Fight Goes On Over Sale

    East Hampton Town Board members continued to argue this week over a decision by the Republican majority to sell a portion of a town-owned strip of land in Montauk to the owners of the Ronjo Motel.
    At a work session on Tuesday, Democratic Councilwoman Sylvia Overby asked the majority to rescind its vote last week to sell what is called an alleyway to the new owners of the motel for $35,000. The majority refused to do so. She said the town should have had the strip, which bisects the Ronjo property, appraised.
    The councilwoman, and her Democratic counterpart on the board, Peter Van Scoyoc, had voiced similar objections last week before Supervisor Bill Wilkinson moved for a vote, and the sale was passed, 3 to 2.
    “What is your ultimate goal, not to sell the alleyway?” Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson asked Ms. Overby. “No,” she replied, “but I think the amount of money we asked for it was too little.” 
    An appraisal of vacant property in Montauk’s central business district, which was commissioned by the town in 2006, set the value of land at $23 to $43 per square foot, Ms. Overby said. Applying that figure to the 3,700 square feet of alley to be sold, she claimed the town should get $88,320 at the low end or $158,240 at the high end.
    “The U.S. government sold the Lighthouse to the Montauk Historical Society for a dollar,” Mr. Wilkinson retorted. He had defended the sale price last week by citing transfers in the ’70s and ’80s, for which, according to the town attorney, the town was paid less than $1,000.
    “I personally think the price is more than fair,” Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said. The value of an unencumbered vacant parcel in downtown Montauk that could be developed is very different, she said, “than an already encumbered sliver where there is potential for an adverse possession claim.” She noted that the town had sold a 7,000-square-foot “sliver” of residential land to someone for $7,000, and, using that comparison, she was comfortable with the sale price.
    The problem, Councilman Van Scoyoc said, is that there “wasn’t any verifiable means to know if the price was fair. I think you said at the meeting, Bill, that you pulled the number out of your hat.”
    “I think I had to say that five times for you to get the concept. I think number six is good,” Mr. Wilkinson replied.    The Ronjo was purchased for $4.2 million on Feb. 23, by Montauk Beach House, a limited liability corporation whose owners include Chris Jones, the owner of the Solé East motel in Montauk and one of the promoters behind the aborted MTK concert, which had been planned for last summer.    
    Also named as an owner is Lawrence Siedlick, whose Rockville Centre address is the L.L.C.’s address. According to the Huffington Post’s Fundrace site, Mr. Siedlick, the chief executive officer of Sunrise Medical Laboratories, contributed $30,400 to the Republican National Committee this year as well as last, plus $25,000 in both 2005 and 2006.
He has also made smaller contributions to Republican candidates, including $1,000 this year to Randy Altschuler, who hopes to unseat Representative Tim Bishop and is supported by local Republicans.
    In attempting to convince the Republican majority to rescind its vote, Ms. Overby noted that the system of public alleyways in downtown Montauk was designed for municipal needs, suggesting the board should have checked with the Planning Department before resolving to allow its sale. She said retaining an easement might have been advisable for the future installation of utilities such as sewer pipes.
    She told board members that when the town transferred a piece of the alley at the other end, which runs behind a row of stores on South Etna Avenue and is used for access and parking, to the owners of the former Caswell’s restaurant there, a condition of the sale included an access easement. She also argued that the board should have declared the land to be purchased “surplus.”
    John Jilnicki, the town attorney, said such a declaration was not necessary and noted that the resolution to buy the land states the alleyway “is not useful or suitable for access, utilities, or services except for such services related to the Ronjo premises.”
    Ms. Overby and Mr. Van Scoyoc also questioned the wording of the resolution with regard to a tax map number and metes and bounds. The resolution authorizes the supervisor to enter into a contract of sale “to convey the town’s interests in the alleyway,” and does not make clear that it is a particular section that is to be conveyed, they said.
    The sale is subject to a permissive referendum, through which voters may challenge it. Those seeking to do so must collect a number of voters’ signatures based on a percentage of voters in the last gubernatorial election and submit a petition within a limited time.


It sounds as though the usual political infighting is obscuring the reality of the situation - that a landmark property in the center of Montauk is being vastly improved. This can only be good news for ALL of Montauk - from nearby restaurants, anyone in the tourism industry and homeowners. Perhaps Ms Overby and her friends will support and encourage local investment rather than try to politicize it. Or perhaps she would like visitors to remember Montauk and it's accommodations as per these recent comments from "The Ronjo is, unfortunately, a typical Montauk "resort"- and I use that term loosely" "It is a bare bones, somewhat smelly motel that hasn't been updated since the Carter Administration. Okay if you are with a group of rowdy teens, but not so good if you are a family looking for pleasant accomodations." "Unfortunately, most of the other motels on the ocean side of Montauk aren't much better." "The rooms are dirty and rundown" "Ronjo Motel is old, everything is breaking down, disgusting dust is everywhereeeee!!!!!! So upset I had to spend the night here with my family..." "This has to be the worst hotel i stayed at in my life" "We returned to the Ronjo after 35 years when we had taken our children. Obviously nothing had been renovated, painted or repaired after 35 years." "Bar none, this is the most disgusting creepy hotel I have ever been in It is old and dirty"