The Legislative Council voted Monday to sell the former Joseph Conte Jewelers property, but with the caveat that the money goes back into the building fund rather than to the Public Works salary account to pay for three new Public Works as the administration wanted.
Eli's on Whitney will purchase the site located at 2384 Whitney Ave. next to the restaurant for $200,000, $96,200 less that the town paid for the property in October 2008. The town also will invest almost $50,000 in asbestos remediation and costs to demolish the house on the property before it's sold to the restaurant.
But the sale will put the property, which some say is a difficult site due to its size and lack of parking space, back on the tax roles, which makes the sale worth it.
"We are opening it up to private development, and that is the best way to go," said Councilman-at-Large Austin Cesare. "I understand this is probably not the best amount possible but I feel this is the best deal for the town."
The town also received other value through the purchase of the property by using it as construction offices, thereby avoiding having to pay for trailers that would have been used as offices, Councilwoman-at-Large Kath Schomaker said.
"I like seeing this going back into the private sector," she said. "This is a prime business location and this is a perfect use for the site."
"Prime location" were key words for Councilwoman-at-Large Berita Rowe-Lewis.
"I'm not in favor of unloading prime real estate and not making anything on the deal," she said. "I think this is something we could hold on to."
The town looked into possible uses for the property, including as additional parking for the Fire Department and Memorial Town Hall, and decided it wasn't needed, Chief Administrative Officer Curt Balzano Leng said. And whether it is sold or retained, the building has to come down because it's blighted, he said.
"So it's an empty lot vs. selling it for tax revenue," he said.
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The town looked into a reverse bid sale rather than selling it through a bid waiver to Eli's, Leng said, but feared that the bid sale would bring in lower prices that the Eli's sale.
"My concern is that the taxpayers paid $296,000 for this piece of property that we are going to sell for $200,000 and add $50,000 to that cost," Councilman Harry Gagliardi said. "It will take us 50 to 100 years to recoup this loss and that's ridiculous."
"I have spent a long time going around talking to everyone about this and at first I was against it," council president Judi Kozak said. "But what are we going to do with it? It's right next to a fire department where you have sirens going off, it's a dangerous spot to begin with that is very, very tight.
"I would like to see it go on the tax rolls," she said.
As the full council was about to vote on the proposal, Gagliardi offered an amendment to the proposal -- that the proceeds of the sale go back into the building fund from where they came.
The administration had voiced an intent for the money to be used to fund the three additional Public Works positions proposed last month. Some council members weren't happy about using a one-time funding source to pay for positions that would have to be funded on a yearly basis.
"This way, the taxpayers loose only $100,000" rather than have to keep funding the positions year after year, Gagliardi said.
His peers apparently agreed, approving the motion before approving the sale.