CAROGA -- State Supreme Court Judge Richard Kupferman on Monday affirmed the lawsuit settlement agreement that will return ownership of the former Sherman's Amusement Park to Gloversville-based attorney George Abdella.
Abdella had donated the property to the town as a park, with stipulations.
The settlement agreement, which ends Abdella's $3.1 million lawsuit alleging the town had failed to maintain the property as required, was approved by a 3-1 vote of the Town Board during a special meeting Friday.
Town Board member Dr. John "Jack" Glenn voted against it, and Supervisor James Selsmer was not present. Deputy Supervisor James Long has been authorized to sign the agreement.
The settlement rescind's Abdella's 2014 donation to the town, which had strict maintenance requirements and prohibitions against the sale of the property. As part of the settlement, town officials affirm most of Abdella's complaints about the town's failure to maintain the 8.6 acre property located on West Caroga Lake at routes 10 and 29A. Abdella agreed to drop his demand for damages in exchange for Caroga giving back the property.
Kupferman ordered that, "Both parties shall execute any and all documents necessary to effect the full transfer of the real and personal property which was the subject of the Donation Agreement back to [Abdella], which shall include a Bargain & Sale Deed conveying the real property listed in the Donation Agreement back to the plaintiff."
Kupferman on Monday also ruled on a separate lawsuit related to Sherman's that sought to stop a Nov. 5 referendum vote on the sale of the property to an arts group. The referendum, if passed, would permit the town to sell Sherman's to the non-profit Caroga Arts Collective, which has hosted a series of summer concerts at the location for the last several years.
Kupferman ruled that the taxpayer lawsuit filed by town property owner John Livingston was now moot, because the property is being returned to Abdella.
The referendum would have sold the property to the CAC for $50,000, paying the town back for the amount of taxpayer money spent maintaining the park since 2015.
Kupferman Monday ordered the results of the Nov. 5 referendum to the sealed.
"Given the practical inability, as the ballots have already been printed, to remove the public referendum from the 2019 Ballot, the Court directs that, to the extent permissible under the New York State Election Law, the Defendant Fulton County Board of Elections shall seal the results of said public referendum," reads Kupferman's court order.
Robert Abdella, George's son and law firm partner, said his father now intends to give the property away for a second time, this time to the CAC.
"We are pleased that the judge affirmed the [settlement]," Robert Abdella said. "We anticipate the rescission paperwork will be done as soon as this week. We will move forward immediately with the paperwork necessary to finalize the agreement with the CAC. We look forward to putting our energy toward helping the CAC succeed, and we hope that those who opposed the transaction will put their energy behind them as well."
Abdella's donation of Sherman's in 2014 led to five years of political strife in the town, as passionate factions formed, one in favor of selling the property to the CAC and another that wanted the town to profit by allowing development of the property.
Abdella had indicated he was willing to allow the town to sell the property, but only to the CAC. He opposed any commercial development of the property. He filed his lawsuit shortly after the June Republican primary, when all of the incumbent officials in favor of selling to the CAC were defeated by opponents of the sale.
Livingston is among those opposed to the CAC acquiring the property. He sued all of the Town Board members, Town Clerk Linda Gilbert, and the Fulton County Board of Elections, alleging the referendum had never been properly approved by the Town Board, and claiming the board was failing in its duty to town taxpayers by not obtaining the highest possible price for Sherman's.
Abdella's donation agreement valued the property at $2.2 million and its current assessed value for taxation purposes is $491,803.
One of the key points of contention among most opponents of the CAC taking ownership of Sherman's has been that it will be a nonprofit and will not pay property taxes. Sherman's was once the main tourism attraction for the town, a classic 1921 lakeside amusement park known for its vintage carousel ride, Ferris wheel, dance hall, bumper cars and soft ice cream.
Proponents of the CAC acquiring the property have argued the group could redevelop the property into a world class music venue, which could serve as an economic catalyst to revitalize the town.
Livingston has vowed to file another lawsuit, this time seeking to invalidate the Town Board's vote to approve the lawsuit settlement.
Former Caroga Supervisor Beth Morris, another outspoken opponent of the sale to the CAC, has argued in social media posts that town residents should continue to fight the property transfer.
"The Town Board betrayed every single taxpayer who lives here," she wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday. "The town has the right for a public hearing any time town property is involved. Do not let the cowardly members of this board bully you into believing this is a done deal!"
Robert Abdella said the legal settlement is a done deal.
"My father has spent time, energy, and a nice chunk of my inheritance trying to preserve the property," Robert Abdella said. "All he wants to do now is sit back and have a gin and tonic and enjoy it. Maybe those who somehow think this is somehow their fight ought to just let him. In the meantime we are looking forward to seeing what the CAC and the town of Caroga can accomplish, together."