Nassau vote on $800,000 nursery purchase in Bethpage could be delayed

The vacant site of the former Emil's Garden The vacant site of the former Emil's Garden Nursery on Stewart Avenue in Bethpage was under consideration for an $800,000 purchase by Nassau County. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Nassau County's Planning Commission chairman wants to delay a vote on County Executive Edward Mangano's deal to spend $800,000 to buy an old nursery in Bethpage from one of his political appointees.

The commission was to resume consideration of the administration's purchase of Deputy Parks Commissioner Frank Camerlengo's land on May 1.

But chairman Jeffrey Greenfield said Thursday that he has asked to temporarily remove the item from the agenda to ensure that members have all information -- including a ruling from the county ethics board and details about a foreclosure against the seller -- before they make a determination.

"We need time to digest all of the facts," Greenfield said.

He disclosed the move as County Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) asked the commission in a letter Thursday to closely review the land deal.

Abrahams' letter noted Camerlengo's county job and the fact that he's $395,000 in default on one of his Stewart Avenue lots. Abrahams said the proposed county purchase had "all the earmarks of a government bailout of a political insider."

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Greenfield said that he requested the delay in the vote before he received the letter.

Mangano, a Bethpage Republican, wants to turn Camerlengo's site into an educational center celebrating Nassau's agricultural history. He acted after neighbors complained about the appearance of the site, which once was a farm and nursery but now serves as a storage yard for landscaping equipment, his aides said.

"We're buying an eyesore the community wants us to do something about," said Deputy County Executive Ed Ward.

Nassau would pay for the land deal using its $1.1 million open space fund.

Abrahams argued that Camerlengo's land may be too strewn with debris to be considered "open space."

"Under the circumstances, we believe it would be fitting for commission members in this case to conduct a site visit . . . as juries occasionally do in criminal and civil proceedings," Abrahams wrote.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said it would be premature to comment on the deal, as it has yet to reach the county legislature.

The administration appraised Camerlengo's land in June 2012, a month after his bank said he was $395,000 in default on his mortgage. In January, Deputy County Executive Charles Theofan sought the ethics opinion on the purchase to determine if there were any conflict of interest issues.

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He said the administration believes there are none. "The employee is responsible for parks programming maintenance," Theofan wrote to the ethics commission. "He is not involved in the county's open space acquisition program."

Camerlengo was hired by the county in January 2010, the same month that Mangano first took office. He got a 26 percent raise at the start of 2014, bringing his salary to $125,000.

In defending the purchase of Camerlengo's land, Mangano aides said that the cultural and educational center will be fully accessible to the public.

They noted that former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat, used environmental funds to buy 100 acres of undeveloped land surrounding homes. Newsday reported in 2008 that a significant portion of the properties surrounded homes in affluent North Shore areas, and had no public access. The Suozzi administration said the land prevented new development in pristine, wooded areas.

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