Lawsuits in eminent domain fight over suburban golf club By FRANK ELTMAN Associated Press Writer March 7, 2006, 3:14 PM EST NEW YORK -- Lawsuits were filed Tuesday aimed at stopping an affluent suburban village from using the legal concept of eminent domain to take over a privately owned golf course. "This proposed condemnation may be the most extreme abuse of eminent domain in the country," said John Wilson, a Deepdale Golf Club member named as a plaintiff. The village's mayor said the federal and state lawsuit were a "pre-emptive strike" and no decision has been made on whether to proceed with a takeover of Deepdale, considered one of the finest golf courses in the country. The club has long attracted the monied and, sometimes, the famous. "Today" show host Matt Lauer is listed as host of a June fundraiser there for an autism organization. The late comedian Bob Hope said in a 1980 interview that Deepdale was among his favorite courses. The issue of municipalities seizing property has taken on a new focus since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last June that eminent domain authority can be used to obtain land for tax revenue-generating commercial purposes. Eminent domain, the right of government to take property for public use, is typically used for projects that benefit an entire community, such as highways, airports or schools. But in North Hills _ a 2.8 square mile community of 1,800 residents on Long Island's "gold coast," where housing prices begin in the millions _ members of the Deepdale Club are rallying to save their 175-acre facility from being taken by village officials. The federal suit questions the village's right to seize the property through eminent domain; the state case challenges the village's alleged abuse of zoning law to cut secret deals with private developers. Wilson said in a statement that the takeover "has nothing to do with a master plan that promotes the public good or eliminating blight, issues usually behind eminent domain. Rather, it is a naked grab for private property in an apparent effort to satisfy the private desires of a few elected officials." Mayor Marvin Natiss, who was served with the lawsuits during a telephone interview with The Associated Press, insisted Tuesday that village officials are merely studying the possibility of taking the golf course, part of which borders the Long Island Expressway. "We haven't started any proceeding," Natiss said, although he conceded that appraisals of the golf course property and environmental impact reviews of a potential takeover are under way. "We're in the information gathering stage." In previous interviews Natiss has said that the village takeover would "increase property values" because of the cache of having a municipal golf course open to all 1,800 residents. He said any final decisions "could be a year away." "I only do what's in the best interest of village residents," the mayor said, adding a poll conducted several years ago found residents would favor a village golf course "as an amenity." The federal lawsuit contends "there is no public purpose" for the threatened condemnation of Deepdale. "North Hills is not a blighted town," the suit contends. "To the contrary, North Hills has been ranked as the single wealthiest community in the northeastern United States." The suit also argues there is little need for a public golf course in an area that has 20 courses within five miles and more than 50 courses within 15 miles, of which at least 11 are open to the public. Opponents also contend that the cost to the village would be "north of $100 million," which would result in meteoric rises in village property taxes. "This is a misguided effort to pay for Deepdale," said attorney Mark Mulholland. "You're going to see a triple whammy: increased village taxes, increased crowding because of development and a negative impact on the environment. This mayor is selling the village down the river." Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.