By Candice Ferrette and Scott Eidler
Nassau County on Friday asked an appellate court to overturn a lower court's decision to void a 99-year lease agreement that would allow Las Vegas Sands to develop a $4 billion casino resort on the Nassau Coliseum property.
Robert Giuffra Jr. of Manhattan law firm Sullivan & Cromwell filed the county's appeal before the appellate division of the Supreme Court of New York's Second Judicial Department.
State Supreme Court Justice Sarika Kapoor on Thursday ordered the lease voided and that votes by the county Planning Commission and legislature approving the lease transfer be "annulled."
The ruling was the result of a lawsuit Hofstra University filed against Nassau County in April, alleging the Planning Commission violated the state’s Open Meetings Law by not properly notifying the public of a meeting to consider the lease. Hofstra officials declined to comment on the county's appeal.
The court's decision came as Sands prepared to submit an application for a competitive state gaming license for a project the company and county officials have touted as a revitalization of the Nassau Hub property in Uniondale. The 72-acre site is the largest tract of undeveloped county property.
Sands, based in Las Vegas, announced in January it had negotiated a deal to take over the Coliseum lease from Nassau Live Center LLC, as part of its bid for a gaming license that allows Vegas-style casino gambling, including traditional table games like poker and blackjack.
Sands has paid the county more than $54 million as part of the lease agreement. Sands also paid the former lease holder, Nassau Live Center LLC, $241 million, according to SEC filings.
On Friday, Sands spokesman Ron Reese said the company would move forward with its gaming license bid and other approvals needed for the development.
“Las Vegas Sands is proceeding proudly and enthusiastically with our proposal for an integrated resort and entertainment center at the Nassau Hub. We are grateful for the wonderful response we have received from the Long Island community and we will be continuing our very comprehensive outreach as we present this transformational project,” Reese said in a statement.
Ruling voids votes by lawmakers, planners
In her 32-page decision, Kapoor wrote that the Planning Commission failed to property notify the public earlier this year as it met and eventually voted to recommend approval of the lease transfer.
"Hofstra has demonstrated that the failure to post the resolution was not merely technical, but rather was 'an attempt to avoid public scrutiny' of the proposed lease transfer," Kapoor wrote.
The ruling also said Nassau must conduct a comprehensive environmental review of the proposed development, and that the county legislature had failed to take a "hard look" at the Sands casino project.
Instead, the county legislature considered only the technical issue of transferring the lease from one entity to another.
Kapoor kicked the matter back to the Planning Commission and the legislature, ordering them to “conduct a proper public hearing in accordance with all relevant statutes and rules, including the Nassau County Administrative Code and the Open Meetings Law … ”
Hofstra President Susan Poser said in a statement late Thursday: “We appreciate the court’s thoughtful ruling … The court recognized the public’s right to participate in decision-making about the current redevelopment plan for the Nassau Hub. We look forward to contributing to the planning process and advocating for the use of the Hub in ways that will best contribute to our thriving community, while protecting against environmental and other harms.”
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, declined to comment Thursday, citing pending litigation.
Sands: Ruling won't impact bid for license
Reese on Thursday declined to comment directly on the lawsuit but told Newsday the court’s decision didn't change the casino-resort company’s bid to develop the Coliseum property.
“This does not impact our pursuit of a license or how we are preparing our bid or what we believe is our likelihood for success,” Reese said.
Hofstra, based in Hempstead, and its president are among the most outspoken critics of Sands' proposal.
The county argued that Hofstra did not have legal standing to file its lawsuit. But Kapoor ruled Hofstra did have standing because the school had argued the proposal could "have a harmful effect" on the campus.
Kapoor also ruled that the Nassau County Legislature must take a "hard look" at Sands' overall $4 billion casino proposal, not just the effect of the lease transfer.
Because the county legislature, Kapoor wrote, “engaged in improper segmentation by not considering the future development planned by Sands, the Court finds that the Nassau County Legislature did not take the requisite 'hard look' at the relevant areas of environmental concern raised by the lease transfer … ”
The lease transfer had broad support among Nassau County lawmakers from both political parties.
But Sands still had other hurdles to clear.
In August, Sands submitted a land-use application to Hempstead Town which included requests for zoning changes.
The town started its environmental review of the project, as required under state law.