CAROGA -- The Caroga Town Board took another step toward reaching an agreement to sell the former Sherman's Amusement Park during its monthly meeting on Wednesday night.
Members of the board voted unanimously to schedule a public meeting to discuss Caroga Arts Collective's proposal to purchase the former amusement park from the town for $50,000. That meeting will take place on Wednesday, May 22 in Town Hall beginning at 7 p.m.
Town residents, many of whom spoke passionately both for and against the Town Board's recent 4-1 vote to sell the property to the CAC, packed Town Hall Wednesday night. The property's sale is contingent on voter approval in a referendum.
Martha Price started the public comment period by sharing not only the history of the property, but also memories of taking her children there.
Price said the best way to restore "the giggles and the squeals" at the site would be for the town to sell it to the CAC, a non-profit entity that has provided a free summer concert series at the venue for the last two years.
"We think Frank Sherman would hardily endorse this. Will you?" she asked the assembled crowd.
"No!" shouted one opponent of the deal.
Several opponents of the sale to the CAC said the Town Board should give equal time to John Lawrence, an engineer with property development experience, who wants to lease the property from the town. While Lawrence said he can't put forward a proposal to purchase the property until the town has "clear title" to the property, he might be interested in doing so if the town was able to obtain a "declaratory judgement" from the New York state court system. That document would allow the town to sell the property without permission from Gloversville-based attorney George Abdella, who donated the property to the town in 2015 as part of a complex agreement reached between the Town Board and then supervisor Ralph Ottuso.
Abdella has said the agreement has strings attached to it that give him the right to take the town to court and oppose any sale of the property to a buyer he doesn't approve of.
Current Town Supervisor James Selmser said the town has received a written waiver from Abdella allowing the Town Board to sell the property to the CAC. Town Clerk Linda Gilbert said she witnessed Abdella's signature. Town Board Member James Long said he has possession of the signed waiver.
Proponents of selling to the CAC, which include all of the members of the board except Dr. John "Jack" Glenn, have argued Abdella has threatened to take the town to court and potentially rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs to the town if it decided to seek a declaratory judgement on the town's possession of the property. Glenn and other opponents of the sale have argued that former town attorney Sal Ferlazzo had told the town board he could probably get the judgement for about $5,000. Ferlazzo, who had been an hourly employee of the town, was replaced by the law firm of Dunn and Dunn when Selmser was elected supervisor.
Vigorous exchanges continued between the board and members of the audience following the official public comment period.
Town resident John Livingston told the board it should consider an offer from Andrew Christiano for $225,000. Christiano made an inquiry about the property through Coldwell Banker agent Arlene Sitterly, which Selmser showed to The Daily Gazette. The offer was contingent upon the town having clear title to the property.
Town Board member Jeremy Manning said while he had spoken with Christiano on the phone, Christiano would not reveal his full plan for the property until the town agreed to the sale.
Selmser added that Christiano also wants a multiyear Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement, although no PILOT request was referenced in the documents provided to The Daily Gazette.
Board members explained that the May 22 public meeting would be the first step toward setting a date for a referendum on the sale of the 8.6-acre property, which is located at routes 10 and 29A. The board discussed the likelihood a second public meeting would be held later in the year to allow for more summer residents to weigh in.
Manning said once the town decides to conduct a referendum the vote can't be scheduled for at least 60 days, and no more than 75 days from the time the board makes that decision.
Former Supervisor Beth Morris said the town shouldn't have the referendum as a special election because it could cost as much as $4,000.
"No it won't, it'll cost maybe a $1,000 to $1,200," Selmser shot back.
CAC President Kyle Price (no relation to Martha Price) said his organization would like to own the property because it would allow the nonprofit to take out a mortgage and use the money to improve the facility and enhance its offerings to the public. He said with or without the sale, CAC is set to offer a four-concert series this summer at Sherman's, including one concert with Sawyer Fredericks, a past winner of NBC's The Voice.
Morris said the town is inviting citizens who would prefer to see a private sector tax-paying entity purchase Sherman's to file an article 78 lawsuit to block the sale.
"Abdella isn't the only one who can file appeals," she said.