The controversy over the proposed sale of an alley behind a Montauk motel -- actually a paper road that was never built -- took an unexpected turn recently when East Hampton Town Clerk Fred Overton told the town board that a petition demanding a public vote on the approved sale was invalid.
The property -- about 20 feet wide and 200 feet long -- runs between two buildings at the Ronjo Motel just off the Plaza traffic circle. Part of a swimming pool and deck sit within the right of way at the motel, which is undergoing a $4.5-million renovation by its new owner.
After ownership of the alley was discovered, the town board voted 3-2 to sell it to Montauk Beach Llc, the motel's corporate owner, for $35,000. But two Democrats on the town board said the sale price could not be determined without an appraisal. They had one done, and it valued the property at $189,000.
Republican Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who had his own appraisal done, said it was worth $22,500, less than the price the town expected to get for the land. The town board then voted to get another appraisal.
Officials expected the sale to take place once that appraisal was submitted.
But a new wrinkle came up -- the town Democrats submitted a petition demanding a referendum on the sale. Once such a petition is filed, all action stops on the sale until the vote is held.
Democrats submitted petitions with 644 signatures, far more than the 409 needed, thereby blocking any further action until mid-June.
But at Thursday night's meeting, Overton told the board the petitions were invalid for many reasons. None of the 47 pages, he said, contained the legally required phrase "that my present place of residence is truly stated opposite my signature hereto . . . " In addition, 170 signatures did not provide a complete address, 16 signatures were unreadable and 40 signers were not registered to vote.
That means the land can be sold once the new assessment is filed with the town.
Jeanne Frankl, chairwoman of the town Democratic Party, said the petition was collected to force the town to openly discuss any sale of public property before a vote, and to get appraisals before any sale.
Nevertheless, "It's embarrassing to lose," she said.