Town aims to take Capri Motor Inn through eminent domain


Could Hempstead town officials have broke their own laws declaring Capri Motor Inn a public nuisance?

But that might not matter, as those same officials are now moving forward with plans to take the Hempstead Turnpike business away from its property owners through eminent domain. In that process, government can take control of property so long as it’s for a public use, and that officials provide “just compensation” to the property owners.

A meeting is set for Tuesday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m., to discuss that possibility.

The Capri Motor Inn was shuttered immediately following a surprise fire marshal inspection last August triggered by town officials and the Nassau County Police Department. The inspection reportedly found faults with the fire and carbon monoxide alarm systems, as well as unsafe electrical cords — but “nothing out of the ordinary,” Assistant Fire Marshal James Hickman told the Herald at the time.

“Nothing there for us to shut the building down,” he said. “We issued paperwork to correct the problem — nothing to such a degree that we would be shutting down the building.”

But that’s exactly what happened to the West Hempstead business, with town officials posting flyers on the doors, declaring it a “public nuisance.”

At the time, town officials blamed the public nuisance declaration on the building department, but not under Hempstead town law. These two labels, officials said, were separate from one another.

“That’s something where there has to be a hearing,” a town spokesperson previously told the Herald. “So we can’t call it a ‘public nuisance’ yet, but it is labeled as a ‘nuisance.’”

The building department cited structural issues as the reason for its designation, the spokesperson added, and not the ongoing police activity at the property that has kept Capri on the town’s radar for some time.

The problem, however, appears to be that while there are laws specific to what’s needed to declare a building a “public nuisance” — including the requirement of a public hearing — no such laws exist within the building department.

Town officials had hoped to do something with Capri for years — a site they say has a lengthy history of gun violence, drug use and prostitution. Many of the neighbors surrounding the motor inn celebrated its closure, including the West Hempstead Community Support Association, which gathered more than 600 signatures on a petition demanding officials never allow it to re-open.

Weeks after the closure, Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin ordered a pair of public hearings to help make the “public nuisance” designation official.

“You want to make a difference?” Clavin asked his constituents at the time. “You come down to this special board meeting. Let your voices be heard about why this facility should be labeled a ‘nuisance.’”

The town’s public nuisance law outlines a specific protocol for officials to follow before such a declaration can be made. On top of that, a site targeted by the law requires there be two arrests for specific offenses like drugs, prostitution or unlawfully dealing with a child, taking place within a year of each other. The property owners also must be notified of the arrests with a copy of the public nuisance law, according to a review of the procedures.

Jeffrey Schreiber, an attorney who represents the motor inn’s owners, claims that process wasn’t followed. The first notice of arrest, for example, did not include a copy of the public nuisance law. The second arrest town officials cited — in which two women allegedly walked from Capri to a gas station across the street to buy crack cocaine — took place off the motor inn’s property.

“You can’t count to two before getting to one,” Schreiber told officials at a hearing last August. “Even the second predicate arrest is defective, according to the terms of your own ordinance.”

The eminent domain hearing is scheduled to take place at Hempstead Town Hall, 1 Washington St.

“By working together, we can get an end to this blighted area,” Clavin told neighbors last August. “This eyesore, and, really, this actually amazingly dangerous facility that shouldn’t be in this community anymore.”