Long Island Business News, Aug 11, 2006 by Jeremy Harrell
If at first the Town of North Hempstead didn’t succeed in making the Roslyn Country Club a historic landmark, it tried, tried, tried (and tried) again.
Last week, however, a state appellate court might have finally put the argument to rest: In a terse two-page verdict, a unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, Second Department, thwarted the town government’s fifth attempt in endowing the club with landmark status.
Led by Judge James Edward Pelzer, the court said the town’s latest landmark designation try, made in 2004, was irrational because it was based on the same set of facts the court had previously struck down. The town’s Landmark Preservation Commission, boosted by neighborhood residents, had previously tried to confer a protected status in 1992, 1993, 1996 and 2000, only to see the designation turned aside.
They are afraid that the owner of the property will try to develop it with something other than a recreational facility, said M. Allan Hyman, a partner with Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman in East Meadow, who represented the club’s owner, Corona Realty Inc. of Mineola. The truth is that the property has no historic value whatsoever.
That isn’t to say the club doesn’t have an interesting history. In 1949, Levitt & Sons Inc. built the club as the centerpiece of a 600-home subdivision in Roslyn Heights, just south of the Long Island Expressway. The Roslyn Country Club, which may conjure images of immaculate greens and manicured fairways, in fact amounts to a clubhouse, a few tennis courts and a swimming pool.
Development residents paid $100 per year to swim and eat there, and a 1960 Court of Appeals ruling ensured that owners of the original development’s parcels would retain control over the 10- acre club through property easements. The court went so far as to hold the club’s annual dues at $100.
In the 40 years since, though, the club’s maintenance costs have far outstripped dues-related revenue and income made by the club’s caterer for special events such as weddings and bar mitzvahs. Four years ago, the club’s former caterer declared bankruptcy, and in the fallout, Corona Realty – led by Manouchehr Manny Malekan – bought the club for an estimated $2 million.
A year later, Malekan filed suit to have the residents’ easements annulled, a necessary step if he wanted to develop the 10 acres. Some residents countersued, arguing that Malekan sought to unjustly enrich himself. The land, if developed, would yield more than the $2 million Malekan paid, considering that older houses in the country club neighborhood go for more than $1 million apiece and new construction on old sites can command as much as $2.5 million.
Malekan has since dropped the suit, according to a Corona spokesperson, but blocking the town’s landmark efforts represented an important principle for the property owner.
He wants the right to direct his land without a landmarking committee telling him what he can and can’t do with his land, Hyman said.
Malekan has raised the annual fee to $750, since the 1960 Court of Appeals ruling allows the club’s owner to raise rates if club revenue doesn’t keep pace with costs.
North Hempstead Town Attorney Richard Finkal said the town hasn’t decided whether to appeal the appellate court’s Aug. 1 ruling, a move that would require approval from the state’s highest court. Finkal, however, said he thinks the town should seek a reversal because there are legal questions that go beyond the matter at hand.
For one, Finkal said, the composition of town boards change over time, so it’s wrong for a court to say all the facts have been the same every time the town has tried to designate the Roslyn Country Club a historic landmark.
The town board that approved it in 1996 is not the same board that approved it in 2004, he said.