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The operator of a new Par 3 golf course in Jefferson Valley who has been under fire from Yorktown officials for continued delays and unresolved issues is retaliating with a lawsuit that alleges the town has been using a “Keystone Cops approach to local zoning enforcement.”
In an Article 78 proceeding filed July 20 in State Supreme Court, RC Recreation Development, LLC clubs Supervisor Matt Slater, Councilman Sergio Esposito, and Building Inspector John Landi for engaging in a “politically motivated campaign” that led to a stop work order on July 6 and a search for a new company to take over the redevelopment of the town-owned property.
“Slater, Esposito, and Landi have not hidden their desire to replace RC at any cost, regardless of the existing contract, and along the way have not only engaged in conduct that is arbitrary and irrational and contrary to law but have also breached the contract in several respects and violated RC’s rights to procedural and substantive due process, and the right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures, under the Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments in the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit states.
The property has not been used since 2007, when Shallow Greek Golf Course shut down. In 2014, town officials entered into a 10-year agreement with RC Recreation to restore the site as Valley Fields Golf Course, but progress stalled when RC President Rocco Cambareri died in 2017.
In 2018, the lease with RC was extended to 2028 when one of Cambareri’s partners assumed control. In 2020, Valley Fields was fined by the state for doing work without a required permit. A 2021 spring or summer possible opening never materialized. In December 2021, the town’s Planning Board approved the site plan for Valley Fields.
In the lawsuit, RC Recreation maintains the redevelopment of the course has “from time to time been delayed by external and unanticipated factors, be they insect infestations, COVID-19-related shutdowns, supply chain disruptions, and the like. Despite these challenges, approximately one-third of the greens and fairways are now replaced and in pristine condition, and development of the other elements of the project are proceeding apace.”
During a Town Board work session last month, Landi outlined 18 “barebones necessities” that RC Recreation needed to resolve before even considering having golfers tee off after the nine-hole golf course failed to open July 4 as expected.
Landi also revealed that two campers had been planted on the property for more than a year, with one allegedly being used as a dwelling. Slater said when Landi and Yorktown Police visited, there was evidence of someone living in the camper and they were ordered to leave.
RC alleges in the legal action that heat from the town intensified after Slater took office in January 2020.
“Styling himself after prominent conservatives like Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, Slater used his position as town supervisor as a bully-pulpit from which he routinely and repeatedly (but baselessly) disparaged RC and/or the golf course, often joined in this spiteful chorus by Esposito. This abuse and disparagement came to a head after RC retained counsel and lodged a formal written complaint with the town on June 17, 2022, then again on July 5, 2022,” the lawsuit states.
Slater, who has criticized RC Recreation for “blatantly” refusing to meet with the Town Board when invited to discuss issues, vowed last week to “take on any fight to protect taxpayers from abuse.”
“Holding a contractor accountable for under-performance over eight-and-a-half years is not a political campaign, sabotage, abuse, or disparagement,” Slater stated. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic and my tenure as supervisor, six years of this contract passed with paltry accomplishment — an inexcusable degree of inaction.”
“Despite years of delays, the Town Board sought to work with this developer to advance this golf course’s completion. Instead, we have received excuses and false promises while the developer or its employees violate our ordinances, including by having employees unlawfully live in this town park and by operating without a proper building permit since 2019,” Slater continued.
“The time has come for RC Recreation Development and its principals to acknowledge that they have been incapable of completing this project,” he added. “Their lawsuit makes outlandish allegations to shift public attention away from their failure.”
RC also alleges in the lawsuit that Slater and Esposito “directed and/or participated in warrantless administrative and criminal searches of the golf course, including in one case where Slater, Esposito, and others dressed up like golfers and came to the facility knowing it was not yet open to the public, manufactured alleged and nonexistent ‘violations,’ including criminal,…and threatened RC and/or its agents and employees for criminal prosecution.”
Slater responded to that claim, remarking, “Under the contract, the town is entitled to enter the golf course to inspect, observe or monitor any aspect of the licensee’s operations. No need for disguises, and none were used.”