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Judge refuses to change decision on future of zoo property

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III said Wednesday he sees no reason to alter his decision earlier this year that allowed the Oppenheim Zoological Society to turn over the site of its long-closed Wheatfield zoo to Niagara County, which operates an adjoining 70-acre park.

Murphy rejected efforts by Mary E. Maloney, attorney for the Kiwanis Activities Corp. of Niagara Falls, to reopen the case. The Kiwanis had contended that Max M. Oppenheim’s original 1944 deed gave the 15.3 acres to the Kiwanis Club if the zoo ever closed, which it did in 1988.

The society plans to go out of existence after conveying the land to the county, but it hasn’t done so yet. Assistant Attorney General William Maldovan told Murphy at arguments Aug. 2 that state law forbids a not-for-profit corporation, such as the zoological society, from disposing of land without a court’s permission. Murphy did not give that permission Wednesday, saying no one had yet brought that specific issue before him.

The Kiwanis has filed an appeal of Murphy’s March 14 ruling that invalidated the 1944 deed.