Warring neighbors might bring to mind ancient feuds like the Hatfields and the McCoys. Although not quite as infamous, the disagreement between the City of Glen Cove and the Village of Sea Cliff might be one for the local history books.
Sea Cliff Mayor Ed Lieberman read a letter at Glen Cove’s planning board meeting on March 7, prior to a vote on Phase Two of the Garvies Point Project, which includes the construction of a five-story, 167-unit condominium building, a new park as well as a dog park, and a boardwalk.
Expressing his opposition to the momentum of the project, Lieberman said, “[This] is the desire by the city and RXR to change and alter the profile of Glen Cove and the North Shore of Nassau by having such an immense structure without showing even a need for it. Although Glen Cove may think it’s fine to change their land use, it has an effect on local communities.”
Neither Glen Cove Mayor Reggie Spinello nor any planning board member responded to Lieberman’s appeal. Instead, the board approved the resolution.
Lisa Travatello, the city's public relations officer, said that Spinello did not want to comment because the disagreement was an old story. But Lieberman, an attorney, insists that Glen Cove has violated a 15-year-old “memorandum of understanding” between the two municipalities. In 2015, Sea Cliff sued Glen Cove for breaking that agreement, but a State Supreme Court judge dismissed the case.
“Glen Cove has long been a good neighbor to Sea Cliff,” Spinello said in a statement. “While neighbors should not sue neighbors, Sea Cliff did, and the Supreme Court ruled in Glen Cove’s favor.”
According to Lieberman, an appeal is being drafted, leaving each mayor questioning the other’s definition of what it means to be neighborly.
“The memorandum was a crucial document, because it brought all parties to the table,” Lieberman explained, referring to the 2002 agreement. “It worked out an agreement that set forth various restrictions and use parameters on structures at the Garvies Point waterfront property.”
The memorandum was created by Sea Cliff’s mayor at the time, Claudio Moine, and a community alliance group in Glen Cove. It laid out the scope of construction at the Garvies Point waterfront property, with height and use restrictions.
Sea Cliff officials’ goal was to persuade Glen Cove officials to include recreational amenities in any construction, including parks, a convention center and a hotel. Village officials say they believe the memorandum’s criteria, along with environmental issues, make clear why they filed the lawsuit.
RXR, the developer of the project, was also named in the lawsuit.
Michael Zarin, the attorney who represented the city, said that the judge dismissed the case because the memorandum of agreement was not an official document. “The law is very clear that to have a binding agreement, there must be a resolution,” Zarin explained. “It was never enforced, never approved by actions, and nobody complained for 15 years.”
Even if the agreement had been binding, Zarin added, there is a six-year statute of limitations for filing a complaint of violation.
Sea Cliff’s board of trustees discussed at length whether to file an appeal. “One of the primary responsibilities of the trustees is the fiduciary relationship with residents,” Lieberman said. “We have to be aware of budgetary concerns when we prosecute anything because of cost to the village.”
Lieberman emphasized that any action the board takes “has to fit the budgetary parameters … because we can’t fundraise like a private group can.” He was referring to groups like the privately funded Committee for a Sustainable Waterfront, comprising residents, which also sued the city and lost.
The Sea Cliff board approved funding for an appeal, with the hope that an appellate court would rule in its favor after reviewing the legal suit, which has an environmental component in it. The village doesn’t believe that the DEC did a comprehensive review of the property.
Zarin said that the appeal “doesn’t mean much” for the city. He’s confident the lower court decision will be upheld.
In the meantime, construction at Garvies Point continues. “Our city is moving forward with exciting new developments that will benefit all of the surrounding communities,” Spinello said, “and our taxpayer dollars can now be used in more productive ways to support the needs of Glen Cove residents.”
Lieberman believes that the second phase of the project would change the entire feel of the seaside village. Soon after he was appointed mayor, he met with Spinello to discuss the project. He said he wanted Spinello to understand that Sea Cliff’s board of trustees was committed to the appeal, and that he hoped the municipalities could discuss their differences. “I didn’t get an unfavorable opinion,” Lieberman said.
Zarin said he did not understand why Sea Cliff officials have become so opposed to the project after appearing supportive at the start of the process — even attending the groundbreaking ceremony. “Why does someone get notice for 15 years, come to a shovel ceremony, never object and then all of a sudden object?” Zarin said incredulously. “I think there may be something more internal going on with Sea Cliff.”