East Hampton Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc suggested Tuesday that the town remove the Fort Pond House property in Montauk from the market, but was opposed by Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, who called opposition to the sale “political.”
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, Mr. Van Scoyoc’s Democratic cohort on the board, agreed with his proposal. Defending an ongoing lawsuit challenging the sale, brought by several community groups, is costing the town money, she said.
The four-acre waterfront property on Fort Pond, which contains an old house that was used by groups including the Boy Scouts and the Third House Nature Center, along with other community groups, was put up for sale in 2010 despite massive public opposition.
The move prompted two lawsuits — an Article 78 that alleged that the town acted illegally in several ways when authorizing the sale of the property, including violations of the state open meetings law and public trust doctrine, and a federal suit that alleged Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Quigley had violated opponents’ constitutional rights by retaliating against those who opposed the sale. That case has been settled.
Mr. Van Scoyoc asked the board not only “to remove Fort Pond House from consideration for sale,” but also requested “further investigation to be made as to its use” and possible designation as parkland.
“The town is not in the same economic straits that it was in when this sale was proposed,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.
“Thanks to this board,” Ms. Quigley threw in. She said that the job of fixing the town’s economic difficulties is not complete. Town officials, she said, “did a thorough analysis of what the town needs to keep itself afloat. . . . I think it’s inappropriate for us to retain it,” she said of the Fort Pond House site. “In addition, it’s in the middle of litigation.”
That, Ms. Overby said, is part of the point. The litigation has “dragged on,” she said, and is costly. “That is part of our fiduciary obligation,” she said, to minimize the legal costs to the town. In addition, she said, a sale of the property would be subject to a permissive referendum, which could be an additional cost, if enough residents force a vote on the sale. With public opinion against the sale, Ms. Overby said, a permissive referendum is a likelihood.
“It is a town asset; it was being used by the community,” Ms. Overby said. “And I think that we have been negligent in letting that town asset deteriorate.” She said the money spent on defending the lawsuit would have been better spent on maintaining the site, which has fallen into disrepair.
Both Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson called questions about the sale political.
“We campaigned on the fact that we were going to sell properties,” said Ms. Quigley, who ran on a Republican ticket with Mr. Wilkinson and Councilman Dominick Stanzione. “We chose one property — one. And the people who lost the election decided to fight. It’s a political issue,” she said.
Mr. Wilkinson echoed that. “The people in Montauk didn’t even know where it was,” he said. “We campaigned in 2007 and 2009 on the fact that we were going to sell properties,” said Mr. Wilkinson. He said he targeted Fort Pond House in part to prove that he would not shy away from selling a town property in his own hamlet of Montauk.
“It’s a community issue,” Ms. Overby said.
“It’s a C.C.O.M. issue,” Mr. Wilkinson retorted, referring to the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, an organization with which he has at times disagreed.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to sell for financial reasons,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “And I think it’s a benefit to the community.”
“Montauk is 70-percent preserved,” Ms. Quigley said. “I think it would be better to get better housing out there.”
The town’s comprehensive plan, Ms. Overby pointed out, calls for reducing density of development.
Mr. Stanzione did not weigh in on the debate.