2007-03-23 / Front Page

Legion, BCAC Battle Over CBB Land

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

This piece of property on the north side of the American Legion Hall on Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel is the subject of a contentious lawsuit between the Legion and the Broad Channel Athletic Club.
This piece of property on the north side of the American Legion Hall on Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel is the subject of a contentious lawsuit between the Legion and the Broad Channel Athletic Club. Two of the most respected organizations in Broad Channel are locked in a battle over the same piece of land that split the community down the middle in late 2001 and early 2002, when St. Virgilius Church turned over the rights to the land adjacent to the American Legion's Cross Bay Boulevard clubhouse to a Brooklyn chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

At the time, community members and even members of the same family were split in what many saw as a battle between the town's children and the religious fraternal organization. The K of C sued the city, but eventually lost its suit.

Now, the American Legion Post 1404 Corporation is suing the Broad Channel Athletic Club (BCAC) and the City of New York over ownership of a 30 foot by 100 foot piece of land that abuts the northern wall of the Legion's headquarters on Cross Bay Boulevard at West First Road.

That piece of land is presently owned by the BCAC and is used as part of the parking lot for its sports facility on the site.

A BCAC spokesperson termed the suit "frivolous" and said that its defense has forced it to cut many important sports programs, including its T-Ball program for young children.

In its lawsuit, filed in Queens Supreme Court in December of 2005, the American Legion says that the city promised it that land in 2000 and then reneged on the deal by turning the land over to the BCAC in August of 2002.

While the suit was filed more than 15 months ago, ongoing discussions between the BCAC and the American Legion kept information about the suit closely held by both groups until recently.

Now that those negotiations have apparently failed, however, the BCAC has decided to publicly discuss the suit for the first time outside of its leadership.

In the court papers, obtained by The Wave, attorneys for the American Legion argue that on October 2, 2000, "the City of New York negotiated and entered into an agreement wherein and whereby [The American Legion] agreed to purchase and [The City of New York] agreed to sell [the land.]"

On August 26, 2002, however, the city executed a deed transferring the land to the Broad Channel Athletic Club. Now, nearly five years later, the American Legion officials want the city to void the BCAC's deed and turn the land over to them.

"The defendant City of New York inadvertently and incorrectly conveyed the premises to the Broad Channel Athletic Club while it was in contract to sell the premises to the American Legion," the suit argues.

Charlie Ledogar, a long-time BCAC official who also belongs to the American Legion post, and has lived in Broad Channel for 58 years, disagrees with the Legion's contentions.

He says that the BCAC had leases for the adjoining land since 1997, when the land was leased from St. Virgilius Church. The church, which has held the land since the late 1950's had never paid any of the rent owed to the city under their lease, Ledogar said.

At the time, nobody was allowed to own the land under their homes or businesses. All the land was owned by the city and leased to the homeowners and business owners.

Under the 1995 Broad Channel Conveyance Act, leaseholders were given the right to buy the land under their leases from the city at set prices. In addition, they were allowed to effectively double their land should no lease be held on the property immediately adjacent to their lot.

The BCAC used that law, it says, to take over the piece of property now coveted by the American Legion.

Ledogar said that the city allowed the BCAC to buy the land because the church had never fulfilled its obligations under the lease and only after a long and costly fight with the Knights of Columbus, which wanted the land for an new clubhouse and had made a deal with the church to purchase the entire BCAC property for $20,000 paid over 20 years.

"This is like a Civil War," Ledogar told The Wave. "I went to the American Legion meeting recently and they weren't too happy to see me there."

He thinks that the Legion wants to use the land to build a handicapped access ramp on the north side of the building, but he doesn't count out the possibility that the Legion is "shilling" for the Knights of Columbus by attempting to give them another shot at the land.

The city seems to be satisfied with allowing the BCAC to retain the land.

In February of 2003, Lori Fierstein, the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Citywide Services, wrote to Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer about the Legion's demand for the land.

"The Broad Channel Athletic Club entered into a lease with the City of New York in 1964. Pursuant to the legislation, the BCAC was entitled to purchase the property which was under lease and an amount of adjacent land equal to the area leased," the letter said. "As a result of the BCAC's purchase, there is no City-owned property contiguous to the American Legion that would be available for sale."

Pheffer now says that it is "sad" that two valuable organizations like the BCAC and the American Legion would be tied up in a contentious lawsuit.

"It's good that it's in the courts now," she said this week. "We all have respect for the courts and the court system and we'll have to let the court make the decision as to who is right."

Ledogar said that the BCAC did not go public about the suit until now under the hope that something could be worked out to allow the costly suit to be dropped.

Last week, however, depositions were taken in the case and it appears that the American Legion intends to take it to trial.

The American Legion responded through their attorney, Stephen Holihan,

"Neither the Legion nor I care to comment on the suit at this time," Holihan said. "We'll let whatever the court decides stand as our statement."

Jack Stoller, Assistant Corporation Counsel, Commercial and Real Estate Litigation, New York City Law Department told The Wave that he could not comment on behalf of the city on the lawsuit.

"Due to pending litigation, we cannot discuss this case further," Stoller said.

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