Town fights petition for Legoland referendum Goshen officials file legal request after emergency meeting Tuesday, attorney says petition has enough valid signatures to stop the sale
Photo by Erika Norton
The Goshen Town Board held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss a petition for a referendum regarding Legoland. Council Member Melissa Gallo participated via video conference from Baton Rouge, La.
BY ERIKA NORTON GOSHEN — The Goshen Town Board is pushing back on a petition asking for a referendum on the sale of town-owned land to the developer of the planned Legoland New York theme park. The board okayed the legal challenge at an emergency meeting held on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., which was announced to the public that morning. Then on Wednesday, both the town and Legoland’s developer filed legal requests challenging the petition in state Supreme Court. The petition came after at a Sept. 14 public hearing, when the town board approved the sale of eight parcels — totalling about 9.6 acres — to Merlin Entertainments, Legoland’s parent company, for $60,000. The scattered parcels owned by the town are mostly near Conklingtown Road, on the northwest side of Legoland’s intended site, which will encompass 522 total acres. The Legoland opposition group Concerned Citizens for the Hudson Valley filed its petition to force a vote on the land sale with the town clerk on Friday, Oct. 13, with 409 signatures. Only 181 signatures are required to force the referendum. Since the petition was filed on Friday, Oct. 13 and any challenge needed to be filed no later than Wednesday, Oct. 18, the town board was forced to call the special meeting, said town attorney Richard Golden. In the approved resolution, the town board explained whey they believe the petition is defective, including: Duplicate signatures Signatures witnessed prior to the date of the signature Witnesses witnessing their own signatures, Signatures of people not properly qualified to vote The town board also claims that the petition fails to properly state the reasons for the protest against the town resolution authorizing the sale of the land, and fails to properly represent the sale’s terms and conditions. The voteThe town board approved the litigation in a 3-1 vote, with one council member absent, John Van Der Molen. Due to the unusual emergency nature of the meeting, Council Member Melissa Gallo participated via video conference from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Council Member Kenneth Newbold voted against the resolution. “The people want it,” Newbold said about the referendum. “Technicalities don’t mean anything to me. It’s quite clear that the people want it. I don’t work for Legoland, I don’t work for Neuhaus, I work for the people in Goshen.” Last month, Newbold also voted against amendments to the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning law to allow an amusement park, and against the sale of the land to Merlin itself. Michael Sussman, attorney for Concerned Citizens, said they stand by their petition. “As with any human endeavour, there may be a few errors, but we’re confident that there are more than enough signatures — that is over 181 signatures — to trigger the referendum,” Sussman said Wednesday. “We think that it is tragic and shameful that the town does not willingly sponsor the referendum as per the law and let people in Goshen vote on whether they want to give away — which is what they want to do — eight parcels of town-owned land for a total of $60,000.” Some have suggested holding a referendum on the project as a whole. But Golden said that, according to state law, petitions for a referendum are not allowed on amendments to town zoning law or comprehensive plans. Sales of town land are, however, subject to a permissive referendum. Sussman said the town board may call for a referendum on the town land sale on its own, without community signatures. “That’s what Goshen should have done,” Sussman said. “It shouldn’t have required CC4HV to go around and spend endless hours gathering signatures. They should have said, ‘This is a really important issue in our community and because it’s so important and the state law allows it, they can have a referendum.’” What’s nextIf the petition withstands the legal challenge, the referendum would be held in December, according to Golden. The case has been assigned to Justice Elaine Slobod. However, he said, even if the community voted to block the sale in a referendum, Merlin intends to continue the project with some minor changes. Merlin has also said it wants to start construction before the end of this year and open to the public in 2019. According to Golden, the Legoland site plan may be up for approval at Thursday’s planning board meeting, as this paper goes to press.