Smithtown officials will try to condemn and acquire a topless bar that has operated for decades across from the town’s iconic bull statue on West Main Street.
The Oasis Gentlemen’s Club occupies two lots comprising a fifth of an acre. An Oct. 27 town hearing will address whether the town should pursue condemnation of both lots.
"The town has the intent of acquiring the property to enhance the entrance to Smithtown and enhance our access to the waterfront for our fishermen, kayakers, canoers" and other boaters, said Thomas McCarthy, Smithtown deputy supervisor, in an interview.
The land that Oasis sits on is owned by 490 West Jericho Realty. The bar is operated by another company, TJS of New York. A Pelham Manor man, Thomas Murray, is a principal in both companies. Howard Greenberg, a Smithtown lawyer representing 490, said in an interview that "we’re trying to work in cooperation with the town to resolve issues that my client has with the town."
There are no performances currently at the Oasis, Greenberg said, adding that though the club is allowed to open under New York State rules for businesses during the pandemic, he was unsure if it actually has been on a daily basis.
"Unfortunately, we can’t have exotic dancing outside" like outdoor dining at restaurants, he said. Exotic dancing at the club is "entertainment" equivalent to "music, the arts, theater," Greenberg said, echoing arguments from earlier court cases with the town that the dancing is protected under the First Amendment.
After the October hearing, the town will make a formal offer of compensation for eminent domain acquisition based on an appraisal officials commissioned earlier this year. Town officials have declined to share the value of that appraisal, though Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said it was $80,000 to $100,000 less than the value of a 2019 appraisal the town commissioned for a possible purchase. Officals also declined to share that valuation. By law, town officials cannot offer more than the appraised value for a property. If the property owner rejects the town’s offer this time around, the two sides would move to litigation.
Wehrheim said he would support that move.
"Our residents have consistently made complaints that it’s a topless establishment … in entirely the wrong place, right at the entrance to our town," he said.
Wehrheim said he hoped the Oasis site could be converted into town parkland. Under a deal he is negotiating with Suffolk County, the town would take over Paul T. Given county park, off West Main Street, and combine it with the Oasis land. The county would take Bill Richards town park, off Veterans Memorial Highway, and combine it with the adjacent Blydenburgh County Park.
Glenn Gruder, an East Meadow-based lawyer who specializes in commercial litigation with the law firm Certilman Balin but who is not involved in the case, said that the town would likely prevail in its effort but that a judge could ultimately decide the value of the property if the Oasis owner contests the town’s appraisal.
"You have to believe the town and property owner have completely different valuations," Gruder said, adding that a court battle could take years.
Under Smithtown zoning rules, adult retail and entertainment businesses must be at least 500 feet from parks and residential districts, conditions Oasis does not meet. In 2008, TJS and 490 sued the town in federal court, asking a judge to declare town zoning rules unconstitutional; the judge denied that request. The companies later filed a motion in New York State Supreme Court asking a judge to enjoin the town from enforcing its zoning code. The judge denied that motion in 2009.