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Jun 15, 2010 6:59 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Groups threaten legal action over proposed sale of Fort Pond House

Jun 15, 2010 6:59 PM

The Group for the East End sent a letter to the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday morning, drafted by attorney Richard Whalen, declaring that the resolution to sell Montauk’s Fort Pond House is illegal.

The group maintains that the property cannot be sold because it was dedicated for public park use, and the town also failed to review the potential environmental effects from the sale.

Mr. Whalen, who is also representing the Concerned Citizens of Montauk and other community groups, said that if the board did not reverse its position on the sale, his clients would take legal action.

The measure to sell the property passed by a 3-2 vote on June 3, with all Republicans on the board in favor and both Democrats, who did not see the resolution before the meeting, opposed. Mr. Whalen and other advocates also decried the board’s decision to put the property on the market without a public hearing.

The town purchased Fort Pond House, a 3.9-acre parcel on Second House Road, in 2003 for $890,000, but still owes about $500,000. Mr. Wilkinson said Tuesday that the property is now being prepared for sale with the assistance of real estate brokers.

According to Mr. Whalen’s letter, the land sale violates New York’s Public Trust Doctrine, the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program and the State Environmental Quality Review Act. The letter also calls into question whether board members had violated the Open Meetings Law by meeting to discuss the resolution in private.

The Public Trust Doctrine, which includes a section called the Parkland Alienation Doctrine, says when a municipality acquires land to be used for recreational activities, the public instills in that purchase the trust that it will be available for public use and may not be used for anything other than parkland without the approval of the State Legislature.

The Fort Pond House property has routinely been used for community activities including regular Boy Scout meetings and events, and it is the only public access to Fort Pond Bay. There are modern picnic tables and benches on the property.

The letter also states that East Hampton’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program requires the town to complete an environmental review specific to the waterfront before any town agency approves the sale. Mr. Whalen also maintains that the property is an “irreplaceable resource,” and its sale is likely to have “significant adverse environmental effects” and therefore the town was required to perform a state-mandated environmental review before adopting the resolution.

Mr. Whalen, who spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, engaged in a testy dialogue with Town Board member Theresa Quigley, who accused Mr. Whalen of representing special interest groups, not the public at large.

When he asked to read a portion of the letter to the board, Ms. Quigley responded “save it for your lawsuit.” “You’re a paid advocate, and you’re advocating your opinion,” she added. “You guys lost the election.”

“Who?” said Mr. Whalen.

“The conservationists,” she responded.

“Madam, I voted for you. I didn’t lose,” said Mr. Whalen. “They’re doing this because you didn’t have a public hearing.”

“This is a public session,” said Ms. Quigley. “I don’t care about the legal definition of a public hearing.”

Nancy Kelley, the executive director of The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, also sent a letter to Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson on Tuesday opposing the sale.

“Public confidence in the town’s commitment to this process and to community preservation outcomes could be seriously eroded by current efforts to alienate town property,” she said. “There is much at stake in maintaining that public trust.”

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What are the former, local, disgraced politician's real estate holdings worth?

That might be a few bucks right there...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 24, 10 7:48 PM
Is the new Town Board getting the message here?

Impatient and precipitous actions spawn reasonable and justified public reactions.

Measure twice -- cut once.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jun 25, 10 6:02 PM