Trump files lawsuits over Jones Beach project
Donald Trump went on the offensive yesterday for his Jones Beach project, suing the state and accusing officials of sabotaging the project when a new parks chief took office last year.
Earlier this month, Trump had offered to redesign his Trump on the Ocean restaurant and catering hall so it would have no basement, which the state has refused to approve twice in the past four months.
Trump also accuses state officials of misleading his development team about the approval process and arranging for the last-minute recusal of some members of a state review board to ensure defeat of his application. Those members, however, had voted against the project.
“They gave us a long-term lease and then they failed to honor it when a new administration came in,” Trump said. “And after … five years of studying the basement, they said ‘you can’t build a basement.’”
Hofstra University School of Law professor Eric Lane said it won’t be easy to prove the review board acted arbitrarily. “Trump will have to establish that they denied it because it was him,” Lane said. “If they don’t like his alternative [for protecting against flood damage], they have no obligation whatsoever to do it.”
Ronald J. Rosenberg, an attorney for Patricia Friedman, a civic activist against the $300-million project, called the suit “frivolous and without merit. They were requesting the antithesis of what the [state building] code permits.”
Said Trump attorney Steven Schlesinger: “We’re highly confident that we will prevail.”
Schlesinger said the $500 million in damages represents increased design and construction costs and a loss of anticipated revenue to the developers over the 40-year lease.
The suits against the state Department of State and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation were filed in two state courts – Supreme Court in Garden City and the Court of Claims in Albany.
Besides seeking a variance from the state building code prohibition on basements in a floodplain, the litigation asks the court to prohibit the parks department from declaring the developers in default if they don’t complete construction by June 2010 as required by the lease.
State Supreme Court Justice Leonard Austin issued a temporary order that prevents the parks agency from declaring the developers in default, pending a hearing April 15.
According to the suits, Parks Commissioner Carol Ash, who took over at the beginning of last year, manipulated the process “so that she would be in a position to make radical changes or even terminate the lease entered into by the previous administration.” State parks spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee said “we are reviewing the material.”
The suit contends that state parks is authorized to issue its own permits and approvals, but parks officials already have released documents showing that the developers were told repeatedly that they were responsible for all necessary permits and approvals, including those from other state agencies.
The suit also addresses one of the more mysterious aspects of the state’s approval process – the unexplained recusals by three members of the board of review shortly before from the second hearing this month. “The three secret recusals … were manipulated by DOS at the behest of state parks” to ensure that the second application would be denied, the suit claims.
Department of State spokesman Eamon Moynihan declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
YOU WIN SOME, YOU LOSE SOME
Over the years, Donald Trump has had his share of wins and losses in the courts:
2008. Trump agreed to drop a $25-million lawsuit against Palm Beach officials who fined him $120,000 for flying an oversized flag over his club, Mar-A-Lago. The town agreed to allow a 70-foot flagpole, moved slightly from its original site, and Trump agreed to donate $100,000 to charity instead of paying a fine.
2002. Trump was forced to sell his share of the $57.5 million Empire State Building because he lost his court fight to evict the major leaseholders and seize full ownership.
1998. An Atlantic City widow won a four-year legal battle to stop the state and Trump from seizing her boardinghouse near the beach by condemnation. Trump wanted to use the land for a park, a parking lot and a limousine waiting area for one of his casino hotels.
2007. After a five-year legal battle over a company’s right to trademark the name “Trumps” in the Philippines, the company renamed its contested project from “Trumps” to “One Center.”
2000. Trump won the right to build the 72-story Trump World Tower at First Avenue and 47th Street in Manhattan – then the tallest residential building in the world – after a court battle by neighbors.
1989. Trump won a court order barring a moving company from calling its service the Trump Shuttle.
2008. Westchester County residents are fighting Trump’s plans to use a section of a local road to provide access to a proposed 213-acre housing complex.
2008. Trump sues state over a review board’s denial of a variance he needs to build Trump on the Ocean, a proposed catering hall and restaurant.
- Eden Laikin
How they got here
JAN. 9, 2004: State parks department seeks proposals to replace the deteriorating Boardwalk Restaurant with a restaurant/catering hall. Two proposals received; one later withdrawn. Parks department negotiates for long-term contract with the other respondent, Steve Carl, who brings in Trump Organization as a partner.
May 2005: Parks department gives Carl a letter of intent about entering into a lease with him.
MAY 2, 2006: Parks department holds public information meeting at Belmont Lake State Park. Public comment is accepted there, with written comments accepted until June 1, 2006. Parks agency later says no comments are received.
SEPT. 14, 2006: After lease is signed, then-Gov. George Pataki announces plans for Trump on the Ocean at a widely covered press event on the Jones Beach boardwalk.
DEC. 1, 2006: Contract approved by state attorney general and comptroller. Trump and Carl expect to do $1.5 billion in business over the 40-year lease. The state expects to make $74 million in revenue and would own the building.
DEC. 11, 2007: Department of State review board rejects first application for a variance to build a basement.
MARCH 4: Department of State review board holds hearing at Cradle of Aviation Museum in Mitchel Field and denies variance for the second time.
MARCH 12: Trump proposes new plan without basement that would make the building 15 feet taller.
Now, in two lawsuits filed yesterday against two state agencies, Donald Trump and partner Steve Carl seek approval of that variance and $500 million in damages.