Brookhaven Town on Monday night voted to demolish the abandoned Ridge Motel East despite Suffolk County granting a hardship waiver for its owner to pay back taxes on the property.
Brookhaven officials said the county may have violated state law in December when it started the process of allowing the owner to redeem the property. Officials said that nearly $230,000 in back taxes is owed on the property, which has been vacant for more than a decade and is a haven for squatters.
“Suffolk County didn’t have legal authority to grant the property owner a waiver to redeem the motel. It can be neither redeemed or transferred. They are prohibited by state law,” Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said at the meeting.
“We don’t concur that we violated state law; we are following the legal process outlined under Suffolk County law for redemption of property,” said county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter. “We were trying to avoid taxpayers having to incur the cost of demolition and back taxes.”
The Eugene Lauro Living Trust owns the property and owes the back taxes, officials said.
Russell Ficken, a real estate agent who attended the town board meeting, said he represented the owner.
“He has a buyer who wants to renovate and beautify the motel for veterans,” Ficken said. “It’s a noble cause. The buyer is a retired military veteran.”
The county took control of the property, on Route 25 in Ridge, in February 2015 after 12 years of unpaid taxes through a tax default. Town officials say the county also filed a deed at that time saying it was the owner of the property.
Town officials said that when a property such as the motel is in the core of a protection area and is taken over by a government entity, that property is automatically dedicated to the David A. Sarnoff Pine Barrens Preserve.
Also, once the dedication occurs, according to Brookhaven officials, the property can’t be transferred unless the New York State Legislature rules otherwise.
Town officials also say it’s illegal to develop property in the core of the pine barrens without the property owner seeking a waiver from the Pine Barrens Commission, which can only grant the waiver when an extraordinary hardship is found.
Town officials estimated it would cost more than $100,000 to demolish the motel.
“It’s an eyesore and danger. This building is coming down,” said Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner, who represents the district.
Lee Brooks, president of the Ridge Civic Association, told town board members the motel is home to asbestos and cracked floors and said a fire would jeopardize the lives of squatters known to live there.
“It’s been excuse after excuse,” Brooks said. “I speak for the members of the association, we want it gone.”
Others also pleaded with the town officials to knock down the motel.
“We’re kinda begging, please take it down,” said Ridge resident Doreen Farrell. “What we’re looking at is an eyesore that is a health hazard. It’s a safety issue at this point.”
Fire officials characterized the abandoned motel as dangerous.
“We have a strict ‘do not enter’ policy,” Ridge Fire Chief Michael Gianmugnai said of his volunteer staff going on the property. “My men and women aren’t going into that building.”
He said the motel is infested with bedbugs and lice, has missing floors and that any ambulance truck that drives on the property must be sterilized for 24 hours.
No date has been set for the demolition.