A Suffolk County nonprofit is in a standoff with an Amityville auto dealership over a contaminated property that the company does not own but is using to store vehicles.
Officials with the nonprofit Suffolk County Landbank Corp. have been trying to get 344 Merrick Rd. into its program since last year. The landbank was founded by county officials in 2013 to facilitate the cleanup and redevelopment of tax-delinquent brownfield sites.
The half-acre property between Wood and Bryan avenues once had a gas station there but was abandoned by owner RAI Realty Co. in the early 1990s, officials said. For more than two decades, Security Dodge has been storing vehicles on the site.
“They’re occupying a property to which they don’t have title, they don’t have a lease, and that they’ve paid nothing for the entire time they’ve effectively squatted there,” said Dorian Dale, the county’s director of sustainability and chief recovery officer.
The impasse between the landbank and Security comes at a time when the company is seeking permission from the village to expand its business on property it does own, at 335 and 339 Merrick Rd.
Dale said there was a leak at the 344 Merrick site that the state remediated and then placed a $162,961 lien on the property. An environmental assessment done in 2017 indicated there is still soil and groundwater contamination, as well as gas tanks and a partly collapsed cesspool. It’s not known whether the contamination has migrated, Dale said. The estimated cleanup cost is $150,000.
Taxes on the property have not been paid for more than 25 years, records from various taxing districts show. From 1993 to 2018, the county paid out $475,163 in taxes owed to the town and other taxing districts, Dale said. The village auctioned the sale of its tax liens. In 1999 and 2000 the village purchased those liens and for 1996 to 1998 and 2001 to 2018, the liens were bought by Security co-owner John Vigorito via companies he owns. The tax sales accrue 1 percent interest per month, officials said. Records show that Vigorito has paid $206,489 for the liens, which have accrued $212,084 in interest. The village would be owed $39,293 for the liens it purchased.
Security Dodge attorney Bruce Kennedy, who is also the village’s attorney, said he had advised the company to buy the liens.
“The original plan was for them to get a village tax deed, pay off all the unpaid town and county taxes and move forward with taking ownership,” he said, but they balked after the environmental lien and cleanup costs.
A 2017 appraisal values the property at $565,000, Dale said. Last July, Vigorito applied to the landbank, offering $500,000 but stipulating that all lien sales had to be paid out, bringing the total offer to $33,000, Dale said.
“We said make an offer that is palatable,” Dale said, adding that a “baseline offer” would be $200,000. In the spring, Security offered $50,000, an amount Dale called “insulting.”
“We don’t think they’ve been dealing with us in good faith,” Dale said.
Kennedy said it isn’t cost-effective for Security to offer more money, adding that the dealership will continue to use the property.
“Until somebody becomes the owner and has the right to evict them, they can stay there,” he said.