Brinkmanns files federal lawsuit against Southold Town over prominent estate

Southold Town’s attempt to seize Mattituck property via prominent estate will be challenged in federal court.

The dispute centers on the Main Road and New Suffolk Avenue woodland owned by Brinkmann Hardware Corp., which contemplates a 20,000 square foot hardware store on the site.

The project was halted by a series of six-month construction moratoriums first enacted in 2019 and the city voted 4-2 to initiate a prominent domain proceeding against the owners last September to create a community park. .

“The city hasn’t been able to find a legal way to shut down our hardware store, so now they just want to take our land,” co-owner Hank Brinkmann said in a statement. “From the start we tried to fit into the community and follow the rules, but the rules keep changing under our feet. “

According to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Mr. Brinkmann and his brother, Ben, are seeking a court ruling that the city’s demand for the creation of a park is a “mere pretext for the illegitimate objective of ending a completely lawful use of the property by its owners” which violates the Fifth Amendment.

“It’s a sham,” the file read. “The city had never previously considered creating a park on this land; the only reason he’s doing it now is to prevent the Brinkmanns from opening a store on the land he owns.

The Brinkmann family bought the land for $ 700,000 in 2016 and argued that Southold Town made no attempt to purchase the land when it went up for sale in 2011 or 2016.

The family, which operates four hardware stores across Long Island, have teamed up with the Virginia-based Institute for Justice to fight the prominent domain proceeding.

Jeffrey Redfern, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, described the city’s actions as “unjust” and “unconstitutional” and that they represent a threat to landowners nationwide.

“The Brinkmanns hardware store is a completely legal business and Southold has no valid reason to prevent them from earning a living on their property,” Redfern said.

Council members Jim Dinizio and Sarah Nappa cast both votes against the prominent estate proceeding, each arguing that the city should have sought to acquire the land earlier.

“The time to use such drastic measures as a prominent estate was when the property was not for sale,” Dinizio said at the time.

The latest legal challenge comes nearly two years after the Brinkmanns first filed Section 78 proceedings in response to a six-month moratorium first approved in February 2019. In this petition, they argued that the moratorium was implemented “only to thwart and delay” their project. .

The city, however, argued that the moratorium was implemented to allow the board of directors to review the projects in the context of a traffic study and a pending global plan.

Since the city voted to extend the moratorium again in July 2020, the comprehensive plan and traffic study have been completed and adopted by the board of directors.

The Brinkmanns argued that the city had “selectively” enforced the moratorium, noting in their lawsuit that the city had granted moratorium waivers to three other landowners during that period.

Last summer, a Suffolk County Supreme Court judge dismissed a petition from Southold Town to dismiss the lawsuit.

The city had argued that the Brinkmanns “had not exhausted their administrative remedies” by simply demanding that the town planning council process their request instead of first asking for a waiver of the moratorium, according to court documents.

In his ruling, Judge William G. Ford disagreed and noted that asking for a hardship waiver would be “a futile exercise.”

City supervisor Scott Russell declined to comment on the federal lawsuit on Wednesday morning, citing the ongoing litigation. He deferred his comment to City Attorney Bill Duffy, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The constitution requires that any “take” of eminent domain be used for “public use” to be valid – a key element that will be explored in the case.

“Taking our land by eminent domain would not only rob us of the property we invested in to grow our business, but also rob us of the opportunity to earn an honest living that the new store represents,” Ben Brinkmann said in a statement. . “This is why we are continuing this fight. “