Town May Put Montauk Docks on Sale

Two docks used by Montauk's commercial fishing fleet could be put on the market to raise money for cash-strapped East Hampton. Janis Hewitt

(May 20, 2010) The two town docks in Montauk, on Star Island and off West Lake Drive, along with 20 other town-owned properties, could be put up for sale to raise money to avoid future tax increases.

Faced with borrowing up to $30 million to cover an accumulated deficit, East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson asked the Planning Department to look into which properties are unrestricted by the terms of their purchase or a designation as nature preserves and might be sold.

The money raised, Mr. Wilkinson said yesterday, could be put into a reserved fund to “reduce the tax nut over the next years.”

Besides the two commercial fishing docks, the list includes 40 acres off Daniel’s Hole Road in Wainscott, a portion of which contains part of a town park, a tennis court in downtown Montauk, two lots totaling nine acres between Old Northwest Road and Bull Path in East Hampton that were once used as a town brush dump, and a number of small, undeveloped lots in Springs.

It also includes two lots comprising about two acres that lie next to a 37-acre oceanfront parcel on Napeague, as well as four acres on Fort Pond in Montauk.

That site is the only one on the list for which the town board has requested an appraisal. Mr. Wilkinson said Tuesday that no other appraisals are forthcoming. He also said that the list of parcels is preliminary and that the sale of some of the properties might not be feasible.

“I in no way want to do any of this. This is unfortunately the predicament we’re in,” the supervisor said yesterday.

Bruce Hoek, the chairman of East Hampton Town’s fisheries advisory committee, said yesterday that if the town sells its commercial docks in Montauk, “it will put the commercial fleet out of business.”

“If a private enterprise buys those docks, I don’t think the fishermen will be able to afford the rent. It puts the fishing fleet in Montauk in total jeopardy,” he said. “There are other ways to save money.”

“To me, the town docks are very much potentially up for sale,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “Others on the board would not necessarily agree, because of an explicit subsidy of some of the commercial fishermen. I then revert to thinking, ‘Should the town be in the marina business?’ It doesn’t pass that test for me.”

“I will never support the selling of town docks, particularly in Montauk,” Councilwoman Julia Prince said yesterday.

At the supervisor’s request, over the last several months, Tara Powers, a town planner, produced a list of all town properties. She then eliminated those that could not be sold without an act of the State Legislature or a public referendum — specifically, those that were purchased with the community preservation fund, or those designated as nature preserves.

She then eliminated lots that have wetlands, those that are roadways, and parcels that are reserved open space in subdivisions. Although she looked into the property deeds and other details, additional research on some of the properties could be required before they are actually determined to be eligible for sale.

Mr. Wilkinson said a number of properties that could have been considered for sale were excluded if it appeared that “the implied intent was to keep it open.”

According to state municipal law, a town may sell or lease property if it is no longer needed for a town purpose, is not “held for public use” such as a park, and as long as the sale price is “fair and adequate.”

Appraisals must be obtained, and a decision must be made whether to put the land up for auction or sell it through a broker.

Such property sales are subject to a permissive referendum. That means that if, within 30 days of the adoption of a town board resolution approving the sale, a petition is submitted with enough voters’ signatures, the decision must be put to a general town vote. The petition would have to be signed by a number of voters equaling at least 5 percent of those who cast votes for governor in the last state election.

Before selling town land to private parties, Councilwoman Prince said yesterday, she would like to have the community preservation fund committee review whether some of the sites could be purchased with the preservation fund, so that the town could maintain ownership.

“If they are truly environmentally sensitive, then I think there is no reason they shouldn’t be,” Ms. Prince said.

“We shouldn’t be in the business of selling open space,” Richard Whalen, a land planner and former town attorney, said yesterday.

“The most direct way for any citizens that are opposed to some of these things would be to go to permissive referendum,” he said. Should there be public dissent about a particular sale, he said, it could decrease the price that the town could get. “Any property for which the town board knows there would be public opposition, they would be unwise to go forward with it.”

“We’re acting on what we believe is a mandate — on what approached, in my case, 70 percent,” Mr. Wilkinson said at a board meeting on Tuesday, referring to the number of votes he received in last fall’s election.

“And we’re sticking to that script: asset sales, reduction of head count, of work force, reduction of expenses, and hopefully reduction of taxes.”

No public hearings would be held once a decision is made, he said. “I’m trying to move these assets as quickly as possible.”