CAROGA -- Gloversville-based attorney George Abdella filed a notice of claim against the town of Caroga Friday stating he wants Sherman's amusement park back, plus damages.
The notice of claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, was filed by Abdella's law firm under the auspices of his real estate company, Balboaa Land Development Corporation. A link to the claim is posted on the town's website, townofcaroga.com, next to red lettering asking the public to "Please read."
Abdella alleges in the notice that the town of Caroga is in breach of contract for failing to abide by the conditions of the donation agreement, which among other things, requires the town to never sell the property and to "maintain the property to the highest of standards."
The claim alleges the town has violated the agreement in six ways:
• Failure to maintain the buildings and grounds
• Allowing the sewer system to deteriorate to the point where it cannot obtain approval from the New York State Department of Health
• Failing to properly groom the landscape of the property
• Failing to maintain the interior of the property
• Failing to repair a waterline Abdella alleges the Town Highway Department damaged prior to his donation
• Failing to maintain the donated part of the beach front, allowing it to become overgrown.
"The value of the donated property was assessed at the time of the transfer at $3.1 million," reads the claim. "Presently the property is worth substantially less than it was at the time of the transfer due to the misfeasance of the [town]."
In the notice, Abdella states he wants the donation agreement rescinded, the deed to the property returned to him, "compensatory money damages, and any other relief the court deems just and proper."
The filing of the lawsuit is the latest event in a fierce debate between town residents in favor of and opposed to the sale of the former amusement park, which many consider to be the heart of the town.
The fate of the 8.6-acre property located at routes 10 and 29A has been a political football in Caroga ever since former town supervisor Ralph Ottuso and the Town Board approved a complex donation agreement with Abdella in 2014. The issue likely played a major role in the defeat of all of the Town Board's incumbent members that ran in Tuesday's Republican Party primary. Two members were not up for re-election.
Town Supervisor James Selmser, who received 89 votes, was defeated Tuesday in the unofficial count by challenger Scott Horton, with 213 votes. Incumbent board members Kent Kirch (25 votes) and Jeremy Manning (95 votes) were defeated by challengers Donald Travis (189 votes) and Richard Sturgess (239 votes).
Selmser, Kirch and Manning all favor a plan to sell Sherman's to a non-profit entity called the Caroga Arts Collective for $50,000, with stipulations attached to the sale. A sale to the CAC was the favored option by a town-appointed Sherman's advisory committee, but many Caroga residents oppose it.
Abdella has signed a release agreement for the property, but only if the town sells it to the CAC, town officials say. But voters in the Republican Party primary voted out every official in favor of that plan Tuesday.
"It was the only issue," Horton said of his defeat of Selmser. "I did a lot of door-to-door campaigning and all anybody wanted to ask me about was Sherman's. I went to nearly 100 houses, and that's when I knew I was going to win."
On June 12 in a 4-1 vote, the Town Board approved the sale to the CAC, but only under the condition that town voters approve the sale during a referendum held Aug. 20.
A notice of the referendum on the town website reads: "A 'yes' vote will approve the sale; a 'No' vote will reject the sale. All registered voters in the town of Caroga will be eligible to vote."
Deputy Town Supervisor James Long has said he is in possession of documents signed by Abdella that allow for the sale to the CAC. Long declined comment for this story.
Selmser, Kirch and Manning did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.
Town Board member John Glenn was the only dissenting vote on the sale. He said he believes it's a bad idea for the town to sell to a nonprofit organization like the CAC, and would prefer a private developer sign a 75- to 100-year lease with the town instead.
Glen said the lease payments could provide revenue to Caroga to build a sewage infrastructure system, and the town could maintain ownership of the property. Glen said he also favors a plan put forth by former town attorney Sal Ferlazzo to seek a declaratory judgment from the state court system that would decide whether Abdella's donation agreement gives him control over to whom they can sell it.
"The people have spoken, we need to go in a new direction, to reinvent our town," Glen said.
Horton said he favors a private/public partnership for Sherman's rather than selling it to the CAC. He said the CAC, which has hosted a summer concert series at the park, could continue to be a part of the Sherman's property, leasing it from the town. He said he doesn't want to take Abdella to court, but would prefer Abdella file suit against Caroga and force the issue that way.
"It's always less expensive to play defense," Horton said.
Friday's notice of claim appears to give Horton his wish.
Kyle Price, the founder and artistic director of the Caroga Arts Collective, said his organization still hopes to win the referendum on Aug. 20. He said if the CAC can obtain ownership of the property, it will be able to take out a mortgage to obtain funds to begin the process of renovating the location into a performance center.
He said it will take millions of dollars to build the CAC's vision for the park, but he believes the CAC can use its nonprofit status to apply for grant funding to begin that process if it owns the park. Even without the Sherman's site, a performance center will be build, Price said.
Horton said the public will never approve the sale of Sherman's to the CAC.
"This is going to go down in flames," Horton said. "Basically the primary was the referendum in my opinion."
The CAC will be holding its 8th annual Caroga Lake Music Festival this summer, with six concerts set for Sherman's out of 40 planned events, including the "Red, White, Blues & Bluegrass" concert July 5 at 4 p.m.