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June 11, 2013
Preservation committee to Dougherty: Let’s talk about St. Gabe’s
A day after Supervisor Jim Dougherty called for a Town Board resolution that the St. Gabriel’s Retreat Center be returned to a “priority list” to preserve as open space, the committee that had removed the property from the list said St. Gabe’s would be discussed at its next meeting.
In an email to Mr. Dougherty, Peter Vielbig, Chairman of the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board (CPFAB), the group tasked with targeting and vetting open space purchases, invited Mr. Dougherty to its meeting Monday where the St. Gabe’s issue will be discussed in executive — or members only — session.
The note was cordial, asking for Mr. Dougherty’s input on “whatever other pieces we may have missed.”
Mr. Vielbig also asked the supervisor to bring the committee “up to speed with your thinking [and] where negotiations stand” on St. Gabe’s.
At Tuesday’s Town Board work session Mr. Dougherty had asked for an additional resolution to restore the board to “a leadership role” in preserving St. Gabe’s, a role the board had given to the CPFAB in August 2010.
St. Gabe’s recently received an application to subdivide 25 acres of property into eight lots, five of which are on Coecles Harbor at the end of Burns Road. The Passionist Fathers, who own the property, are seeking the subdivision for “future planning purposes.”
In accordance with subdivision regulations, the property allows for 21 residential lots with access to them through the creation of a road. The property has been on the market as one lot since May 2009 when the asking price was $19.9 million. But sources say the price as an intact property has fallen to $18.5, but still there have been no takers. There have been offers of a slow as $12 million, a source said.
Mr. Vielbig has maintained that St. Gabe’s is developed property with five buildings and 1,000 feet of bulkhead that either has to be removed or maintained if the town takes ownership. And using so-called “2 percent” money — funds collected on a real estate transfer tax dedicated to purchasing open space — defeats the point of open space preservation when the town would have to maintain structures.
After Tuesday’s meeting and the supervisor’s call for resolutions, Mr. Vielbig, pointed out his group is an advisory committee and the Town Board “can do whatever they want.”
He was pleased the issue of St. Gabe’s was receiving more discussion. “It’s good it’s coming to the fore … I think it’s very healthy for the town,” Mr. Vielbig said.
The St. Gabe’s issue also boiled down to matter of collars and cents, he added, noting that even though the 2-percetn fund had taken in about $1 million in the last coupe of cycles, it was $2 million in debt from borrowing to acquire property.
“It’s manageable, planned debt,” Mr. Vielbig said. “We’re all confident it can be handled.”
He characterized a remark by Mr. Dougherty as unfair that the CPFAB was more interested in “pruning” properties already preserved than seeking new ones.
“While we’re in this hiatus time, it’s a good time to look at properties we’ve acquired and how we can improve them and keep them healthy,” Mr. Vielbig said. “It may be true we’re pruning, but we’re not more interested in pruning than acquiring.”
At the work session Mr. Dougherty said ceding a leadership role to the CPFAB had been an unprecedented move. He said the CPFAB had asked for the unique permission “because they felt they had some special contacts.”
Mr. Dougherty said he’s not spoiling for a fight. “I’m not interested in getting into squabbles, but I am interested in in saving St. Gabriel’s,” he said.
At the work session, Councilwoman Christine Lewis said she wasn’t opposed to the supervisor’s ideas. “I don’t think there’s a soul in the Town of Shelter Island that would not be in favor of acquiring St. Gabe’s,” Ms. Lewis said.
Councilman Paul Shepherd raised his hand high, to some laughter.
Mr. Shepherd explained he was worried about the cost of maintaining structures on the property if the town bought it.