“You can’t help but see the empty lot next door when you drive in,” Jack Emptage told the 45 or so people gathered at the firehouse Tuesday night to hear about the proposed $2.8 million acquisition of its immediate neighbor, a two-acre property at 415 Main Street containing the long-vacant Pacific East restaurant.
“We started negotiating with the seller some time ago,” the Amagansett Fire District commissioner said. “At $2.8 million, he was as unhappy as we were, and I guess that’s the definition of a good deal.”
Laughter rippled through the room, and the tone of the evening was set: This would be a gathering of neighbors, with here and there a few lawyers and financial types in suits and ties to lend consequence.
Most of those present, among them a number of firefighters, already knew why fire officials wanted the land. Long range, Mr. Emptage explained, the district would construct a new building there, to be used to house an eventual third ambulance and to train the growing number of emergency medical technicians needed to service an aging population, including retirees now living full time in former weekend houses. Short term, he said, the old restaurant would be demolished — burned down, actually, in a controlled blaze — and the land used for much-needed parking.
“We have no plans to do anything [else] with it now,” said Billy Vorpahl, a fire commissioner.
But the prospect of a new publicly financed building, no matter how far in the future, concerned one man in the audience, Michael Matus, who called it “the elephant in the room.” He wondered if its cost “may overshadow the $2.8 million,” and pressed Mr. Emptage, who declined to guess at a figure, for an answer. “What does it take to build a building this big?” he asked, gesturing at the room.
“It would be nowhere near this scale,” Mr. Emptage replied.
“If you needed it next year, what would you say?”
“I can’t tell you, we haven’t weighed the options. But you have to start somewhere. The land is the base. With that opportunity, we feel we shouldn’t pass it up.”
Vicki Littman wanted to know whether, when the time did come for the new building, there would be another public referendum like the vote to be held Tuesday at the firehouse from 6 to 9 p.m. to decide on the Pacific East property. She was assured there would be.
Catherine Baldwin of Amber Waves, the organic farm and educational organization behind and adjacent to the Amagansett Farmers Market and Pacific East, suggested that “it would be nice to have shared access in the building to benefit the community.” Amber Waves, which holds food-to-table classes at the market and in schools, was at one point said to have eyed the property itself, but it never got very far. Mr. Emptage’s response to her wistful-sounding query was less than encouraging.
Another woman asked whether Tuesday’s vote might not be put off for a while. “It seems like such a short time between now and next week,” she said. “What is the rush?”
The seller is a new owner who foreclosed on the property in the spring, Mr. Emptage informed the gathering, following three years of unpaid real estate taxes. “It was clear he had other offers, people coming in and spending money on assessments. But he had empathy with us,” said the commissioner, adding that he and several other fire district officials “went into the city” to meet with the owner. Apparently, they hit it off. “I think he liked the services we provide,” Mr. Emptage said.
The district was given 85 days to get its financing lined up, he said, “to get the best interest rate and to go to the public.” The time frame to pay off the debt would be 15 years, “but we can pay it off in 8 years,” Mr. Emptage said. “When we did the renovation [on the firehouse] 15 years ago, we bonded it for 15 years and paid it off in 7. We hope to pay this debt off as promptly as possible.”
As for the interest rate, “the number we ran was four-and-a-quarter,” the commissioner said, noting that the rate had since dropped half a point and might go even lower. “We have a positive indication from one of the local banks” for funding, he said.
Htun Han, an Amagansett real estate broker and Fire Department member who was active in bringing about the signed contract, spoke from the audience, offering a few comparisons.
“Across the road next to the [Amagansett Presbyterian] church, half an acre went for $850,000, and a barn on a quarter-acre for $550,000. Are we getting a deal or not?” he asked. “Look at the value. Tomorrow it can be updated as a restaurant.”
Tom Preiato, the town’s senior building inspector, said recently that the restaurant use, which predates the zoning code and adds to the value of the property, was good until sometime in October, although he did not explain just why. A lawyer who was present at Tuesday’s meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was “not going to second-guess the building inspector” on the subject. “That’s his job.”
Mr. Han said he had paid a visit to the assessors office to determine how much the $2.8 million acquisition would cost the “median” Amagansett resident, meaning someone whose property tax falls exactly in the middle of the scale. The answer, he said, was $87.92 a year, for a house assessed at $7,950. “Some will pay less, others more, of course.”
Milford Crandall asked whether absentee balloting would be allowed at Tuesday’s referendum. The answer was no. Absentee ballots are not legally required in this instance, Mr. Emptage said, although they are an option. “We really didn’t have much flexibility,” he said.
“Would you get a second chance if this didn’t pass?” Mr. Crandall inquired. Again, the answer was no.
The meeting was over in just an hour, soon after Joan Tulp stood to say, “I am so happy we won’t have a nightclub — another place to drink — on Main Street.” She called the prospective purchase “an asset to everybody,” to a ripple of applause.
Lee Minetree, the broker for the seller, said in a phone interview afterward that the owner “wants it done as soon as possible,” because “when they sign a contract, it has to be taken off the market.”
Mr. Minetree, a senior vice president at Saunders Associates in Bridgehampton, also represented the previous owner, who, he reported, had turned down two separate offers of $5.5 million in 2008. Mr. Minetree said yesterday that the new owner was Hormoz Sabet. Mr. Sabet is chairman and C.E.O. of Gulf Associates Inc.
Additional information added Sept. 29:
In June, the Pacific East property at 415 Main Street was sold for $500,000 at auction by the Suffolk sheriff to Mr. Sabet. He is the father of Aram Sabet, who had been a half-owner of the restaurant.