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For the People
May 08, 2006
If the mayor of a tony Long Island village has his way, one of the most exclusive private clubs in the New York City area will become a muni
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May 08, 2006

For The People

If the mayor of a tony Long Island village has his way, one of the most exclusive private clubs in the New York City area will become a muni

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At first Deepdalers didn't take the talk seriously. "We figured it was too preposterous," says Wilson. Then Natiss succeeded Lentini and the rhetoric started sounding like a policy statement. "As bizarre and surreal as it seemed," Wilson says, "we started to become very concerned."

Wilson is the force behind the Coalition for Deepdale, a group that has waged a large-scale public relations campaign on behalf of the club. The alliance accuses Natiss of colluding with real estate developers, a charge that Natiss denies. A condemnation, the coalition claims, would increase property taxes, not property values. "The plan to seize Deepdale is socialist!" Wilson says. "It's Communist! It's Bolshevik!" Village mailboxes brim with anti-Natiss propaganda. "Even I have been invited to join the Coalition to Bash the Mayor," says the mayor. "Obviously I haven't joined."

The Vladimir Lenin of North Hills has been a Republican for nearly 40 years. "I wasn't looking for trouble," Natiss says. "Really, I wasn't." He's a practicing lawyer and a former town judge with a good sense of humor and a bad hip. "I don't pay attention to what I'm called by the millionaires and billionaires of Deepdale," he says defiantly. "Stick and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me."

Natiss claims that he hasn't decided whether to invoke the principle of eminent domain. "I'm still gathering data," he says. "I've never said I would pursue this, yet the club has threatened me and backed me against the wall. I'm an elected official. I will not be scared off or intimidated."

He bristles at the notion of seizure. "This would have nothing to do with seizing property," says Natiss. "Eminent domain requires fair market value." But Deepdale's value is a subject of considerable debate. According to the club, the 175-acre property is worth more than $100 million. Natiss says county assessors recently valued Deepdale at less than $13 million. "I think [the value is] somewhere in between," he says. "However, if the actual figure turns out to be $100 million, the village couldn't afford the acquisition."

For now, the takeover has been tabled. When Wilson tried to raise the issue at the town meeting in March, Natiss overruled him. Deepdale is not on the agenda for this month's confab either. "A condemnation may never happen," Natiss says. "Still, in my reading of the law, it would be perfectly legal. If Deepdale's members don't like the law or the evolution of the law, let them change it."

Ironically, the original Deepdale course in Lake Success was ravaged by public domain--three holes were surrendered for the Long Island Expressway--and rescued by that village's legal high jinks. In 1955 residents of Lake Success voted to purchase the club at "a fair and reasonable" price and put the parcel on the open market. The community then prevented the new buyer from subdividing the land into a housing development by rezoning the township and passing an ordinance that forbade the removal of sod from local property. Reluctantly, the builder sold Old Deepdale to the village. It's now a municipal course.

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