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.”