Simao again goes to court over golf club

Watertown Golf Club. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Ives Hill Country Club owner P.J. Simao is again taking the city of Watertown to court over its dealings with rival Watertown Golf Club, located within the city’s Thompson Park.

Prime LLC, one of Mr. Simao’s development entities which owns land leased to Ives Hill Country Club, is joined in the state Supreme Court petition by Watertown resident Clifford G. Olney III, who unsuccessfully ran for city mayor last November. The city names as defendants Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith, the City Council and Watertown Golf Club.

Mr. Simao’s main contention is that the city failed to conduct required environmental reviews before granting site plan approval for renovations at Watertown Golf Club and for the construction of an adjacent city-owned parking lot.

Mr. Simao has long maintained that a lease between the city and Watertown Golf Club provides for below fair-market rents, giving the Thompson Park course an unfair, taxpayer-subsidized advantage over Ives Hill. Watertown Golf Club leases 66 acres of city land, with the remainder of the 18-hole course owned by the club.

A suit brought by Mr. Simao over the lease was dismissed by Judge James P. McClusky in March 2019, but Mr. Simao filed a motion to renew the action after it was learned that Watertown Golf Club’s septic system, parking lot and golf cart storage area encroached on city property. That motion was denied and Mr. Simao appealed both decisions to the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, which upheld the lower court’s ruling in a July 24 decision. Mr. Simao has filed a motion to reargue that determination.

In the latest petition filed Friday, Mr. Simao claims the city failed to follow State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) requirements in granting site plan approval for Watertown Golf Club’s renovations, as well as for a city-owned parking lot slated to be located near where a gravel lot currently exists. The City Council has designated the current lot is for public use, although Mr. Simao contends it is primarily used by golf club members and guests.

Mr. Simao claims in his action that city staff has repeatedly told City Council members that a more extensive SEQR process was required for the projects, including a mandated “hard look” into possible environmental impacts required by the act, but none has been conducted.

“Not only is there no evidence in the Record of a “hard look,” there is no evidence of any look at all,” the suit alleges.

Mr. Simao further claims that separating the golf club’s renovations from the construction of a city-owned parking lot represents an impermissible segmentation of the projects under SEQR, as he contends the projects are related.

The suit also states that city staff had told the council that SEQR was required because of the presence of a leach field for the club’s septic system, as well as possible contamination resulting from the golf cart storage and maintenance.

Mr. Simao’s action asks a judge to declare void the city’s adoption of an ordinance declaring the gravel lot public until, among other things, the requirements of SEQR are met. It also asks that the approval of Watertown Golf Club’s site plans be voided until the work can be addressed under SEQR, including construction of the planned city-owned parking lot.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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