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A.Thomas Levin Quote in The Island Now, 'Judge Dismisses Suit Against North Hills Projects'

May 22, 2014Local Government and Land Use

Media Source: The Island Now


Nassau Supreme Court Judge Michele Woodard has dismissed a lawsuit filed by East Hills environmental activist Richard Brummel’s who sought to halt construction of RXR Realty’s $300 million 244-condominium project and X-Cell Realty’s proposed office building in the Village of North Hills.

In her decision, Woodard wrote that Brummel “fails to establish his standing to maintain this proceeding,” noting that he does not reside in North Hills. Woodard also ruled that Brummel’s “environmental interests and background unrelated to the subject property or the proposed development” fail to establish his claim of injury resulting from the condominium development in Grace Wood.

“Specifically, petitioner’s claims that he has sustained an injury in fact because he regularly drives past the Subject Property while on the Long Island Expressway is entirely insufficient to establish an injury in fact,” Woodard said.

She also wrote that Brummel’s argument that he “‘uses and enjoys’ the property more than most other member of the pubic” is “entirely misplaced and unavailing.”

Brummel’s suit said a new environmental impact study on the woodland where both projects are to be built was needed. Attorneys representing RXR, X-Cell and North Hills had all sought dismissal of the suit for reasons Woodard cited in the decision she issued on May 6.

Woodard also ruled that Brummel’s claims in seeking to challenge the action of the developer and the Village of North Hills over the past 20 years “are clearly time-barred.”

In this aspect of the ruling, she includes Brummel’s challenge to incentive zoning laws the village adopted in 1994, which provides incentives and bonuses for the RXR project, Brummel’s challenge to the North Hills village board approvals of the project in 2006 and subsequent modifications in 2009 and 2013.

Woodard also said Brummel was too late in challenging the North Hills board’s 1997 approval of X-Cell Realty’s plans to build two 92,500 square foot office complexes near the condo complex.

The North Hills Village Board voted unanimously in late December 2013 to formally approve RXR Realty’s condominium proposed complex on a 17-acre tract along the south service road of the Long Island Expressway between Powerhouse Road and New Hyde Park Road.

Brummel filed his suit on Jan. 6, when he also successfully petitioned Nassau Supreme Court Judge Dana Winslow to issue a temporary restraining order on RXR and X-Cell, which required North Hills officials to issue a stop work order on the project after work had begun a week earlier.

RXR officially broke ground on the condominium project, the Ritz-Carlton Residences at North Hills, in March.

Woodard lifted the temporary restraining order and denied a request by Brummel for a preliminary injunction against developers of the two projects sought by Brummel at a Feb. 20 hearing.

In a statement issued after Woodard’s ruling, Brummel maintained he did have legal standing to bring the lawsuit.

He also said there are “serious and obvious environmental defects” in the village’s “incentive zoning - or ‘cash for development’ - statutes.” But he acknowledged his legal challenge might have been late for according to the applicable statue of limitations.

“It is an important lesson that those who want to protect nature on Long Island need to be tenacious and diligent in challenging these building-projects whenever and wherever they occur, before legal technicalities deprive us of our best arguments,” Brummel said.

Brummel has said 16 protected state species live in the forest, including the Eastern box turtle, the Eastern hognose snake, the Eastern spadefoot toad, the Red-header woodpecker, the hoary bat, and the Whip-poor-will.

Thomas Levin, village attorney for North Hills, supported the ruling.

“We agreed with the ruling. He’s the wrong plaintiff, and it’s too little too late,” Levin said. “I hope this isn’t going to go any further. It’s wasting taxpayer money and it’s all nonsense.”

“I think it’s an excellent decision,” Village of North Hills Mayor Marvin Natiss said.

Attempts to reach lawyers representing RXR and X-Cell were unavailing.

Brummel said he has not decided whether to pursue the lawsuit further.

RXR, which touts itself as the leading real estate owner, manager and developer in the tri-state region on its website, has sought to develop the North Hills property since an affiliate bought the previous owner, North Hills LLC, in 2007. RXR executives said individual residences in the condominium complex, which will be managed by Ritz-Carlton, will sell for $1.2 million to $5 million with units ranging in size from 1,500 to 4,300 square feet.

RXR paid the Village of North Hills $21 million in 2007 in lieu of amenities on the condominium project.

Natiss said the economic downturn had stalled the RXR plan that the village originally approved for construction.

RXR is proceeding with construction after receiving village support for a payment in lieu of taxes proposal being considered by the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency on 60 of the first 124 units that RXR intends to build in the project’s first phase. The 60 units will initially be leased.

Natiss had adamantly opposed a 20-year PILOT with $4.6 million in property tax breaks that RXR had previously proposed.

At a recent IDA hearing, Natiss said that although he was still “philosophically opposed” to IDA tax breaks on rental property, he felt he had to “compromise” his principles “so they can get this built.”

RXR recently received IDA approval for $3.6 million in tax breaks on sales taxes and mortgage tax tied to the 60 units to be leased.

Administrators representing the Herricks and Great Neck school districts, who opposed previous PILOTs for RXR and a second development in North Hills, have said they are comfortable with the compromise on the latest PILOT after the recent IDA hearing.

The RXR property lies in the Great Neck School District.