WATERTOWN — The city and Watertown Golf Club Inc. are asking a judge to deny a motion to renew a lawsuit over the city’s lease with the club for Thompson Park land used for half of the golf club’s course.
Developer P.J. Simao sued the city and club in state Supreme Court 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 a 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In March, Judge James P. McClusky dismissed the suit, ruling that the 2006 lease legally superseded the 2000 lease and that Mr.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 parking lot, 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, however, counter that the encroachment issue is unrelated to Mr. Simao’s conflict-of-interest contentions. A memorandum of law filed Thursday at the Jefferson County clerk’s office by Mitchell J. Katz, Syracuse, the attorney representing the city, says the encroachments “exist outside of the leased premises.” The club owns holes one through six and 16 to 18 of the course, while the city owns the others, with the club leasing the land on which the remaining holes sit. The club also owns a clubhouse, pro shop and paved parking area. The encroachments are occurring from club-owned property onto city-owned property in an area removed from the leased property.
Mr. Katz contends that the encroachments are not “new,” as they likely have been taking place for decades. He also denies that the existence of the encroachments was concealed by the city, stating that once the city was made aware of them, it immediately took action to remedy the situation.
City Manager Rick Finn has reported to City Council several times that discussions have taken place with developer Michael E. Lundy, who acquired the club’s assets through a stock purchase in December, in an effort to come up with a plan to end the encroachments in a timely manner. Court documents filed Thursday contain a previously undisclosed agreement signed by Mr. Finn and Mr. Lundy that outlines measures Mr. Lundy will take to locate all of the club’s operations on its own property. 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 city and club property. Three tee boxes encroaching on city property will also be moved.
Mr. Simao said Friday that the legal documents filed the day before were the first he had heard of a formal agreement between the city and Mr. Lundy.
“I was very surprised that the city of Watertown and the Watertown Golf Club had come to a written agreement that involved the illegal use of parkland without a vote of the City Council,” he said. “It would be my opinion that it is not valid without the express approval of the City Council.”
The agenda for the City Council’s meeting Monday indicates that Mr. Finn intends to provide the council with a verbal update on the encroachment issues.
The club currently pays $9,318 annually in rent to city on its lease, but an affidavit filed with the court by Mr. Lundy points out that the club also is subject to pay property taxes on the leased land. In 2018, the club paid $2,880 in county taxes, $3,025 in city taxes and $3,794 in school taxes.