long legal process stemming from Hofstra's filing of its suit in April.

State Supreme Court Justice Sarika Kapoor on Nov. 9 ruled the county didn't properly notify the public or review the development plan before approving the lease.

Kapoor agreed with Hofstra's assertion that the county Planning Commission had violated the state’s Open Meetings Law when it met earlier this year to consider the lease. Kapoor also said the county legislature was wrong to forgo an extensive environmental review and ordered the process to start over.

Schuman said the county “can avoid further litigation if, as directed by the Supreme Court, it now conducts a proper public hearing and undertakes the environmental review that it failed to do previously.”

Sands, based in Nevada, has proposed an “integrated resort” on the Coliseum site that includes a casino, luxury hotel, restaurants, day spa and community gathering space in its bid for one of three competitive state gambling licenses available for the downstate region.

The state Gaming Commission has yet to open the formal application process, but nearly a dozen developers including Sands have announced intentions to apply for state licenses.

County Executive Bruce Blakeman, whose administration negotiated the lease with Sands earlier this year, said in a statement: “We will continue to move forward and not be deterred by minor distractions as we have the best application of any other area. We are confident that the [state] Licensing board will view the Sands application favorably.” 

Blakeman spokesman Christopher Boyle did not answer questions about whether the administration would continue to allow Sands to occupy the Uniondale property and host events, or the fate of the $54 million Sands paid to the county in exchange for the lease. 

Administration officials also did not say whether they would kick the lease back down to the planning commission for further review.

Nassau legislators in May approved the Sands lease 17-1, with one abstention. 

Presiding Officer Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said “the majority remains in support of the project, which is clearly in the best interest of Nassau residents.”

Daniel Schrafel, spokesman for the county Legislature's Democratic minority, declined to comment, citing pending litigation. 

Members of Say No to the Casino, a local group that opposes the casino applauded the appeals court's decision, calling the county's process leading up to the lease “an obvious attempt to avoid public input and scrutiny.”

The statement continued: “It is time for county leadership to acknowledge that they did indeed violate such laws, end its wasteful appeal, and start over — this time following our laws and subjecting the lease to both public scrutiny and environment review.”

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