East Hampton Town Board members disagreed sharply along party lines on Tuesday over whether to proceed with the sale of a slice of town-owned land to the new owners of the Ronjo motel in Montauk. The land, once designated an alleyway, apparently runs through the motel site.
At a meeting last week, Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson had brought up the sale, saying that Chris Jones, the new owner, was willing to pay the town $35,000 to transfer the land.
Mr. Jones is also the owner of Solé East motel in Montauk, and was a principal behind the Music to Know concert, which was issued a permit for an August event by the board last year after a cursory review, causing townspeople to protest and ultimately sue. The board also issued its approval for the concert to be held on a piece of East Hampton Airport in Wainscott, instead of a private site in Amagansett, but it was never held due to low ticket sales.
When Mr. Wilkinson called for a vote approving the sale at the board’s work session this week, the two Democratic board members renewed questions about the deal.
“How did we arrive at the number?” Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc asked.
“I picked it out of the air,” Mr. Wilkinson said. He noted that he had asked John Jilnicki, the town attorney, to research similar land transfers and that Mr. Jilnicki had found records of several in the 1980s, for which the town received only a few hundred dollars.
“Do we know the fair market value? Or the square footage?” Mr. Van Scoyoc asked.
“No,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
“I had asked for an appraisal,” said Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who was Mr. Van Scoyoc’s running mate.
“Am I talking to twins?” Mr. Wilkinson asked, as Mr. Van Scoyoc began to chime in again.
“No, you’re talking to various elected officials,” Mr. Van Scoyoc told the supervisor.
“Basically, this was town-owned land that was encroached upon, built upon,” he said. “The new owner wants to rectify the situation. I have no problem with that, but I’m a little concerned about how the fair market value was arrived upon.”
“And I had asked John [Jilnicki] to get a title search to see what happened,” Ms. Overby said. She said the board should consider what effect owning the additional square footage might have on Mr. Jones’s use of the property. “I’d like to get the title search, to get an appraisal, and I’d like to get the Planning Department involved before we start selling off town assets,” she said. Downtown Montauk was designed with public alleyways for a specific reason, she said. “All of these things need to be researched.”
“This hotel was built circa 1960, I believe,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “As this individual was closing, this came to his attention.”
As far as the price, he said, “I came up with it. I’ll say it for the fourth time. I plucked it out of the air. The new owners are okay with the number, and I would like to approve the resolution.”
“Citing the value of a town property shouldn’t be the sole purview of the supervisor or any one person on the town board,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “It should be done in a very objective way.”
“The town didn’t even know of the existence of this alleyway,” said Mr. Wilkinson, before moving for a vote on the resolution. It was approved, 3-2, by him and his fellow Republicans on the board.
“No,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said loudly.
“Absolutely not,” was Ms. Overby’s vote.