Ronjo Alley Petition Nears Goal

The goal is to collect 600 signatures to force the town board to put a contested sale of public property to a townwide vote
Pamela Bickett and Zachary Cohen, who narrowly lost a bid for town supervisor in November, collected signatures on Monday to force the town board to put a contested sale of public property to a townwide vote. Greg Turpan got ready to sign. Morgan McGivern

    A petition drive to collect enough signatures of East Hampton voters to force a vote on the sale of a town-owned Montauk alleyway to the new owners of the Ronjo motel, a sale that was approved by the Republican majority of the town board, has been “going like gangbusters,” according to Jeanne Frankl, the head of the Democratic committee and an organizer of the drive.
    As of yesterday, Ms. Frankl said, almost 300 signatures were in hand, with more to be compiled, heading toward the 405 total she said the group believes is needed to force the permissive referendum — 5 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election. To be safe, she said, the goal is to collect 600 signatures.
    Two groups circulating petitions collected 140 signatures on Saturday, the first day of the petition drive, Ms. Frankl said.
    The board majority approved a resolution selling a piece of the alleyway that bisects the Ronjo motel property — an extension, on paper, of an alley that runs behind businesses on South Etna Avenue — for $35,000.
    The property was not appraised. Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said he pulled the price “out of the air.” He and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley have said that, based on examples of town land transfers from the 1980s, they believed the price was fair.
    They rebuffed several calls by Democratic Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc to rescind the vote. If the property is to be sold, they said, it should be appraised and an analysis made of its potential use to the public, with, perhaps, retaining an easement over it considered.
    Ms. Frankl said that residents talking to those collecting petitions at several locations over the last few days have been getting “apolitical, good government comments” in support of having the public land appraised before selling it, with people indicating that they believe “it’s just wrong and contrary to what government should do,” she said.
    “The idea that the board doesn’t follow procedure . . . that the supervisor is unilaterally negotiating with his friends is also unacceptable,” Ms. Frankl said. “It’s a matter of principle.”
    In addition, she said, “we see evidence that the Wilkinson administration wants to sell off everything that doesn’t make money for the town.” She mentioned proposals to lease or sell the scavenger waste treatment plant and town-owned tennis courts. “That’s not appropriate,” Ms. Frankl said. “There are properties that the town owns for a good reason.”
    The petition drive will continue through the weekend, with volunteers in Montauk today, and on Saturday at the Amagansett Post Office and I.G.A., the East Hampton Post Office and Waldbaum’s, and at the Montauk Post Office. On Sunday morning, volunteers will be at the Springs General Store.
    If enough signatures are collected, Ms. Frankl said, the group would be satisfied if the board rescinds its resolution of sale, ordering an appraisal and researching the alley situation before moving forward with a sale. That way, the cost of holding a townwide public vote could be avoided, she said.