WATERTOWN — P.J. Simao has lost the latest round in court regarding a lease between his competitor and the city for the golf course at Thompson Park.
The state Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department in Rochester, on Friday unanimously affirmed a state Supreme Court ruling that dismissed Mr. Simao’s contention that the lease with Michael E. Lundy, who owns the Watertown Golf Club, should be canceled.
“We have evaluated the decision and we will be filing a motion to reargue with the appellate court,” Mr. Simao said. “The court never said the 2000 lease was legal when it clearly wasn’t.”
Mr. Simao, who owns Ives Hill Country Club, sued the city claiming a 2006 lease agreement should be voided because an earlier one in 2000 was signed by former Mayor Joseph M. Butler Sr. as mayor and while also serving as a member of the club’s board of directors and then again six years later after leaving office. Mr. Simao claimed it violated General Municipal Law and constituted a conflict of interest.
Friday’s ruling upholds a June 2019 ruling by state Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky, who determined that although terms of both leases were similar, the 2006 lease legally superseded the 2000 lease.
The seven-member Appellate Court ruled that Judge McClusky did not err in his decision and dismissed Mr. Simao’s complaint, concluding “the 2006 lease does not modify or renew the 2000 lease but, instead, is a renegotiated and new agreement.”
While it was the former City Council that prompted the lawsuit, Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith said Friday night that the court’s decision “showed what the city did was legal.”
“It’s another victory for the city of Watertown and its residents,” Mayor Smith said, referring to state lawmakers enacting legislation earlier this week that would stop the city from spending $3.1 million on a court project that it did not want.
The 2006 lease runs through Dec. 31, 2029, and presently requires the golf club to make annual lease payments of $9,318 for use of 66 acres of city-owned land at Thompson Park.
Mr. Lundy owns holes one through six and 16 to 18 of the course at Thompson Park, while the city owns the other nine holes, with the developer leasing the land on which the remaining holes sit.
Mr. Lundy purchased the golf course from its shareholders in 2018.
The city and Mr. Simao have been bickering over whether the lease was an unfair advantage for years. Last year, Mr. Simao criticized the city for allowing a series of encroachments onto city parkland that occurred for years.
But the appellate court ruled that the encroachments were not a part of this case.
The bickering could continue as Mayor Smith has threatened to put a resolution on the agenda for the Aug. 3 meeting that would again allow public parking on parkland that was used as overflow parking by golf members.
At the urging of Mr. Simao, the former City Council voted to stop that from happening anymore. But Mayor Smith said during last Monday’s council meeting that it was safer for golfers to use the city-owned land than for them to park on the sides of streets at the park.
To quell the controversy, Mr. Lundy made improvements to another parking lot on his property this spring that golfers now use, although golfers have continued to periodically park on city property since.
“The city continues to allow the Watertown Golf Club to occupy city parkland and we may take the city up on its suggestion that we file another lawsuit,” Mr. Simao said.