Quogue Residents Split Over Proposed Purchase Of VFW Property

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More than 100 people filled the Quogue Community Theater Sunday afternoon to voice either their support or opposition to the village’s potential purchase of the Quogue Veterans of Foreign Wars property on Montauk Highway.

News that the land was up for sale created a stir among some Quogue residents—many of whom would like to see the village buy the 4.4-acre property, which has an asking price of $1.8 million.

But before he allowed anyone to speak Sunday, Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius listed a half dozen ideas that were already presented to the Village Board that, in his opinion, are not feasible options.

The mayor’s list included configuring the property for a baseball field, playground, tennis courts and a community center—all suggestions that, he said, would be redundant. He pointed out that residents already have access to a baseball field and playground at the Quogue School, tennis courts at various clubs, and a community center at the Quogue Library. Additionally, he noted that the Hampton Jitney has no interest in creating a bus stop on the property, and he added that a community swimming pool would cost too much to maintain.

“There is no doubt in my mind that there are people in the village that would like to see one of these,” said Mr. Sartorius, later noting that board members will discuss the ideas presented on Sunday and, most likely, announce a course of action—if any—during this Friday’s Village Board meeting, which starts at 4 p.m. “Our task is to determine what is best for the village as a whole.”

He said any purchase, after factoring in upkeep and maintenance costs, would start at $2 million. “Could we afford that? Sure, but our taxes would go up,” the mayor explained.

Lynda Confessore, president of the Quogue Library’s Board of Trustees, argued that creating a community center on the VFW property would undermine her board’s plans—quietly in the works for the past three years, and still not finalized—to expand the Quogue Street facility. She announced Sunday that those plans call for an expansion of the library’s community room and the addition of a kitchen and a meeting room. Those additions, she noted, were based on the results of a survey distributed in 2011 that generated some 600 responses.

“We’ve been going slowly—our treasury is building,” said Ms. Confessore, who did not say how much the expansion project would cost or when she’d be ready to share additional information. “We will present our plan to the community soon.

“Think of what the library offers,” she continued, “so we don’t duplicate it in the future.”

Ms. Confessore could not be immediately reached for comment earlier this week.

Village Board member Randy Cardo explained to attendees that the trustees, after previously examining the potential costs and benefits of the purchase, opted not to pursue the deal.

“I think everyone needs to understand the scope,” fellow board member Ted Necarsulmer added during the meeting, which lasted about 90 minutes. “This is not a one-time capital sum. This could change the scope of the village for a long time down the road.”

Mr. Sartorius called for the meeting last week after receiving about two dozen emails from village residents who essentially demanded that the board hold a hearing to gauge the interest of taxpayers. On Sunday, more than 15 residents shared their opinions, with those individuals split on whether the village should buy the property, which could be purchased by a developer and can currently accommodate up to three new houses, according to existing zoning at the site.

Some in attendance said they were unhappy to learn that the village did not immediately inform the public about the VFW’s decision to sell, and how representatives of the veterans’ organization had asked both Quogue and Southampton Town officials to consider buying it. On Tuesday, VFW Commander Bill Hughes said he has a potential deal in the works, though he was delaying a final decision to allow the village or town more time to make an offer.

“I’m getting ready to make a decision soon,” Mr. Hughes said, “but I was trying to give them time. I would have wanted to see this remain as a community asset.”

Mr. Hughes added that both town and village officials knew last year about the VFW’s intention of selling its home base and relocating it to the west, most likely near the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, which is headquartered at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton.

“If they wanted the property and they had the will, they could have called me,” he said. “I’m not putting a timeline on it, but I’m not going to have a deal go south because a decision cannot be made. This isn’t something that was just put on the table.”

Southampton Town appraised the land and made an offer earlier this year, but it was below the asking price, according to Mr. Hughes.

Referring to the mayor’s earlier statement that 95 percent of Quogue is already built out, resident David Greeff again urged the village to buy the land now, before it falls to developers, as village officials can always decide down the road what to do with it.

“The real point here is not to decide today,” Mr. Greeff said. “The point is that there is not going to be many opportunities like this again.”

Marcia Bradley, another village resident, agreed with Mr. Greeff. “The least we should try for is time,” she said. “I think the board and anyone involved owes it to the community … to put a committee together and put ideas on paper.”

Others in attendance asked why Southampton Town did not yet acquire the land using proceeds from its Community Preservation Fund. Mr. Sartorius said both he and Mary Wilson, who manages the town’s CPF, toured the property and that, afterward, the town did, in fact, make an offer.

Ms. Wilson, who was at Sunday’s meeting, stood at one point during an exchange and said the town could bid only what it considered fair market value for the property—and declined to divulge what the town had offered to the VFW. “I’m not sure this deal is completely dead, so that’s why I can’t share,” Ms. Wilson told the crowd.

She explained that the town’s appraisal is based on the highest value and maximum use of a property, noting that its offer was based on the land being converted into a residential development. Town records show that, in 2013, the property was appraised at $2.26 million—or $460,000 more than the current asking price.

On Tuesday, Ms. Wilson explained that the town does not refer to those mass appraisals when considering a land purchase using CPF money. Instead, companies are hired to research the full development options for a specific property and, based on that information, come up with a value.

Mr. Sartorius, meanwhile, dismissed multiple suggestions that the village and town partner on the deal. Ms. Wilson explained Tuesday that if the VFW property was acquired by both, it would be subject to the rules that govern the CPF and could not be redeveloped, for example, into a community center.

If that is not an option, some in attendance suggested that residents take up a private collection to see if they could work together to buy the land instead. “I don’t understand why this can’t happen,” said Mark Schulte of Quogue, referring to a joint purchase.

Though many applauded at the suggestion that the town and village split the cost, some said they were also concerned about the long-term costs of maintaining the property. Some even went as far as to say that, by the end of the meeting, they understood the original decision by trustees not to pursue the purchase.

“I don’t think it makes sense,” said Jim Sperber, a village resident. “We don’t gain a lot by going through this process. We’re being supplied with a wonderful bundle of things to do. We’ve got to be happy with what we’ve got.”

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