Peter Imbert, longtime Amityville mayor, steps down
Sixteen years after he barreled into public life with a mandate to revitalize Amityville's downtown, overhaul government and rein in property taxes, Mayor Peter Imbert presided over his last village board meeting Monday night.
The village's longest-serving mayor plans nothing loftier than more work at the multimillion dollar insurance company he runs with his father, and more time with his wife, Diane, and their three children. "I did what I came in to do," he said in a recent interview, days before voters elected his successor, Jim Wandell.
While Imbert made no endorsements in the race, he didn't hide his preference for Deputy Mayor Peter Casserly or Trustee Ed Johnson over Wandell, who promised at a candidates event to "get fresh people in here to stop the bleeding," a swipe at Imbert's leadership.
Imbert, who was in the audience that night, admitted to being "irked" by the criticism, which also came from several candidates for trustee.
A sputtering national and regional economy limited his options as mayor, said Imbert, 53, but he is confident he made the right choices within those constraints. Overall, he said, "I left the village in very good shape."
The village faced a high vacancy rate downtown, dilapidated buildings in prominent locations and growing competition from nearby superstores when he took office in 1997. He moved aggressively to replace two eyesores -- the Colonial Motel near the village's north Broadway entrance and apartments on Merrick Road to the south. Parks now stand on those sites.
Other deals increased parking for village businesses and traded condo developers high-density rights in exchange for ballfields.
Imbert pushed for demolition of the old village hall and police station and had them replaced with the LEED-certified $9.6 million village hall on Ireland Place.
What some labeled as profligacy he described as an investment, both in energy savings and image. "It builds on itself," he said. "You see a village that looks nice, that's getting fixed up, more people are going to come in."
But the tax base weakened when South Oaks Hospital and Broadlawn Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center were sold to a nonprofit, though Imbert later negotiated a $200,000 payment in lieu of taxes for the property
Then the recession hit, hard. Grants and mortgage tax revenue dried up, leaving the village more dependent on property tax revenue; a new condo project went into foreclosure, with the developer owing the village hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees, officials said.
As financial markets cooled, the village's retirement contributions and obligations for employee health care soared.
Imbert said he cut costs while preserving quality of life for residents and keeping property taxes as low as possible. "I knew exactly what I was doing," Imbert said. "Those were conscious decisions that were made, and I stand by them."
Credit ratings agencies have not been sympathetic, slapping the village with a string of downgrades in recent years. The downgrades fueled complaints by some residents about taxes and village debt, leading to testy exchanges during village board meetings.
But Imbert drew some praise. Virginia D'Andrea, a retired commercial landlord, said he "turned around" the village by making it friendly to businesses and drawing visitors.
Marcia Besserman, president of the village chamber of commerce from 1996 to 2008 and a partner in Barkley Shades and Blinds, credits him with drawing new businesses to Merrick Road, a major thoroughfare once dominated by auto repair shops.
Imbert said he decided last summer to step down. He's not sure he'll seek public office again, after roughly 384 village meetings. "I put my heart and soul into this village since I was 37."
Though it was a frigid gray day and hardly anybody was out on Broadway, he sounded optimistic. "Wait until summer," he said. "With the hanging baskets, the flags -- it's going to be beautiful."
1997: Soon after election, Imbert moves to take over eyesore buildings; some lots are now occupied by parks.
2008: Village employees move into $9.6 million LEED-certified "green" village hall, boondoggle to some and treasure to others.
2012-13: Downgrades by credit ratings agencies alarm some residents.
2012: Some residents are critical of village response to superstorm Sandy; others praise work of police and DPW.