Continental Commons owner files federal lawsuit
A developer who wants to build Continental Commons, a replica colonial village on Route 9 in Fishkill, sued critics in federal court last month for $18 million, claiming they employed illegal racketeering and corrupt practices to stop the project.
Domenico Broccoli, who owns the 10.5-acre site, filed suit on Aug. 17, asserting that leaders and supporters of the nonprofit Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot violated the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, a law typically used to prosecute gang members, but also sometimes applicable to non-criminal proceedings.
The lawsuit targets 31 people — naming six and referring to 25 only as “Does” — plus two consulting firms. It alleges various offenses, including salting the property with bones and historic artifacts; digging phony graves; “making knowingly false statements” to government officials; misleading the public; or otherwise misbehaving to achieve the “ultimate goal of wresting ownership of the property.”
Sometimes called Crossroads, the property lies on a piece of the Revolutionary War Fishkill Supply Depot, a vast military base that stretched from colonial Fishkill village down the Albany Post Road (now Route 9) to northern Philipstown, which was then part of Dutchess County. It sprawled eastward along the present Route 52 toward East Fishkill and west to Fishkill Landing and the Hudson River, now Beacon.
The Van Wyck homestead, a Continental Army officers’ headquarters overseen by the Fishkill Historical Society, faces Broccoli’s site across Snook Road.
Broccoli, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who owns four IHOP restaurants, wants to construct a hotel, restaurant, retail space and visitor center. The site currently contains a gas station with a car wash and convenience store, woods and a cemetery that the Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot (FOFSD) believe contains graves of Revolutionary War dead. Broccoli disagrees with their assessment but has pledged to protect the burial ground.
A 2007 archaeological dig uncovered eight graves; in 2013 three more burials were discovered and 18th-century artifacts have also surfaced. In objecting to Continental Commons, FOFSD has warned that development would “destroy unique ruins, dishonor the memory of the heroes who served — and are buried — at the site, and permanently scar the historic landscape of Fishkill.”
Broccoli’s lawsuit contends that after failing to raise enough money to buy the property during a seven-month period he gave the organization in 2013, the nonprofit’s leaders and supporters used “a series of well-crafted lies aimed at devaluing” his land and “destroying” his business. According to the complaint, their “actions were not based in patriotism or an altruistic desire to preserve American history. Instead, their scheme is based in greed.” The lawsuit maintains the FOFSD intends to establish a for-profit “cultural heritage tour” business where visitors can join “mock archaeological digs and find manufactured artifacts.”
As the RICO defendants, the 61-page complaint names FOFSD President Lance Ashworth; Mara Farrell, one of its founders; and Bill Sandy, an archaeologist.
In a non-RICO capacity, the lawsuit targets Douglas Mackey, accused by Broccoli of having prolonged on-site investigations while serving as a state historic preservation analyst and thus having “abused his role” as an expert; and Stephen Thomas, an architect and former Fishkill Planning Board member, who, the lawsuit alleges, sought to drag out the local review to increase Broccoli’s expenses.
The lawsuit also disparages two reports about the site and includes the firms that produced them as defendants, along with one firm’s leader. One report was prepared in 2016 by archaeologist Richard Hunter of Hunter Research and funded by a $24,600 National Park Service grant; the other was by Greenhouse Consultants, a Georgia firm twice hired by Broccoli. He contends the reports intentionally mischaracterized archaeological work or the historical record to make it appear the site contains artifacts and burials or is otherwise related to the Fishkill Supply Depot.
Asked whether, if Broccoli prevails, he could collect the $18 million, a Continental Commons representative, Greg Lane, said on Tuesday (Aug. 31) that the defendants “stood to gain tens of millions of dollars from their fraudulent scheme.”
As of Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 1), none of the defendants had filed a response with the federal court. FOFSD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In January, Broccoli asked a state court to overturn the Fishkill Town Board’s denial of water and sewer system extensions for his project. In a news release at the time, the developer asserted that the town supervisor and board had “consistently, calculatingly and maliciously abused, and continue to abuse, government powers to derail the Continental Commons project.” That case is pending.