Lawsuit over city golf club dropped

Watertown Golf Club, 1 Thompson Park. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The court battle between the city and developer P.J. Simao known as “Golf Gate” is over.

Mr. Simao’s attorney, Jan S. Kublick, notified the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, that Mr. Simao was withdrawing his appeal of a legal action against the city and Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith.

In February, state Supreme Court Justice James P. McClusky ruled the city acted properly in how it handled renovations for a parking lot at the Watertown Golf Club in 2020. Judge McClusky ruled to not void the action taken by the city.

Mr. Simao, who owns Ives Hill Country Club, and Watertown resident Clifford G. Olney III filed the lawsuit. Mr. Olney is the presumptive winner in Tuesday’s election for a four-year seat on City Council.

Mr. Simao said that, with Mr. Olney’s apparent election to the council, he withdrew the appeal so that the legal action would not become an issue for Mr. Olney once he joins the council.

“I was obviously happy with the election results and I wanted to let Cliff Olney have a fresh start in his new position,” Mr. Simao said.

In their lawsuit, they contended 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.

But Judge McClusky ruled the city conducted “a valid exercise of legislative authority” when it approved them.

The City Council then designated the current lot for public use, although Mr. Simao contends it’s primarily used by golf club members and guests.

Mayor Smith, the City Council and the Watertown Golf Club were named as defendants.

City Attorney Robert J. Slye said he was surprised when he was notified on Friday morning by the appellate court that Mr. Simao dropped his appeal.

“I’m pleased we don’t have to worry about this issue,” Mr. Slye said.

City Manager Kenneth A. Mix also expressed that he was surprised with the news.

Mr. Olney, who also ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019, said Mr. Simao called him on Thursday night to see if the councilor-elect wanted to have his name removed from the lawsuit.

He deferred to Mr. Simao to make the decision, adding that now that he will become a member of council that the issue of the Watertown Golf Club could be addressed by the new City Council after they get into office on Jan. 1.

It was not the first time that Mr. Simao had legal issues with the city over the Watertown Golf Club. The legal battles came to be known as Golf Gate.

Mr. Simao had 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 McClusky in March 2019. He then appealed that decision.

The golf course is owned by businessman Michael E. Lundy.

Mayor Smith could not be reached for comment.

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