Yale, Toads in land dispute

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Yalies could be forced to find a new place to conclude their Saturday nights, if an ongoing land dispute between the University and the historic Toad’s Place nightclub is not resolved.

The legal dispute arose when the University sued the nightclub last year for allowing patrons to exit from side doors onto the adjacent walkway leading to Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges, an act that Yale considers trespassing on University property. In the most recent court action on Nov. 29, Toad’s brought forth six counterclaims, on three of which a superior court judge ruled in Yale’s favor.

The music hall, which has hosted the likes of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and U2 over its 40-year history, is seeking a solution whereby patrons can exit onto the adjoining Yale property in the event of an emergency. If the two parties do not settle, their case may go to trial in the spring.

“If Yale prohibits the use of the side entrances, then Toad’s has no egress,” said attorney James Segaloff, who represents Toad’s owner Brian Phelps. “If there’s a fire, you can’t go out the side door, and then potentially the fire marshal shuts Toad’s down, and that’s the end of it.”

The disagreement between the University and the night club has been simmering for over 30 years. In 1978, Michael Spoerndle, then-owner and operator of Toad’s Place, entered into a revocable license agreement with Yale to allow Toad’s staff and patrons to access the University’s adjoining property in case of an emergency — an arrangement that either side could revoke at its discretion with 10 day’s notice. Segaloff said Yale offered to extend the license for another ten years in 2008.

Phelps, who had taken over the night club by that point, refused to accept the agreement with the revocation clause intact.

“What they did was meaningless for all intents and purposes,” Segaloff said. “If you can revoke the agreement at any time, then what good is it?”

On July 21, 2008, Yale officially revoked this license. After July, however, Toad’s Place employees, customers, business invitees and guests repeatedly entered the walkway through the club’s exits for “improper purposes including … smoking, drinking and littering,” according to the Summary Judgment Ruling released Nov. 29.

According to University spokesman Tom Conroy, Yale is seeking a permanent injunction enjoining Toad’s and their employees from entering or trespassing, or allowing other people to enter the walkway through Toad’s Place.

“What Yale essentially wants is to reach an agreement with Toad’s that ensures that there aren’t disruptions on Yale’s adjacent property but also provides Toad’s with the ability to continue to operate,” Conroy said. “Yale isn’t interested in having any negative effect on Toad’s business.”

Conroy said Toad’s is contending that it does not need Yale’s permission to use Yale’s property, adding that Yale is seeking an agreement that would regulate how Toad’s patrons can access Yale’s property to stem improper behavior, such as smoking, drinking, and littering. He noted that Yale is still willing to enter into a license agreement affording Toad’s access for emergency purposes, contingent on prevention of improper use of the property.

Still, Segaloff said that, if Yale insists upon keeping a revocation clause in the deal, the agreement is too unstable for Toad’s to accept.

“I would be delighted to try to sit with people at Yale and work on something but, to give us 10 years and then say you’re done doesn’t work,” Segaloff said.

William Gallagher, the attorney representing the nightclub in this suit, told the New Haven Register that, if Yale prevents the club from using exit doors and the paths leading to York Street, the business and the property’s value would be severely affected. Gallagher argued that the University is violating the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act by managing real estate in a way that is designed to “destroy competition of a business which it does not control but which is contiguous to its property.”

Segaloff said that the best way to resolve the issue would be to give the nightclub the right to three or four feet from the building all around the property as a walkway to usher customers onto York Street. He said that, while he doesn’t believe smoking and noise is a huge problem near the walkway, his client is prepared to limit the times one can go on the walkway and address concerns about smoking.

“We would use it only for emergency purposes,” Segaloff said. “In the grand scheme of things, to try to shut down Toad’s, as opposed to giving us three or four feet, doesn’t seem to be reasonable.”

This isn’t the first time Yale has engaged New Haven businesses in legal battles. Owners of former restaurant Bespoke engaged in a dispute over the rights to use the Yale-owned alley behind the restaurant, an issue that required extensive ajudication.

Segaloff added he is deeply concerned as to what could happen to Toad’s, a significant establishment in the the heart of Yale’s campus.

Several students interviewed were shocked to hear that Toad’s could potentially close as a result of a legal dispute with Yale. Thomas Aviles ’16 characterized the loss of Toad’s as a “game changer” not only for Yale students, but students at neighboring institutions, such as the University of New Haven and Quinnipiac.

“If you’re talking about a decision coming down in a couple of months, then yes, you will probably see astonishment or disbelief at the idea of no Toad’s,” Aviles said. “It’s iconic-you can love it, hate it, or not really care, but you can’t deny it’s a formidable presence on campus.”

Toad’s Place first opened in 1976.

Correction: Jan. 3

A previous version of this article stated that the restaurant Bespoke folded due to high litigation costs. In fact, this is unconfirmed. 

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