CAROGA — The Caroga Town Board voted unanimously Wednesday night at a special meeting to rescind a prior resolution calling for an Aug. 20 referendum on the sale of the former Sherman's Amusement Park to the Caroga Arts Collective.
Contacted after the meeting, Town Board member John Glenn said the board was forced to change course on the referendum because it had not adequately provided enough time for voter registration and absentee ballots prior to the Aug. 20 referendum date.
"Now we have to re-resolution this, if you will, no closer than 60 days [before the new referendum date] and then hold the vote no later than 75 days from when the new resolution is passed, which puts this right on the ballot for the November election," he said.
"This has been my position right along, that this should have been on the November ballot," Glenn said.
Holding a special election would have cost the town between $1,200 and $1,500.
On June 12, the Town Board voted 4-1 to sell the 8.6-acre property at the juncture of routes 10 and 29A for about $50,000 to the Caroga Arts Collective, a non-profit group that has hosted musical concerts at the venue for the last several summers.
The resolution authorizing the sale, however, is contingent upon approval by town voters. Another stipulation in the sale agreement is that the former owner of the park, Gloversville lawyer George Abdella, will have the right of first refusal for any attempted resale of the property by the CAC.
Town Supervisor James Selmser did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday night.
Selmser, plus board members Jeremy Manning, Kent Kirch and Deputy Supervisor James Long, have all supported the sale to the CAC, in part because it could help the town avoid a costly lawsuit with Abdella.
Abdella gave the property to the town in a complex donation agreement in 2014, which specified that it not be resold to a private developer. Abdella supports the sale to the CAC, but filed a notice of claim against the town on June 28 following the June Republican primaries in which all of the town's incumbent leaders who support the sale to the CAC were defeated.
Abdella alleges in his 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 ultimate fate of Sherman's is a passionately disputed political issue in Caroga, and was likely the defining issue of the June Republican primary.
Kirch and Long did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday night.
Selmser was defeated in the Republican primary by challenger Scott Horton, who advocates that the town remains the owner of the property, but leases it to other private entities, possibly in the form of an 80-year lease.
Selmser filed an independent party petition and will face Horton again in November.
Horton said he believes voters would have rejected the Aug. 20 referendum, and although he's glad the town will save "a lot of money" by pushing the issue to the November ballot, he doesn't like that the issue will be decided so late in Caroga's town budget process.
"The budget process starts in September, so without the referendum going down in August, the Town Board won't know whether to put any money in the budget for Sherman's for next year," Horton said. "I'm very unhappy about that. This should have been handled during the primary. The board needs time to address the budget considerations, especially considering how [Abdella] has filed [a notice of claim] against the town. We don't have any certainty of whether we should be funding Sherman's for $25,000 or zero dollars."
Robert Abdella, George's son and law firm partner, said it's his father's inclination to the end the legal action against Caroga if the Town Board sells the property to the CAC with Abdella retaining the right of first refusal. He said his father wants the property to be used for the good of the people of Caroga, and the CAC would fulfill that intention.