LOCKPORT – The attorney for the Kiwanis Club of Niagara Falls, which in March lost a lawsuit attempting to take control of the former Oppenheim Zoo property, was back in Niagara County Court on Friday, trying to convince Judge Matthew J. Murphy III he made a mistake.
Attorneys for the virtually defunct Oppenheim Zoological Society and Niagara County assured Murphy that he got it right the first time.
Murphy reserved decision on Kiwanis attorney Mary E. Maloney’s effort to reopen the case.
On March 14, Murphy ruled against Kiwanis’ claim to the 15.3-acre parcel on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Wheatfield. He said the Zoological Society still owned it, and Robert J. O’Toole, the society’s attorney, said the group intended to turn the land over to the county.
The zoo closed in 1988. The 70-acre Oppenheim Park is adjacent to the zoo site, and the county intended to enlarge the park with the former zoo property.
In 2010, the society’s board voted to turn the zoo land over to the county, but the lawsuit by the Kiwanis Activities Corp. stopped that plan.
The park and the zoo both are named for Max M. Oppenheim, a Niagara Falls real estate man who donated the land. He died in 1956. In 1958, the society conveyed 70 acres of Oppenheim’s bequest to the county for its park.
The lawsuit turned on a reading of Oppenheim’s 1944 deed to the Zoological Society, which gave the land to Kiwanis if it ever ceased to be used as a zoo or a park. Murphy’s 27-page ruling concluded that the language giving the land to Kiwanis was unenforceable because it violated an old state law called the Rule Against Perpetuities.
Maloney argued Friday that Murphy’s ruling ran contrary to a provision in another state law. O’Toole and Assistant County Attorney R. Thomas Burgasser said Maloney was simply rehashing her previous unsuccessful arguments.
Murphy denied that his ruling gave the zoo land to the county. “There may be some intermediate steps,” he said.
Maloney, who has appealed the original ruling to the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, said there is no guarantee the county would use the land for a park. State Assistant Attorney General William Maldovan said Murphy could put such a restriction in his ruling on Maloney’s effort to reopen the case.