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Southold board votes 4-2 to use eminent domain to site a park on lot that was to be hardware store

Ben Brinkmann, left, and his brother Hank co-own

Ben Brinkmann, left, and his brother Hank co-own Brinkmann's Hardware, which operates stores in Jamesport, Sayville, Holbrook, Blue Point and Miller Place. Credit: Randee Daddona

Southold Town will pursue eminent domain proceedings to turn a vacant Mattituck lot into a park to prevent the location from becoming a hardware store.

The property owner and other critics of the proposal said the town should have moved on the land — which cost the owner $700,000 — before a development plan was in place and that using the condemnation process this way sets a bad precedent.

The Southold Town Board voted 4-2 at its Sept. 8 meeting in favor of proceeding with eminent domain to create a village green at 12500 Main Rd. Sayville-based Brinkmann’s Hardware is proposing to build a 12,000-square-foot hardware store and an 8,000-square-foot paint store at the location.

"This is one of the last green spaces on Route 25, and we think it would be great to have a public green area near Love Lane," Town Attorney Bill Duffy said Tuesday.

Members of the Brinkmann family said that their proposal conforms to town code and that they will fight the proceeding. Co-owner Hank Brinkmann said he thinks the town is using the pretense of creating a park to control what kind of businesses operate in Southold Town and prevent larger operations from moving in. His chain operates stores in Jamesport, Sayville, Holbrook, Blue Point and Miller Place.

"I think this is a very dangerous precedent that they’re setting," he said in an interview Tuesday. "The fact that four people [town board members] can decide to take somebody’s property is a scary premise."

Supervisor Scott Russell during the hearing denied that the town was targeting the Brinkmann family and called the accusation "bizarre."

Council members Jim Dinizio, a Conservative, and Sarah Nappa, the six-member board’s lone Democrat, voted against the proposition, both saying the town should have acted earlier.

"I think that eminent domain is using a sledgehammer when we probably could solve this problem in other ways," Dinizio said during an Aug. 11 public hearing, when two dozen community members spoke both for and against the eminent domain proposal.

Those in favor of the proposal said 20,000 square feet of new retail space would bring more traffic to the quiet hamlet. Members of the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association, in a letter read aloud by president Anne Smith, said they are neutral on the eminent domain proceeding, but support using the property as a park.

The town had tried to acquire the property several times in years past, but those efforts failed, Duffy said. The town board has also enacted a moratorium on building applications in the area, which the Brinkmanns have challenged in court. Their lawsuit is ongoing.

The family bought the property in 2018 and said they have spent several hundred thousand dollars beyond the purchase price in the development process.

Duffy said he hoped the town could still reach a compromise but was prepared to argue the matter in court.

"It [eminent domain] is one of the strongest tools government has," Duffy said. "That’s why we were reluctant to use it. That being said … we’re very confident that we’ll be successful."

NYS EMINENT DOMAIN PROCEDURE LAW

Eminent domain allows the government to take private property for public use. Examples include building parks, roads and housing for disadvantaged persons.

The law requires the government to pay fair market value for the property.

The law allows challenges to a municipality’s determination. In this case, the Brinkmanns will have 30 days from the printing of a newspaper notice to file an appeal.

Source: New York State Real Property Bureau

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