June 21, 2006

Village to Southold Town: Pay Up

It's time to pay the piper. That's what the Village Board of Trustees decided last Thursday when members authorized filing a notice of claim against the Town of Southold and the town's wastewater disposal district.

Although the lease allowing the town to operate the decommissioned Greenport scavenger waste facility on village-owned land expired on June 17, 2003, the town has not made any payment to the village since that time, said Greenport Mayor David Kapell.

Now, the village is seeking back rent, and it's not chump change: Based on the rental of similar properties in the area, the village is seeking compensation in the amount of $772,875, for the town's occupancy of the premises from June 2003 through June 2006.

The decision followed remarks by a Southold councilman that fanned the flames of discontent between the town and the Village of Greenport and added red-hot fuel to a long-smoldering fire.

At a town board work session earlier this month, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell reported he'd met with Kapell to discuss the status of the scavenger waste treatment facility, located on one-and-a-half acres on Moore's Lane.

Southold and Greenport have been locked in a stalemate over which municipality would take lead agency status in the state environmental quality review. Although the matter has been before the Department of Environmental Conservation, no decision has been rendered.

Russell suggested the Southold Town Board cede lead agency status to Greenport. The facility is located on village-owned land, and Russell did not see any benefit in Southold's declaring lead agency status.

But Councilman Tom Wickham questioned: "What's in it for us, the town?"

Kapell fired off a response: "What's in it for the town? Mr. Wickham, a rent bill, in the amount of $772,875."

Kapell said Wickham's words "woke the village board up. We started thinking: 'What's in it for the village?'"

The mayor added: "In thinking further about Mr. Wickham's condescending and contemptuous attitude towards the village, it is apparent that he thinks of himself as an agent of the king in the same manner of lords ruling over vassals in Medieval times. Well, that arrangement and the Torys went out with the American Revolution in 1776 and his attitude has no place in the Southold of 2006."

While Kapell credited Russell for "making himself available" for discussion, he believes Southold has delayed decommissioning the scavenger waste treatment facility by utilizing the "device of a dispute over lead agency."

Russell agreed progress has "gotten bogged down in the nonsensical lead agency" dispute over SEQRA and it's the town's responsibility to do everything possible to restore the site to its original condition so it will be suitable for reacquisition by Greenport.

As for decommissioning status, the town board reported that chemical tanks at the facility have been moved to the DEC's satisfaction; the only work remaining is dismantling of the building and cleanup to ensure there has been no septic spill.

The village, said Kapell will be "stuck with whatever problems remain" after decommissioning is complete.

Southold Councilman Dan Ross suggested the town forego SEQRA and do a Phase 1 environmental study.

Determination of amount due, Kapell explained, was based on the fact that the village leases a similar property in the area for $343,500 per year; the parcel leased by Southold is approximately 75% that size, amounting to $257,625 per year.

Before the town's lease expired, Southold was paying the village $500 per month, or $6000 per year.

"What tenant in the world would ever think they were entitled to remain in a residence rent-free just because the lease period expired?" asked Greenport Village Trustee Jamie Mills. "The town made no effort or offer to continue to pay the rate they had been paying, let alone begin paying a market rate."

Russell responded to the notice of claim: "There's no scenario under which we're going to pay the village that kind of money on an overstay of lease. I don't believe that's going to be a legitimate claim."

While Kapell, said Russell, is "a clever man," for suggesting the market-value approach, he maintains Southold overstayed the lease while trying to resolve cleanup issues and restore the property: "There are mitigating factors that wouldn't make us liable to a market-value approach to lease value."

But, said Russell, the claim "does show the town needs to act expeditiously to get the job done and make sure everyone's interest is represented."

Russell emphasized that although there has "sometimes been a disconnect, the reality is Greenport residents are my constituents, as well, and our actions have to reflect everyone's concerns and considerations."

Wickham's comments sparked a new battle cry: "I call on Mr. Wickham and the Town Board to stop demeaning Greenport and its residents and treat us with the respect and consideration we deserve, not only as a crucial and integral component of the town, but as an important vehicle for progress in the areas of affordable housing and economic development, where the town has consistently failed its citizens," said Kapell.

For years, the town and the village have been at opposite sides of the playing field. Most recently, Greenport and Southold have been engaged in a public battle over a proposal for annexation: KACE LI, LLC, owner of a 17-acre hamlet-density zoned property located on County Road 48 in Greenport, filed a petition last July 14 with the Town of Southold and the Village of Greenport to annex the property to the village, paving the way for a proposed workforce housing development.

Both municipalities vied for lead agency; currently, the DEC is acting as lead agency.

Wickham did not return calls for comment by press time.

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