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Apr 4, 2012 12:27 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Democrats Challenge Town Board Republican Majority's Sale of Ronjo Alleyway

Apr 10, 2012 4:39 PM

East Hampton Town officials and residents are questioning two recent appraisals of a town-owned alleyway in Montauk that was authorized to be sold to the owners of the Ronjo Motel last month.

The appraisals—one commissioned by the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee and the other by the owners of the property, Chris Jones and Larry Siedlick—vary vastly in valuing the 20-foot-wide alleyway. The appraisal commissioned by the Town Democratic Committee claims the land is worth $184,000, while the one ordered by the owners of the property states that the land is valued at $22,500.

The Ronjo Motel alleyway sale authorized by the Town Board’s Republican majority in late March has been a subject of controversy. Community members objected to the sale because an appraisal of the property wasn’t done before the land was sold—and because Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said the $35,000 price was “plucked out of the air,” according to a statement issued last week by Jeanne Frankl, the chairwoman of the Town Democratic Committee. The sale was approved by the Town Board’s Republican majority—Mr. Wilkinson, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and Councilman Dominick Stanzione. Democratic Town Board members Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc opposed it.

Members of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee filed a 47-page petition with 644 signatures at the Town Clerk’s office last Wednesday in an attempt to either force the Town Board to repeal the $35,000 sale or to hold a vote seeking the public’s approval of the measure within no less than 60 or more than 75 days after the petition filing, according to Ms. Frankl’s statement.

“The call for the referendum early became a non-partisan effort,” Ms. Frankl stated. “Members of all parties and unaffiliated voters stood in the cold wind asking for signatures without regard to party. People from all communities and across the political spectrum signed without hesitation, expressing outrage at sale of public property without an appraisal. Some mourned that the sale was part of a pattern of the current government administration selling off all town property.”

Mr. Jones’s appraisal, which was performed by Stephen H. Schuster of Sag Harbor, based the $22,500 price on five residential properties all outside of East Hampton Town—from Shelter Island, Southold, Tuckahoe and Bridgehampton. According to Mr. Schuster’s report, “without significant variances, the alleyway is not buildable.” It states that it has valued the property at its “highest & best use.”

The report by Clark & Marshall of East Hampton, bases its $184,000 valuation of the land on three commercial sales of vacant land in the downtown Montauk business district. It claims the valuation is based on the property’s appraisal on a “direct sales comparison approach,” by which a property is compared to recent area sales of other properties of similar design, utility and appeal. It based its appraisal on three sales of property in Montauk.

Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson this week raised the question of the legitimacy of the appraisal commissioned by the Democrats, claiming their appraisal report is based on comparable sales of developable land. That is, according to Mr. Wilkinson, “quite different from what I see as a totally encumbered, totally restricted inaccessible alleyway that has been used since the early ’60s for a hotel guest and pool and sunbathing area.”

“It’s an apple and orange appraisal,” said Mr. Wilkinson.

Zachary Cohen, a Springs resident who challenged Mr. Wilkinson for supervisor last year, said the Clark & Marshall appraisal was based on an interpretation of what the Town Board’s majority thought it was selling to the owners of the Ronjo. It is appraised “the way it appears the buyer thinks they’re buying and Wilkinson thinks they’re selling it,” he said last week. According to the original sale of the alleyway to the town from 511 Equities Corp. in 1982, the property is “subject to the rights of others to use said alleys for all lawful purposes,”—begging the question of what is it exactly that the town sold.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Siedlick issued a joint statement last week lamenting that recent renovations to transform the property into The Montauk Beach House by this season have been stalled by politics. The two bought the land for $4.2 million in February.

“Sadly, we did not anticipate the current political controversy over a sliver of land that for over 50 years was utilized by the previous owners of the property,” they stated. “We have no desire to be involved in controversy and regret the fact that this very positive project is now embroiled in what seems to be a political dispute over which we have no control. We hope the issue is resolved in a fair and equitable manner that benefits the long-term interests of our community. Our team is working very hard to complete the renovations so that The Montauk Beach House will be open for the 2012 summer season.”

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The independent appraisal failed to take into account the 81% ($$149K) discount that Chris Jones received as a Republican Party member.

I hope the same partisan rules don't apply when Wilkinson puts the Town beaches up for bid.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 4, 12 1:41 PM
1 member liked this comment
Perhaps the new owners shouldn't buy it. They should just continue to use it. Isn't there a 10 year adverse possession law they could use to just claim it?
By Duckbornandraised (184), Eastport on Apr 4, 12 3:36 PM
i am sure there may be a valid claim of adverse possession - therefore the Town may not have clear title to "sell" anythiing in the first place .... and even if they could - who would buy an ally way with a swimming pool encroaching on it? But these are just practical matters ... who cares about those when you can make political fodder of every decision made and have HHS chiming in about the use of beaches he's probably never been on ... as a resident of EQ - did you sign that petition HHS? I'm ...more
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Apr 4, 12 4:29 PM
what a waste of time. Doesnt the board have far more important issues to deal with than the 35,000 sale of an alleyway (have you seen it!!). Why not just put the alleyway up for sale to the highest bidder and set a time limit of 3 months. Something tells me if they take that course of action they wont get 35,000. What a waste of everyones time
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 5, 12 9:01 AM
Adverse possession requires the disseisor to occupy the property openly and EXCLUSIVELY, keeping out all others. Since this is an alleyway used by business owners and the public, adverse possession is inapplicable.

In fact, if Wilkinson had contacted all the interested parties and everyone agreed that selling the property to Ronjo was appropriate, there would be no problem. But he didn't. In typical Wilkinsonian fashion, he decreed a price and proceeded to sell the parcel as if it were ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 5, 12 5:04 PM
3 members liked this comment
Well said HHS.

$35k for the sale? One might have assumed that this was just a one-year "Right-of-Way" for Wilkie to stroll the alley!

Admit he is wrong?

Never. Walt Disney would not allow it!
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 5, 12 5:27 PM
The fact is High hat size that this "alleyway" is not used business owners and the public. This PAPER alley has had a pool on it for probably 50 years.
Also, the fact that, in this economy, there are people willing to invest millions to
the downtown area of Montauk (which is sorely needed) to a property that was an absolute eyesore, and then employ many local people should be applauded. Oh but wait all these petitioneers are retired transplants living on annuities so it dosent effect ...more
By Old School Montaukette (10), Montauk on Apr 6, 12 10:31 AM
to Old School Montaukette:

Wilkinson decreed a value for town-owned property sua sponte (without independent evaluation) and proceeded to sell it at that price to a fellow party member with the collusion of his two party-colleague Board members.

Can ANY argument to be made in favor of this procedure?

Parenthetically, this has nothing to do with Ronjo or Chris Jones who appears blameless. It is simply another example of egregiously bad behavior by a Supervisor who would ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 6, 12 10:41 PM
I have had some experience with public purchase and sale of property and I know of nothing that says an appraisal is required. I believe there has to be some basis for the value assigned. If the the town, based on the Town Attorney's research, has sold similar strips of land for $500 and $750, then it appears $35,000 certainly was reasonable. Now I read that you have 2 appraisers with these vastly different values. According to the articles I have read on this matter, the ally has been totally ...more
By mrmako61 (148), southampton on Apr 7, 12 12:21 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By davbud (127), east hampton on Apr 7, 12 9:49 AM
OK, how do you interpret that survey? I see the pool and the concrete patio/play area right on top of the alley. I also see a shed in the alley. The pool and concrete around it has cut off access through that alley for decades according to everything I have read. Why hasn't the town demanded that all the impediments in the alley be removed to restore passage? Why, all of a sudden, is it so important to have that alley clear? The town has had no interest in clearing the alley until this $35K ...more
By mrmako61 (148), southampton on Apr 7, 12 5:29 PM
to mrmako:

It amazes me that anyone (other than Pollyanna) can argue that it is appropriate for the Town Board Republican majority to vote as a block to sell town property to a Republican party stalwart at a price that the Republican Supervisor "pulled out of the air" by his own admission.

By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 7, 12 2:46 PM
2 members liked this comment
Oh for goodness sake - this obsession with the "pulled out of the air" comment just highlights the stupidity around this whole dumb issue. It seems that Wilkinson's biggest sin here is to make use of a some sarcasm....generally acknowledged to require some level of intelligence to decipher. Clearly that level of brainpower is missing in all of the alleyway scaremongers here, who have a fantastic magic trick by the way..."hey, let's turn a $35,000 bonus for the town into a $100,000 deficit. Ta ...more
By janehp (10), Sag Harbor on Apr 7, 12 6:39 PM
Interestingly, no mention of publishing the "mysterious $184,000" appraisal. The owners of the Hotel have published theirs, and it shows direct and recent comparison of alleyway sales. As an interesting FACT, on 1/19/11 84 South Euclid Avenue, Montauk was conveyed. It is 13,133 Square feet of developable Central business district zoned land. Yes, you could build pretty much anything allowed under the code on that size of site....... as opposed to a 20 foot alleyway with no development rights whatsoever ...more
By janehp (10), Sag Harbor on Apr 7, 12 7:12 PM
Where is the Appraisal commissioned by TMBH "published?" Why do you state the Alleyway has "no development rights whatsoever?"
By davbud (127), east hampton on Apr 9, 12 7:34 PM
The above post is by David Buda.
By davbud (127), east hampton on Apr 9, 12 7:35 PM
to janehp:

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

No one is trying to "derail" the development, verbose assertions to the contrary.

The question is simply whether the Republican Supervisor and his Republican board colleagues acted properly in selling a parcel of town property to a Republican party member without attempting to ascertain the true market value first. The identical question would arise were the party affiliations involved Democratic rather than Republican.

Wilkinson ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 7, 12 8:46 PM
1 member liked this comment
What is wrong with an appraisal? Wilkinson threw the fit when he said at a Town Board meeting "bring it on" meaning an appraisal. This is really not about the cost of an alleyway, but the way it was done. For some reason Quigley and Wilkinson think they can make these decisions on their own. The people who signed those petitions don't like the way it was done. You can blame the Dems all you want, but the people who signed those petitions were Democrats, Republicans, Independence and Blanks. ...more
By housewife (79), east hampton on Apr 7, 12 10:10 PM
What is wrong with an appraisal? Wilkinson threw the fit when he said at a Town Board meeting "bring it on" meaning an appraisal. This is really not about the cost of an alleyway, but the way it was done. For some reason Quigley and Wilkinson think they can make these decisions on their own. The people who signed those petitions don't like the way it was done. You can blame the Dems all you want, but the people who signed those petitions were Democrats, Republicans, Independence and Blanks. ...more
By housewife (79), east hampton on Apr 7, 12 10:10 PM
The "bring it on" comment wasn't about the appraisal, it was about the permissive referendum and, again, I'm sure the translation was something along the lines of "why would you do that?". The cost of holding a permissive referendum - for the public to vote whether the town should sell the land - will likely run into tens of thousands of dollars. Then there will be probably be another appraisal ordered on top of that and it's doubtful that the value will be more than $35K, so net net, the town ...more
By janehp (10), Sag Harbor on Apr 8, 12 10:01 AM
The Democrats have been caught with their pants down, so to speak. The second appraisal by the buyers of the Ronjo which has a comp within a stones throw of the Ronjo was obviously not expected. The Dem's bogus appraisal has been exposed. I again call for a DA investigation of this appraisal and others offered by this company. I've seen this happen in other towns. When the Dems are in the minority they get their gadflies, who are mostly retired or unemployed, out on the streets to get signatures ...more
By mrmako61 (148), southampton on Apr 8, 12 12:14 PM
I just hope ATH does not start this old Suffolk Dem practice of petitions here in Mariner land again to neutralize Nuzzi, Preston and Malone. Keep this practice out of SH.
By mrmako61 (148), southampton on Apr 8, 12 12:25 PM
The buzz around town hall is that Sylvia Overby is threatening town building and planning board staff to try and find a way to prevent the project from moving ahead as a way of punishing these guys. Staff is afraid to speak up because they don't want her to get them fired. Very sad because this is a great thing for Montauk. Again we get screwed by, sorry to say - Democrats who seem intent on preventing the rest of us getting ahead now that they have theirs.
By MTK (10), Montauk on Apr 8, 12 1:28 PM
It is truly a shame if the Ronjo development is delayed. If only the supervisor would obtain objective appraisals of the parcel in question, this need not happen. Unfortunately, rationality has yielded to ego once again and the cumbersome petition process has ensued.

If he admitted he was wrong this Monday, the appraisals (which might even be LESS than the one he "pulled out of the air") could be in by Wednesday, and NO delay or taxpayer costs would occur. It's a question of character.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 8, 12 8:21 PM
HH I find it interesting that someone from east quogue has such a vendetta against the Wilkenson. The bottom line is we have wasted too much time, money and effort on this already. This is a 35k transaction that is being micromanaged to the hilt. How about focusing our attention are far more pressing issues?
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 9, 12 8:33 PM
to razza5350:

Couldn't agree with you more about wasting time. Had Wilkinson simply gotten objective appraisals of the tract to begin with, there would be no story. It is his childish insistence that the town accept his sua sponte property evaluation that is entirely responsible for the wasted time and potential cost.

It is repeated autocratic behavior such as this for which Wilkinson merits criticism from any democratic republican.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 9, 12 8:55 PM
This situation is nothing more than political fodder. Fact is its an alley way with little or no intrinsic value. An Appraisal in this situation is a waste of time and money. The alleyway is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. If Clark and Marshall say its worth 184K I say we sell it to them for 100. Lets see how quickly they make a profit on that one. (I have a house in sagharbor the town appraised for tax purposes at 2 million. I offered to sell it to the town for 750 and they said ...more
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 9, 12 10:49 PM
HH - Here is the point though - while it is always easy to say you get something valued, there is a point at which a supervisor (as a democratically elected official) must be trusted to make a judgement call - which is supported by a majority vote. Thats why we elect them. In this instance, the alleyway is of questionable title, and is unlikely to be valued anything like the numbers that are being thrown about. If everyone has the right to call foul on anything that crosses party lines, then why ...more
By janehp (10), Sag Harbor on Apr 9, 12 11:08 PM
I'm sorry Jane, but if the Alley were being appraised based on the worth of the developmental potential that would be added to the property of TMBH, LLC, then it would be valued at substantially more than the number Clark & Marshall calculated. When the current, or a future owner chooses to, or is required to, undergo a Site Plan process before the Planning Board, the inclusion of the area of the Alley and the elimination of "street" setback requirements from the Alley would enable construction ...more
By davbud (127), east hampton on Apr 10, 12 8:14 AM
Also, I believe this week's local newspapers will be able to do an in depth comparison between, and analysis of, both very different Appraisals that have been proffered. Let the objective readers decide for themselves. David Buda, Springs.
By davbud (127), east hampton on Apr 10, 12 8:18 AM
Mr Buda, I agree with your stance on the situation in springs with illegal aliens but must disagree with you here. If I have read this correctly Chris Jones is seeking to purchase this from the town. The same Chris Jones who was put through the ringer over the flopped music festival last summer. My point is I highly doubt this is politically motivated. In regards to construction zoning. If you have lived here as long as I how do you thing that will go. If you are ticked with Wilkenson over illegal ...more
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 10, 12 9:26 AM
ALLEGED INTIMIDATION BY OVERBY CONFIRMED. At today's Town Board Meeting it was made known that Sylvia Overby has been intimidating town employees about the Ronjo project according to another board member. I heard that if it's proved that she intimidated town employees like that to unfairly target someone that the town and her can be sued for damages. Also heard that any town employee who goes along with it can be sued personally. IS ANY OF THIS AGAINST THE LAW?
By MTK (10), Montauk on Apr 10, 12 5:28 PM
I also was at the Town Board Work Session meeting yesterday morning. I can assure you that ALL OF MS. QUIGLEY'S ALLEGATIONS WERE SOUNDLY REFUTED AND DENIED BY MS. OVERBY. NOTHING AT ALL was "CONFIRMED!" I have never heard anyone involved in this issue state that they wish anything other than the best of luck and great financial success for anyone who is willing to make a substantial monetary investment in Montauk provided, however, they understand they must abide by the Town laws and development ...more
By davbud (127), east hampton on Apr 11, 12 1:12 AM
Sylvia Overby is notorious, NOTORIOUS, for back-door manipulation, back-stabbing, working for her party and plain old partisan politics -- especially when it comes to the Planning Board and her attempts over the years as its Chair to control every piece of wood that may/may not end up having a nail in it. All with a gracious "who me?" smile. Theresa Quigley simply doesn't know how to fake a smile .... such a shame so much time is being wasted by "personalitiies" and political ploys when there ...more
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Apr 20, 12 4:09 PM
Back door manipulation... Would that be pressurizing building department officials to "stop" ronjo by any chance. Or calling up planners to review things under a microscope maybe. All will surely be exposed in due course me thinks - you cannot do this to folks without getting your cummupance sooner or later. Silvia obstructionist overby is on borrowed time as far as that's concerned.
By Andy P (19), Montauk on Apr 21, 12 9:37 PM