May 11, 2017 -- About 50 residents turned out for a public hearing at Sea Cliff Village Hall this past Tuesday evening to discuss the Village Board’s proposed purchase of an Altamont Avenue property adjacent to the Department of Public Works yard. The vast majority of those who spoke were skeptical of the proposal citing concerns about commercial and industrial creep as well as the overall cost. The property, which includes a single family home, sits just west of the DPW garage and east of another parcel of Village property, and has been appraised at $355,000.
“We are concerned about commercialization,” said attorney Elena Villafane, representing an across-the-street neighbor of 98 Altamont. “We oppose this purchase if it is to expand the yard.”
The village’s population, she continued, has not grown since the construction of the DPW building more than a decade ago. That, she said, would seem to make any expansion of the yard unnecessary.
Resident Phil Como agreed, saying that if the village did go forward with the purchase it should only be used to create a buffer between nearby residents and the DPW yard.
A few residents said that yard had become a “terrible eyesore,” and that it is currently under- utilized. Any expansion, they said, would worsen the problem.
“My main concern is upkeep and maintenance,” said Altamont resident Sean Gibbons. “I go by track record. If I were to give you a grade it would be D- or F.”
“It’s absolutely disgraceful the way that property has been maintained,” agreed Hammond Road resident John Zibelski. “It is run so hodge podge.”
If the property were cleaned up, he continued, perhaps the extra space the village was seeking would already be available.
Former Mayor Claudia Moyne also said that she was skeptical that more space was necessary. Additionally she said that the village should have a plan in mind before making the purchase. When the Village bought a property next to Sea Cliff Beach nearly 20 years ago, she said there was a plan in mind to use the structure there as a community center.
“The idea [behind the Altamont purchase),” replied Trustee Dina Epstein was to give a little extra space to DPW,” and that it “seemed natural” to at least consider acquiring the property since it is wedged between two village properties.
Mayor Ed Lieberman said that the acquisition of the property could provide safer and easier ingress and egress to the DPW yard and that perhaps, among other things, that side of the yard could be used for an electric car charging station. The fact that the property is up for sale, he said, provides a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” and that the Board had an obligation to the community to look into it and at least consider the purchase.
Trustee Robyn Maynard said that acquiring the property might help to alleviate some of the problems with the yard that some residents had cited. Additionally, she agreed with the Mayor that there are many potential uses for the property and with that in mind, a precise plan about how to utilize the land did not have to be in place before making the purchase. She said that when the village had purchased a property next to Sea Cliff Beach, it had originally been intended for a community center but that after the structure was deemed not to be in adequate condition, it was razed and the land used to expand the beach parking lot.
A 14th Avenue resident then suggested that the Altamont property could be used to build a community center.
With regard to the beach property, resident Doug Barnaby said the situation was not analogous to the Altamont purchase. The earlier purchase, he said, was for recreational purposes. The Village, he said, should not be looking to purchase property to expand the side of the Village yard. “I think we would want to try to cut back on DPW space,” he said.
Additionally Mr. Barnaby said that the village does “not know what the environmental impact is going to be,” and that may lead to additional costs.
Trustee Dina Epstein reiterated the point made by Trustee Maynard, saying that there was not a definite plan for the property. “It would make the properties contiguous,” she said. “There are a lot of possibilities.”
Trustee McGilloway stated that the whole purpose of the hearing was to make the public aware of what was under consideration and to get feedback. “There is no specific plan,” he said. “The main thing is we are trying to be transparent.”
The trustee later said that he believed that the Village should not go forward with the purchase unless there was a “compelling purpose” for acquiring the property.
Attorney John Canning, representing an Altamont homeowner,expressed concerns about the soil and the possibility of having to clean up the site. He asked about the presence of potash since the village-owned parcel to the west once hosted an incinerator. “Have environmental studies been done?” he asked.
Trustee Maynard said that a soil test had been done in 2004, and that the Village Administrator at the time, Dan Maddock, had said that it had been recommended that the soil at that site should simply be left alone.
With regard to the $355,000 price tag on the property, resident John Rogers said that the “appraisal price doesn’t mean anything” since there would be many additional costs involving demolition, clean up, and whatever else is done with the property in addition to the loss of tax revenue. “What is the thought process behind this?” he asked.
Resident Donna Kianka, who has been a licensed appraiser for more than 30 years, said that the appraisal price seemed high.
Mr. Stolar said that another appraisal could be done before a decision would be made and that under the law the village cannot pay higher than the appraisal price.
Trustee Maynard said that the Village anticipated about $15,000 in additional costs related to clean up and financing and that if the village were to borrow $375,000, at current interest rates it would cost the average taxpayer $15.34 per year over the 20 year term of the bond.
Trustee Deb McDermott at the end of the discussion said that the Village needed to take into consideration opportunity costs before borrowing that amount for the purchase of this particular property.
“When you are spending on one thing, you are not spending on something else,” she said. Residents, she continued, are looking for a community center, and that the Landmarks Committee is looking for space.
She also suggested a traffic study to determine the impact of an expansion of the DPW yard. Expanding it, she said, “would be terrible for the neighbors.”
Carol Pohrille captured the dilemma that many on Altamont are facing. On the one hand, she expressed concerns about the possibility of “over industrialization” with the Village acquiring the property, but on the other, was worried with what would happen if another buyer acquired it. The discussion then addressed the zoning of the property and whether a future owner would be able to use it for a purpose other than residential.
Asked what the chances are that the property could be rezoned, Trustee McGilloway who had served as Chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals for a number of years, said “slim to none.”
Trustee Epstein who had also served as ZBA chair, disagreed.
If the property cannot be sold as a residence, she said, the owners could go above the Village to the state to seek a change in zoning.
While Trustee McGilloway agreed that was legally possible, he said he had never seen that happen.
Village Attorney Brian Stolar said that the owner could seek a variance on the use of the property or a zoning change, both of which he said were unlikely to occur. He offered a list of possible uses under current zoning that included a library, museum, philanthropic institution, or religious venue, in addition to a one family dwelling.
As a Village owned property, he continued, the Board could do with it what it wanted with the community having the opportunity of course to influence those decisions.
Towards the end of the discussion, Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy, during whose term as Mayor the earliest discussions regarding buying the property took place back in 2014, was asked to offer his thoughts.
“We would be derelict in our duty to not consider this property,” he said. The DPW property, he continued, is “not being utilized as designed,” referring to the property west of the 98 Altamont. The current structures on the DPW property, he continued, “are not zoning compliant,” and that the acquisition of the land would enable them to be so.
Mayor Lieberman closed the hearing and said that the board would not be making a decision that night and that more research and discussion would take place. “There are many issues and many concerns,” he said.
He explained that there were many inquiries from potential buyers, but that the board could move at a deliberate pace as it did not appear that anyone “is knocking down the doors to purchase the property.”
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May 13, 2017 -- A pathway that runs along the southwestern edge of the Sea Isle property on The Boulevard, and that by an 2008 easement agreement with the Village of Sea Cliff gives pedestrians access to the Sea Cliff waterfront during daylight hours, has been made virtually impassible by large pine trees that have been planted in the center of the 10 foot wide right-of-way. A solution to the problem has been stymied, said Village officials, by the disobliging response of the City of Glen Cove.
Although the right of way is on Sea Isle property, which is located in Glen Cove but on the Sea Cliff Village line, the trees were planted there by the neighbor whose property abuts the easement, said Village Adminstrator Bruce Kennedy.
The issue has come up at the last two Village Board meetings, most recently this past Tuesday night when resident and former mayor Claudia Moyne asked if any action has been taken with regard to either clearing the path or making its existence known to residents with signage.
"The problem," replied Trustee Dina Epstein, "is that the trees are in Glen Cove."
"Sea Cliff," she said, "has asked Glen Cove to enforce it [the easement agreement] but Glen Cove has refused."
The Trustee explained that beachgoers can still access the waterfront by brushing past the pine trees and then veering to the left behind the neighbor's pool which, though appearing to be the person's property, is in fact the right of way.
Mr. Kennedy explained that the owner of Sea Isle had applied to the City of Glen Cove for a tree removal permit so that the pathway could once again be passible, but that Glen Cove Mayor Reginald Spinello himself had ordered that the application be denied.
As for making residents aware of the beach access, Ms. Moyne asked if the village could put up signs.
Village Attorney Brian Stolar replied that the easement agreement with Sea Isle precludes the placement of signs.
Ms. Moyne replied that with an easement agreement in place, it should be enforced and made clear where the little path is and where one can go to the beach."
She suggested that gravel be placed there to indicate that there is a path to the beach.
Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy explained that a big part of the problem is that the vast majority of the easement is located in the City of Glen Cove.
"Sea Isle is not the problem," he said, "it's the adjoining property owner."
"The real issue is how do we get these trees out?" he continued. "Can we file a lawsuit against the City of Glen Cove? Maybe. Do residents have the right to trampse right through - absolutely they do," he said.
He reiterated Mr. Stolar's point that the agreement with Sea Isle "is that there would be no demarcation inviting people to use the easement - that we are just going to be aware that it exists."
"Can the Village cut down the trees or mow the lawn?" asked Ms. Moyne.
"I really wanted to do that but was advised that that would be a bad idea," Mr. Kennedy replied.
"Does the Mayor of Glen Cove have the right to do this?" Ms. Moyne asked. "We all know why he is doing this - it is revenge [for the Village's efforts to block the Garvies Point Waterfront development]."
Mr. Stolar said the Board would discuss the issue further.
"It's frustrating that it seems we're at an impasse," said Trustee McGilloway, "because of some political shenanigans. But we're with you."
Trustee Maynard said that the Landmarks Committee was working on maps for walking tours of Sea Cliff that would indicate the location of easements throughout the village. "That might be one step towards educating people where those easements are," she said.
The walking tour map, said Ms. Moyne "is a wonderful idea," but she said she would also like the right of way to be useable.
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View of Right of Way from The Boulevard (it extends about 10 feet to the left of the fence where the grass is and then where the pine trees are)