Golf club issues divided

WATERTOWN DAILY TIMESGolfers finish a hole at the Watertown Golf Club.

WATERTOWN — State Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky ruled Thursday that Watertown Golf Club Inc.’s encroachments onto city parkland are a separate issue from any pertaining to the club’s lease of city land.

The judge denied competitor Ives Hill Country Club’s motion to renew a previously dismissed lawsuit over the validity of the lease, which allows the club to use about 66 acres of Thompson Park land for its golf course through 2029.

Ives Hill Country Club, whose principal member is developer P.J. Simao, filed suit in November contending the lease violates state General Municipal Law, legally necessitating that the agreement be voided and that the city retake possession of the property.

Mr. Simao claims that two leases entered into by the city with the club should be voided because former Mayor Joseph M. Butler Sr. had a prohibited conflict of interest when he signed the leases, signing one in 2000 as mayor while also being a member of the club’s board of directors and signing a second in 2006 as club president after leaving office. Mr. Simao has contended that the actions are part of a pattern of favoritism toward the club by the city and represent an unfair taxpayer subsidy of his competitor’s operations.

In March, Judge James P. McClusky dismissed the suit, ruling that the 2006 lease legally superseded the 2000 lease and that Mr. Butler had not violated the city’s Code of Ethics by appearing before the City Council in the matter after ending his service with the city.

Mr. Simao subsequently learned that a gravel parking lot, a fenced-in golf cart storage area and septic system used by the club encroach on city-owned property. He filed a motion to renew the legal action in April claiming that if this information was known while the litigation was ongoing, the outcome of the case would have been different.

The city and club countered that the encroachment issue is unrelated to Mr. Simao’s conflict-of-interest contentions in relation to the lease. The city contended that the encroachments “exist outside of the leased premises” and are occurring from club-owned property onto city-owned property in an area removed from the leased property. Judge McClusky agreed.

“If I rule that the lease is invalid, it does not change the encroachments,” he said.

The March decision is under appeal with the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, and Thursday’s decision will now be incorporated into that appeal.

“Now we have a very solid and complete record going up to the appellate division that will result in us being able to present all of the facts in the case,” Mr. Simao said.

The city and developer Michael E. Lundy, who acquired the majority of the club’s assets through a stock purchase in December, have signed what City Manager Rick Finn has termed “a letter of understanding” in which Mr. Lundy has agreed to a timetable in which Mr. Lundy will rectify each of the encroachment issues.

The measures, all to be done at the club’s expense, include construction of a new septic system and removal of the old one; construction of a new gravel parking lot on city property and the removal of the old one; removal of the golf carts from city-owned property, which will be done in conjunction with the demolition of the old pro shop; and removal of a water pumping station that lies on the boundary between the city and club property. Three tee boxes encroaching on city property will also be moved.

The agreement calls for most of the encroachments to be cured by July 30.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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