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Attorney: Brinkmann fight is ‘far from over,’ as judge rules in favor of town

A federal judge has dealt what could be a significant setback in attempts by the Brinkmann family to block Southold Town’s pursuit of eminent domain on Mattituck property where they hope to build a new hardware store. 

In a memo issued July 6, Judge LeShann DeArcy Hall denied a preliminary injunction to prevent the town from moving ahead with the eminent domain process while litigation on the matter continues. She also found that the Brinkmanns have “waived their right to challenge [Southold’s] public use determination.”

Attorneys for both sides this week declined to speculate on the full meaning of the judge’s findings as they await her written opinion, but they agreed it’s a favorable outcome for Southold Town. 

It will not, however, mark the end of litigation between the two parties.

Jeffrey Redfern, a property rights attorney with the Institute for Justice, the group that filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the Brinkmanns, said, “Litigation is a very, very long process.”

“This is far from over,” he said.

Mr. Redfern said that if it’s determined the Brinkmanns and Institute for Justice have “lost on the merits” of the case, the opinion would be immediately appealed. He said it’s also possible they could move for reconsideration. Either way, he’s confident they can still prevail.

Mr. Redfern said brothers Ben and Hank Brinkmann are firm in their belief that the town’s use of eminent domain is a violation of their Fifth Amendment rights. According to the complaint filed in the Eastern District Court of New York in May, the Brinkmanns are seeking a judgment by the court that the town’s claim of establishing a park is a “mere pretext for the illegitimate objective of halting an entirely lawful use of property by its owners.”

The dispute centers on the wooded lot at Main Road and New Suffolk Avenue owned by Brinkmann Hardware Corp., which has plans for a 20,000-square-foot hardware store at the site.

The project was halted by a series of six-month building moratoriums first enacted in 2019 and the town voted 4-2 to initiate an eminent domain proceeding against the property owners last September in order to create a community park. Council members Jim Dinizio and Sarah Nappa cast the two votes against the eminent domain proceeding, each arguing that the town should have sought to acquire the land sooner.

The Brinkmanns, who own four existing hardware stores in Suffolk County, maintain the town never previously planned a park at the site and only did so in an attempt to prevent them from developing the land, according to the complaint. The Brinkmann family purchased the lot for $700,000 in 2016 and argued that Southold Town made no attempts to purchase the land when it came up for sale in 2011 or 2016. They previously filed litigation stating the building moratorium on Route 25 in Mattituck was implemented “solely to frustrate and delay” their project.

Mr. Redfern said the Brinkmanns understand litigation is going to “take a lot of time.” 

“They’re convinced that what the Town of Southold is doing is wrong,” he said. “And they want to set a precedent to make sure this doesn’t happen to other people in that position.”

James Catterson, an outside attorney hired by the town, had argued in opposition to the preliminary injunction, saying the town properly followed the state’s eminent domain procedure and the Brinkmanns have failed to challenge the town’s findings in state court. In the court filing, he called the motion for a preliminary injunction “a meritless attempt by [the Brinkmanns] to halt years of Southold’s work” to create the park.

Both parties are scheduled to appear before Judge DeArcy Hall for a status conference next Wednesday, July 21.