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Oct 30, 2008 3:44 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Rivercatwalk developer files $25 million lawsuit against Southampton Town

Oct 30, 2008 3:44 PM

The developer of a hotel and conference center proposed for Riverside since 2001 has filed a $25 million federal civil rights lawsuit against Southampton Town and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, charging that both entities purposely delayed signing off on the necessary permits for her project.

Dede Gotthelf, the developer of the proposed 106-room hotel and conference center called Rivercatwalk, which targets 20 acres off Flanders Road in Riverside, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip on October 10.

Her attorney, Andrew Campanelli of the Mineola-based firm Campanelli and Associates LLP, explained that, in the lawsuit, Ms. Gotthelf charges that Southampton Town officials violated her civil rights by favoring the approval process of another proposed development—the Riverside Hamlet Center—and discriminated against her because she is a woman. The litigation also notes that the DEC has contributed to the delay by refusing to sign off on the necessary permits to build the complex.

“There’s no reason why this project didn’t go forward. She’s hit stumbling block after stumbling block,” Mr. Campanelli said. “It’s been frozen for at least three years.”

Ms. Gotthelf has had her plans for Rivercatwalk before the town since 2001, and she has submitted a number of environmental reviews because the proposed hotel and conference center will be built on wetlands. In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Gotthelf said she filed the lawsuit because she has grown tired of waiting for a green light.

“It took a lot to do this—it was something I thought I could avoid,” Ms. Gotthelf said. “But I had a final realization in August that there isn’t a way to get the town’s attention without taking a more aggressive action. It’s very sad that this has come to this.”

Town Attorney Daniel Adams said on Thursday that the municipality has not yet been officially served with legal papers. However, Mr. Adams noted that he had met with Mr. Campanelli only a few days ago regarding his client’s project. During that meeting, Mr. Adams said he had agreed to mail a letter to Ms. Gotthelf that provides an update of the status of her plans and describes any remaining hurdles of the review process.

“We’re still trying to work with her and help move her project along,” Mr. Adams said. “We wanted it to be a constructive meeting, but now there’s a lawsuit out there and it’s disheartening. The town wants to help her along, just like we like to see all projects move along to completion.”

Officials with the DEC could not be immediately reached for comment.

According to Mr. Campanelli, Southampton Town officials wronged Ms. Gotthelf by pushing through similar approvals for the Riverside Hamlet Center, a commercial complex that sits on more than 50 acres and lies directly across the street from Ms. Gotthelf’s Rivercatwalk property.

“It’s not difficult to see which is favored by the town,” Mr. Campanelli said. “You can see the hamlet center proudly framed outside the [Southampton Town] Planning Board’s door.”

Mr. Campanelli also represents developers Robert Muchnick, who earlier this year filed a $25 million federal civil rights lawsuit against Westhampton Beach Village, and fellow developer Rocco Lettieri, who filed a similar $25 million lawsuit against Quogue Village. Both suits charge that officials in those respective municipalities unfairly delayed their approval of new construction projects.

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Seems that if you don't get your way you file a lawsuit and claim your civil rights were violated.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Southampton on Oct 30, 08 6:39 PM
Interesting!! Miss Gotthelf did not wish to announce publicly that she was forced to proceed with a lawsuit. Unfortunately Councilman Dan Russo broke a confidence and "Outed" Miss Gotthelf in revealing that fact in a public meeting last week in Flanders. The local community in that area has been universally positive in supporting her plans but the Town has stonewalled any progress on what would apparently be a winning scenario for all the stakeholders. So who loses again? The people of Flanders, ...more
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Oct 31, 08 11:31 AM
meet the $25 million dollar man, Andrew Campanelli , - now suppose he loses his three suits - can the government entities (i.e. taxpayers) collect the cost in litigation?
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Oct 31, 08 11:41 AM
I don't think it was a Campanelli case, but someone up west who brought a similar Federal civil rights action against Sea Cliff and when he lost, had to cough up almost a million dollars in attorney's fees to the defendants.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Oct 31, 08 1:53 PM
Actually, the plaintiff didn't "lose." His case was dismissed as "groundless," which is probably why he was sanctioned for the other side's legal fees. I found it on the Beachblog: http://www.whbqt.info/template_permalink.asp?id=479 .
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Oct 31, 08 2:01 PM
Just noticed the comment by Foodie that Russo somehow broke a confidence by revealing that Gotthelf had filed a lawsuit against the Town.

How is that "breaking a confidence?" If the Town has been served with her notice, then that's a matter of public record.

Look, I'm all for orderly development in the neighborhood, but stop with the paranoid accusations already! Did the woman really think she could sue the Town in secret???
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Oct 31, 08 2:22 PM
The Sea Cliff case is a rarity. It is very difficult for a local municipality to have a 42 USC 1983 civil rights case dismissed, and obtain attorneys fees from a plaintiff. There is also no qualified immunity for local municipalities in these type of cases, as there is for state and county entities. That is why this is a popular claim against villages and towns. And, the plaintiff is very often awarded attorney's fees.

The orginal intent of the statute was to favor plaintiffs whose ...more
By CommonSense (71), Southampton on Nov 3, 08 9:26 AM
Interesting info from CommonSense -

"The orginal intent of the statute was to favor plaintiffs whose civil rights were violated based upon race. Thus, the law is skewed in favor of plaintiffs and their attorneys"

I suppose the Synagogue might have this in mind
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Nov 6, 08 2:50 PM
There certainly seems to be a lot of "discrimination" in Southampton since large development projects came to town. Nearly all the "suspect classifications" have been covered since Mr. Campanelli made his first big splash. While I only know of him from what I read in the papers, I know Dede Gotthelf personally. It seems to me a sad and strange combination. I hope the town aggressively defends each of these cases and actively pursues sanctions--it is the only way to level the playing field.
By Doug Penny (64), Lexington, Virginia on Nov 10, 08 3:26 AM
Mr. Campanelli is not a honest person In my opinion and completely untrustworthy so I would think first before retaining him cause he'll take your money and run like he has done to many other clients In the past.
By thecate400@aol.com (11), Mineola on Nov 19, 08 5:40 PM
Obama should wipe out injustice and corruption within our local government
and clean up westchester county by removing corrupt public official who think they are a bove the law. Give back westchester county to its people and have a complete federal investigation done into the corruption within our county
and local municipalities thru out westchester county. Just look at the each town's expenditures and see what I mean. In my town alone the town officials charge everything on us tax ...more
By thecate400@aol.com (11), Mineola on Nov 26, 08 8:37 AM