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Jan 27, 2010 11:31 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town is prepared to withdraw lawsuit over Aldrich Lane park

Jan 27, 2010 11:31 AM

Southampton Town has announced that it is prepared drop a lawsuit against Southampton Village after the two sides reached a tentative agreement this week over what to do with parkland on Aldrich Lane where the village had planned to direct day laborers gathering each morning to seek work.

As part of the accord, which has not yet been finalized, town officials said they will no longer move forward with litigation as long as the village agrees to never develop the jointly owned parkland, according to Mayor Mark Epley. The land was purchased by the town and village for $1.6 million in 2001, using money from the town’s Community Preservation Fund.

The town sued the village in 2007, arguing that Mayor Epley’s plans to transform the land and create an open-air hiring site for the day laborers who congregate near the 7-Eleven on North Sea Road was a misuse of land purchased with CPF money. Village officials had installed a gravel driveway and shrubs along the perimeter of the property before getting slapped with the lawsuit.

A press release issued Monday by Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst’s office states that “both the Town and the Village of Southampton are in agreement that no further development of the Aldrich Lane Park land beyond the current walkways and landscaping is appropriate.

“This mutual agreement, once formalized, will preclude any further legal action on the part of the town, saving taxpayer dollars,” it continues.

The lawsuit could be dropped in the coming weeks, according to Frank Zappone, the deputy town supervisor. The Southampton Town attorney’s office will soon draft a stipulation of settlement, a document that will effectively end the lawsuit after it is approved by the Southampton Town Board.

“The town accomplished what it set out to accomplish, which is to protect CPF properties,” said Mr. Zappone about last week’s meeting.

Acting Town Attorney Kathleen Murray said that all parties involved in the lawsuit, including the three Aldrich Lane residents who initiated the litigation by suing both the town and village over Mayor Epley’s proposal, must sign off on the settlement. LatinoJustice, the third party in the lawsuit that is representing two unnamed day laborers, does not have to agree to the settlement, even though, in “the best-case scenario,” the organization would follow suit, she said.

Ms. Murray said Tuesday that she has not yet spoken with the attorney from LatinoJustice, formally known as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. Ghita Schwarz, the organization’s attorney, said in an e-mail that her group intends to participate in any settlement.

The town and village will work together and possibly utilize the park as farmland, according to the same press release issued by Ms. Throne-Holst’s office. Mayor Epley explained that the land was used as a farm in the 1990s.

The tentative agreement was reached after village and town representatives met last Thursday, January 21, at Town Hall to discuss the issue, according to Mayor Epley.

In 2007, Mayor Epley proposed using the vacant land as an open-air hiring site. Shrubbery, portable bathrooms, benches and a U-shaped driveway were proposed for the site. In April of that year, three residents who live near Aldrich Park sued both the town and village over the proposed use of the property as a hiring site. Days later, the town filed a “cross claim” against the village, stating that it also disagreed with the mayor’s proposed use of the park. The town argued that because the parkland was purchased with CPF money, it could not be developed.

Mayor Epley maintained this week that he had never proposed constructing a building on the property, a move that would have violated the restrictions of the CPF, and explained that the village has since dropped plans for creating an open-air hiring site. He said he was glad that the town was not going to advance the lawsuit, saying he was relieved he finally had the chance to discuss the issue with town officials.

Ms. Throne-Holst, Mr. Zappone, Ms. Murray and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. all attended last week’s meeting, Mayor Epley said. “I thought it was a very good conversation,” he added.

Ms. Throne-Holst was not on the board when the lawsuit was filed. The mayor said he was willing to discuss the lawsuit with the previous town administration, but officials did not want to sit down with him.

Former Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, who was a councilwoman when the town sued the village, disputed Mayor Epley’s characterization of the relationship between the town and village. “Actions he took on that property were not agreeable [to Southampton Town],” said Ms. Kabot, who was elected supervisor in 2007. “When there is a dispute under the law, you go to the judicial system.”

Additionally, Ms. Kabot stood by the town’s decision in late December to hire an outside attorney, specifically John Denby of Devitt Spellman & Barrett in Smithtown. To date, the town has handled the case in-house, meaning they have not spent money on an outside attorney. The village, meanwhile, has spent $29,450 fighting the lawsuit since 2007, according to Mayor Epley’s office.

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"It was not immediately clear if the residents who sued the village would continue with their lawsuit." Now that that resident, Mr. Berkoski, has been appointed to the planning board behind closed doors one week before the deadline for filing applications, I would assume he would drop his suit.

Shame on Ms. Holst for agreeing to threaten the village with a lawsuit in the first place. The appellate court ruled that gathering at the park, no matter who you are, is a right protected by ...more
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Jan 26, 10 2:22 PM
3 members liked this comment
you are incorrect -the appellate court did not rule that
By jlc52 (7), White Plains on Jan 26, 10 3:03 PM
2 members liked this comment
Please explain how I am incorrect.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Jan 26, 10 4:43 PM
I find it odd we're calling this lot a "park," yet no one can use it as same. There's no scenic vistas here, it's not being farmed, it's not environmentally sensitive, nor does it contain wetlands. It's a garbage collection field that only gets mowed when it's in the news. Why the heck was it purchased to begin with? Anyone know what the Town & Village paid for this piece of dirt that only benefits 3 people?
By Ms. Jane Q. Public (147), Southampton on Jan 26, 10 4:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
Let me clarify before you respond. As stated here in the press in a previous article on the appellate court ruling, "The attorney for Southampton Village, Richard DePetris, who is representing the municipality in this matter, said that the appellate court’s decision supports the village’s stance on how free speech is involved in the matter. The village maintains that forbidding day laborers to solicit work in Aldrich Park is a violation of day laborer’s First Amendment right to free speech. The ...more
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Jan 26, 10 4:47 PM
Perhaps you should read the Court's decision. (and perhaps understand how the law and the courts operate before making such a bold statement)

The Court did not rule on a First Amendment issue. They simply stated that the Supreme Court should have allowed intervention by the John Doe appellants (2 day laborers) because "they possess a a real and substantial interest in the outcome of [the] action." This court did not, nor would not 'rule' on a first amendment issue in that manner.
By jlc52 (7), White Plains on Jan 26, 10 5:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
The case made on behalf of the defendants was that the use of that park, CPF or not, was protected under the constitution. I grant I might have misstated when I said "ruled" but the fact remains that the court agreed with that premise.

As I stated, the only person who stands to gain from pursuing this lawsuit is Mr. Berkoski who recently received an extremely questionable political appointment. Mayor Epley never had plans to build anything on that plot of land and complaining that having ...more
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Jan 26, 10 5:39 PM
3 members liked this comment
That is absolutely incorrect.
By jlc52 (7), White Plains on Jan 26, 10 6:16 PM
says you. I think this whole Berkoski thing stinks to high heaven.
By fcmcmann (417), Hampton Bays on Jan 26, 10 6:33 PM
2 members liked this comment
From this very article, "In November, the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling that banned the day laborers from gathering at Aldrich Park while seeking employment, saying it violated the workers’ constitutional rights. As a result, the workers can legally gather at the park."

By dagdavid (646), southampton on Jan 27, 10 3:17 PM
Mr. Berkoski's lawyer considers this a "victory"? A victory for whom? Dagdavid is right, this was never about CPF funds this was about a resident worried about a decline in his property values so he sued the village and the town joined in.

And now this very same Berkoski was appointed, behind closed doors, to the Town planning board and there are actually folks out there trying to defend him? He should be kicked off the board immediately for what is a glaring conflict of interest. ...more
By yearrounder (208), Southampton on Jan 27, 10 1:03 PM
2 members liked this comment
Berkoski was appointed, behind closed doors

say what? it was done at a meeting open to the public.
By Terry (380), Southampton on Jan 29, 10 8:36 AM
The appointment was announced publicly, the process was done behind closed doors one week BEFORE the deadline for applications.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Jan 31, 10 12:03 PM
1 member liked this comment
Is Mr. Berkoski's appointment even legal?

Anna, please take the reins on this.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jan 27, 10 7:03 PM
2 members liked this comment
I don't believe it is illegal, but it sure is unethical. These political favors have go to stop.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Jan 28, 10 10:28 AM
Any and I mean any written agreement between the Town Board of Southampton and the Village Board of Southampton is only binding on those Boards. When newly elected officials take their respective positions the on either boards the "Agreement" means nothing. Just ask the Shinnecock Indians about written agreements. It you want this issue to be settled and binding on everyone the then the courts have to decide. The term "lawsuit" as used here is not a curse word. It's a vehicle to solve a problem ...more
By cloud (1), Southampton on Jan 29, 10 12:38 PM
I drove past that lot/park the other day and saw nothing but immigrants hanging out, about 40 of them there and more on the other side of the street. Someone should do something about the hanging out. I bet if someone checked most of them are illegal. Where are they living and where are they getting their finances to stay here if they are not working off the books? Hampton Bays is just as bad especially by Dunkin Donuts. The town and village has to wake up.
By LongIslander (43), HAMPTON BAYS on Jan 29, 10 10:29 PM
2 members liked this comment
Yes, longislander, those men should really find another place to just "hang out".

"Where are they getting their finances to stay here?" - seriously?
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Jan 31, 10 2:55 PM
We are off the subject of this article but seeing you and others brought up the Berkoski issue again I will add my two cents.
So ATH knew that a resolution to appoint Berkoski was coming to a vote on the floor and invited those to speak against the appointment. She very good at staging these events with her dem friends.
She also made it a point to grandstand when Nuzzi and Malone wanted to wait to appoint the comptroller. I have a qustion when did ATH and Tamara Wright become ...more
By reg rep (408), Southampton on Feb 3, 10 8:31 AM
small town politics is where it all begins....deception..nepotism...hypocracy...palm greasing ...smoke and mirrors...etc.its all so criminal and beyond control...Its a sad situation and will only get more absurd.....
By lursagirl (245), southampton on Feb 3, 10 10:32 PM
i want to thancs all you gringos for gettin those mean writers off from heres i no see them in months also meyer eperly for helping us i guess he like us more then you hahahah and you reelect thankc u as for ware we get $$ its easy from churches they get us other stuffs too for cold,so keep donatinionings and soon we wil be living next to paris hilton while you all stand on street and your laws protect us so we stay as long as we want and no you can do to stop keep ur parks we like ...more
By deme más (3), southampton on Feb 6, 10 8:24 PM