Four residents of Great Neck have served papers to the Village of Kings Point to block the construction of a maintenance building that was slated to break ground sometime this summer. The plaintiffs, Daniel Capruso, Alan Berkower, Elizabeth Allen and Julian Kane contend that the use of the 5.5 acre parcel for a maintenance building, violates the Public Trust Doctrine, which states that once land has been acquired as parkland, it cannot be used for anything else without the specific and explicit approval of the State Legislature.
A view of the parcel in question from the vantage point of Steamboat Road.
The parcel in question is on the northwestern corner of Kings Point Park, a 173-acre woodland park that is owned by the village and leased to the Great Neck Park District, which maintains the trails and public facilities, picnic tables, rest rooms, playground, ball fields and bridges.
On Nov. 20 of 2008, the village had held a public meeting to inform residents of Kings Point and bordering Village of Great Neck residents about their plans to construct a 10,000 square foot Department of Public Works (DPW) building. Renderings were shown of the building, fencing and landscape plans. The village trustees and their consultants assured those in attendance that there would not be a negative visual impact due to the design and buffering landscaping.
At the time, a number of residents attended the meeting and were not convinced that the impacts would be minimal. They cited the loss of old growth trees as a negative impact, the erection of a fence, concerns about noise, artificial lighting and run-off of pollutants from the maintenance equipment. An alternative was suggested, namely, that the village use the combined property where the village hall once stood and the current public works building is located. The trustees at the time did not show interest in this idea as they had planned instead to sell that parcel to help finance the $3.6 million proposed structure.
In the ensuing months, Dan Capruso spearheaded research into the history of how the park was constituted. He became convinced that "the law on this matter is strong. It doesn't matter how worthwhile the proposed use, it's parkland and it must be used only for parkland." Attorney Reed Super was hired to represent the plaintiffs.
According to the document filed, the "village acquired the lands for use as a public park and the parkland boundaries were surveyed and described in metes and bounds in 1932." The lease arrangement with the park district commenced in 1938 and has been renewed many times. The 1948 lease agreement "excepted the Western Corner from the lease and the village retained that land, purportedly for use as a pistol range."
According to the complaint, in 1967 the State Legislature authorized "the village's belated request" that allowed them to lease the land to the park district. The document asserts that the legislature did not authorize any portion of the park to be used for anything but parkland.
The plaintiffs have compiled a number of historical documents, which they say supports the notion that the land the village has been using for salt and sand storage has been an illegal use. They say that since that usage does not support park purposes, it is a violation of the doctrine.
The plaintiffs are seeking a "declaratory judgment that the proposed project and the existing public works activities are both unlawful alienations of public parkland." They want "injunctive relief preventing any development in or use of the park by or for the village's DPW, or any other non-park use, unless and until the State Legislative approval is obtained."
The village, the mayor, and the trustees are being sued. The Great Neck Park District, while not seen by the plaintiffs as culpable in the matter, is named as an "interested party because it may be affected by a judgment."
Both Mayor Michael Kalnick and village attorney Steven Limmer returned our phone calls, but both stated that with litigation in play, they could not comment.
It is expected that the matter will be heard in the New York Supreme Court on April 27.