Like Ernest Hemingway’s character who married the “first girl who was nice to him,” the Town of East Hampton is on the verge of a rushed deal to sell the office condominiums that house various departments with no plan on the horizon for where they would ultimately go.
The notion of selling the seven condos has been around for some time. They house the planning, zoning, building, and natural resources offices, along with the assessors, tax receiver, and ordinance enforcement staff — a good portion of the workers who keep town government humming along. The town’s maintenance costs for the office suites add up to $145,000 a year. The board set a minimum bid of $3 million, following an appraisal which set their value much higher — more than $4.4 million for all seven.
The motivation for selling the condos apparently comes from a specific, unidentified would-be buyer who has the town hustling to ink the deal. A request for bids, ostensibly to allow others to get a crack at the purchase, was announced on Dec. 8, with a due date of 1 p.m. yesterday and a closing within 60 days. That was hardly enough time for anyone other than a buyer with an inside track to make an offer. Beyond a legal notice and a piece of paper or two posted in Town Hall, there was minimal fanfare for the sale. Nor was it listed with real estate agents, so far as anyone can tell. According to the bid specifications, the town would occupy the offices rent-free for a year, if sold at the bulk discount of $3 million, then pay rent at a rate to be determined by the new owner if it wanted to stay on.
Whether or not selling the office space is sound long-term financial planning (which we doubt), one disturbing fact is clear: Before long, the town will either have to pay market-level rent to remain in the suites or begin a major building project likely to cost taxpayers more over time than remaining in the condos it already owns, despite the $3 million windfall.
These departments handle critically important town functions. A solid plan for where they are to be housed — and at a known cost — must be in place before any sale is contemplated.