The Town of Hempstead is pursuing eminent domain proceedings to...

The Town of Hempstead is pursuing eminent domain proceedings to condemn Capri Motel in West Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead Town Board has taken the first step to seize a shuttered West Hempstead motel through eminent domain to stop activities that it says make it a nuisance, a tactic a legal expert called "unusual."

The town board scheduled a hearing for Dec. 5 to condemn the Capri Motel, also known as the Capri Motor Inn, on Hempstead Turnpike.

The board resolution, adopted at its Oct. 3 meeting without discussion, alleges that the town has “received complaints, and this board has taken testimony that evidence prostitution, narcotics activity, and other criminal elements at the Capri, resulting in numerous police responses and arrests.”

The town shut the motel in August, citing safety violations, Newsday previously reported.

Alleged violations include a rusty staircase and problems with the fire alarm system and with electrical wiring, according to court filings, which also noted that a woman had been arrested for alleged prostitution at the motel on July 24.

The resolution alleges that these conditions pose a threat to the health and safety of residents. 

Town spokesman Greg Blower said Monday the motel remains closed.

The use of eminent domain to respond to a nuisance is "unusual," according Stefan Krieger, a law professor at Hofstra University's Maurice A. Deane School of Law.

“I don’t see how it can be a nuisance if it’s not operating," Krieger said in an interview.

He said using eminent domain for this purpose could result in lengthy litigation, adding, “There are other statutes that allow for the [government] to close down or prohibit certain activities if it’s a nuisance.” 

Krieger said courts give municipalities a lot of leeway in determining what constitutes a public purpose to justify the taking of a property but that declaring the motel to be a nuisance when it’s been shuttered could present problems for the town.

The owner of the motel, L&S Realty Co. LLC, sued the town on Aug. 17, alleging in court filings it had been denied its constitutional right to due process and that the town's padlocking of the property was “improper.” That suit sought $500,000 in damages and injunction.

The town, "under the guise of a fire and building inspection, shut down the motel, without any prior communication or warning," attorneys for the motel alleged in court filings. 

“With each day that passes, Plaintiff continues to suffer irreparable harm to its business’s reputation, goodwill, and profitability.”

The 84-room motel was built in 1963, according to court filings.

Lawyers for the town argued in a court filing that “the immediate and serious risk to the safety and wellbeing of the Motel's guests made providing Plaintiff with notice … impractical.”

On Aug. 29, state judge Catherine Rizzo denied the motel owner’s request for a preliminary injunction to allow it to continue operating but scheduled a September hearing.

Lawyers for the motel from Manhattan-based Meister Seelig & Fein PLLC and Garden City-based McLaughlin & Stern LLP dropped the suit on Sept. 14, before the scheduled hearing was held.

Town officials and lawyers for the owner did not respond to requests for comment Monday on the potential use of eminent domain to condemn the motel.

Capri Motor Inn

Aug. 7: Hempstead shutters motel, alleging it is a nuisance.

Aug. 29: State judge declines to issue injunction to reopen motel.

Oct. 3: Town board schedules Dec. 5 hearing on seizing property through eminent domain.

SOURCE: Court filings, town records

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