East Hampton Town appears poised to sell a two-acre plot of land off Stephen Hand’s Path in Northwest Woods in a puzzling deal that deserves scrutiny. The idea apparently sprang fully formed from the town board back office, and it is likely to be voted on soon. There is nothing on the face of it wrong with the plan, but that it was discussed and tentatively agreed to in private should not be allowed to become a template for the future.
The parcel, which is buildable, was included on a list of town assets that could potentially be put up for sale from the Planning Department, which Supervisor Bill Wilkinson had asked for. The list included Montauk’s commercial docks, which set off a round of protest, and Fort Pond House, also in Montauk, which is the subject of a lawsuit seeking to block the sale.
If the Stephen Hand’s Path deal goes through, the would-be owner, Claudia Carmozzi, who has property next door, would give up the right to build a house on the parcel in exchange for a number of agricultural structures — a chicken coop, a 20-by-10-foot greenhouse, and a 20-by-20-foot barn. She had asked about erecting a wind turbine to generate electricity, but that part of the plan was dropped.
Nothing is wrong with Ms. Carmozzi’s vision, but rather the way in which the deal was advanced. Unlike when local governments decide to sell surplus (cars, furniture, or other things) and must follow open-bidding procedures, when it comes to land sales, the law says only that it must be financially responsible. The price Ms. Carmozzi has apparently agreed on, about $400,000, is less than the land would bring if it were sold without a restriction on building a house there.
There is a good chance others might have liked a crack at the property, however, and are wondering why one person got an inside track. Had the idea been discussed in an open town board session before the deal was all but signed, others might have had a chance to submit bids. People who live nearby might have had a chance to be heard if they had any concerns. Hypothetically, too, environmentalists might have even suggested the land be allowed to revert to its natural state. And, from a different perspective, some taxpayers might have wanted the property listed with real estate brokers in an effort to bring in the most money. After all, the town’s intent in selling property is to help deal with its internal fund debts. But comment was neither required nor invited.
The resolution accepting Ms. Carmozzi’s offer, should the board vote to approve it, is subject to permissive referendum, meaning that it could be challenged if a large enough number of residents sign a petition requesting a vote. The deal should not have reached this point without an opportunity for the public to be heard. For a board majority that prides itself on transparency, this was a misstep.