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Jul 7, 2010 12:09 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town drops use of preservation money after outcry

Jul 7, 2010 12:09 PM

The Southampton Town Board last week voted unanimously to rescind a resolution approved in June—also unanimously—that appropriated $500,000, which had been given to the town for historic preservation in 2004 as a condition of the approval for the Sebonack Golf Club development, to fill a hole in the town’s capital fund stemming from the purchase of land in Tuckahoe targeted for a future affordable housing development.

The earlier resolution had drawn scathing criticism from preservationists, board members and town officials in the last two weeks, and some board members said they had not understood what they were approving when the resolution was brought up for a vote last month.

The rescinded resolution will mean the town now has to deduct some $436,000 from the depleted general fund surplus to fill the capital fund gap so the town’s 2009 books can be closed and audited. The gap is part of a $2 million shortfall in the capital fund books created when the Town Board approved two $1 million appropriations from the general fund for the purchase of properties to be used for affordable housing. The purchases were made, but the money was never transferred to the proper account.

The mistake, along with dozens of others like it totaling millions of dollars, was discovered during the town’s forensic audit of the capital fund over the last year.

A Jarring Discovery

The Town Board’s reversal on Thursday, July 1, came after outraged members of the architecture community appealed to Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, the only current board member who served when the Sebonack approvals were issued in early 2004, to reverse it, saying the proposed use of the money for affordable housing did not fit the intentions of stipulations placed on that money.

The original resolution was a same-day “walk-on” addition to the Town Board’s June 8 meeting agenda by Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. Ms. Graboski said this week that she hadn’t recognized the reference to the Sebonack project and the specific intention of the restrictions placed on the money when she cast her original vote in favor of the move. When she was made aware by Planning and Development Administrator Jefferson Murphree later that week, she said, she was shocked.

“I didn’t make the link back to the Sebonack section of the code,” Ms. Graboski said this week after the board voted to rescind the resolution. “Jeff Murphree said to me that he couldn’t believe the board voted 5-0 on that, and that it was wrong, just plain wrong. It kind of jarred me. Then I started hearing from people in the community, and I realized there’s no question that money was to be used for architectural preservation.”

Councilman Christopher Nuzzi, likewise, said the presentation of the June 8 resolution, which board members had not been able to review because it was a last-minute addition to the agenda, made no mention of any covenants on the money being appropriated.

“We were certainly not advised at that meeting that there were restrictions,” the second-term councilman said. “We were advised it was going to be used to pay down debt service, and that it was OK to do so.”

The Sebonack Golf Club was approved by the Town Board as part of a planned development district, or PDD, a zoning tool created in 1999 to help the town change the zone of specific properties if there is a community benefit. The Sebonack project won approvals on the weight of the potential sprawling residential development that could’ve taken place on the 240-acre former Bayberry Land property, a longtime retreat for members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Part of the redevelopment of the property included the demolition of the main structure, an early 20th century manor house.

After the demolition provoked outrage from the architecture community and historic preservationists, Sebonack’s developer, Michael Pascucci gave $1 million to the town, $500,000 of which was earmarked for the preservation of historic architecture in the surrounding community.

“When I saw this resolution, I thought, ‘What the hell?’” said Anne Surchin, chairwoman of the Peconic Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and one of the most vocal opponents of the demolition of the Bayberry Land house. “You had this mitigation payment, put aside to go to architectural preservation, and here they are taking money out of a trust account to pay for the purchase of an affordable housing property. They couldn’t have done their due diligence on this. Where was Anna’s due diligence on this? What could she have been thinking?”

In an interview early last week, before Ms. Graboski introduced the proposal to rescind the resolution, Ms. Throne-Holst said that she and Town Attorney Michael Sordi had reviewed the terms of the Sebonack approvals and determined that wording referring to land purchases allowed the money to be used for any land purchases, as long as they were in the Tuckahoe hamlet. “Mike Sordi’s interpretation of that resolution was that it was fairly broadly written and that it included land purchases, along with a number of other things that, yes, had to do with historic preservation and architecture,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “It is legally sound.”

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Please define "affordable housing".

Less than $250,000? That sounds "affordable"...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 7, 10 1:59 PM
Sebonic was a PDD - this again, is a problem with the PDD's - there is no oversight on the public benefit - someone in the Planning department should be assigned to oversee that the benefit actually takes place, i.e., that the money has been spent correctly, or in the case of land donation (such as the development on Major's Path) that the land has actually been transferred to the public entity that was supposed to get it. Then the public should be informed that they have been "benefited".
By sunshine (47), southampton on Jul 8, 10 10:14 AM
1 member liked this comment
Are you sure it was a PDD? Isn't it just a golf course? Why would someone go to the troulbe of doing a PDD for a golf course?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 8, 10 11:26 AM
1 member liked this comment
Yep - sure.
By sunshine (47), southampton on Jul 8, 10 5:16 PM
1 member liked this comment
Golf at the Bridge in Noyack (1996?). It started as a public golf course and park under Theile and morphed into a private country club and estates under Cannuscio, all under a PDD ordinance in effect at the time. The public was shut out and a vital drinking water aquifer under the course and Trout Pond have been polluted. How's that for public benefit.
By danrudan (40), Southampton on Jul 9, 10 12:09 PM
Well said!
By lo-cal (78), southampton on Jul 14, 10 5:42 PM
It had to have been a PDD because it is much larger than what it used to be. In order to play let's make a deal there is a PDD. If someone comes along and wants to build "as of right" it a PDD isn't needed. Of course, why would anyone want to build "as of right" when clearly SHT will allow them to build much much much more!

ENOUGH already!
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 8, 10 6:20 PM
Define "we didn't understand what we were voting for". Move over East Hampton, just as I predicted. You get paid to "understand". At any time that you do not, please stop the voting process and table the vote until you do. You can't all be in a fog, can you???
By Dodger (161), Southampton Village on Jul 9, 10 4:58 AM
Perhaps they thought no one would notice - surprise, the public did notice, thus the excuses.
By sunshine (47), southampton on Jul 9, 10 9:32 AM
Who was the original "Walk-On" bill sponsor?
By EastEndHomie (27), Southampton on Jul 9, 10 11:40 AM
The resolution was sponsored by the Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. Resolution 2010-633
Jul 11, 10 9:04 PM appended by reg rep
and approved by the Comptroller Tamara Wright so that it could be walked on. Did that answer you question of who the sponsor was? Any comment?
By reg rep (408), Southampton on Jul 11, 10 9:04 PM
Yes. And I've found that it also had 100% board support as a walk-on. Everyone approved the walk-on.
By EastEndHomie (27), Southampton on Jul 13, 10 12:26 PM
Yes, and it was Nancy Graboski who recalled the resolution, and as the article states the resolution was not clear and the board members said they would not have voted for it had they known the $500,000 was restricted funds.
But do you think Anna knew exactly what she was doing by walking on this reso?
By reg rep (408), Southampton on Jul 13, 10 6:34 PM
Right or wrong, PDDs are becoming toxic around here. The Town Board needs to realize that, and either back off PDDs entirely, or educate people to understand that they can be good in some situations. The latter seems like a tough go in the present climate, but maybe it's possible.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Jul 13, 10 7:24 PM
PDD a walk on? - oh come on people , what a shocking suprise it was 100% approved. Its who ya know its who ya know and how much dough
By lo-cal (78), southampton on Jul 14, 10 5:46 PM
How about we all set aside 2 hours for the next Town Board hearing and show up with 81/2 X 11" signs:

You think 400 or 600 residents would make an impression? Some of the Town Board members will begin to think for themselves.

Remember one of my favorite sayings:
If you don't vote - don't complain.
By FiddlerCrab (96), Westhampton Beach on Oct 31, 14 1:49 AM