Enmity in a legal dispute over a proposed privet hedge erupted at the end of Saturday’s reorganization meeting of the Village Of Dering Harbor trustees as residents, the mayor and trustees clashed. There was shouting, door slamming and a call for the 13-term mayor to resign.
About 30 homeowners were in attendance, and many had commented politely throughout the long reorganization agenda.
But tempers flared when Jonathan Cary asked the mayor to confirm whether the village offered an 80-year-old Indiana widow a $10 “quitclaim” for land contested in a lawsuit that once was estimated to be worth $45,000.
“That piece of land is clearly being sought by another party,” Mr. Cary said, referring to Brad Goldfarb, who was seated nearby. “People in the community are highly, highly upset about how this has played out.”
Mr. Goldfarb and his husband, Alfred Paredes, sued the village after two years of talks broke down relating to their wish for privacy and the safety of their toddler, to encircle their lawn at 21 Shore Road with privet. They acknowledged that the hedge would run across a 20- by 30-foot roadside strip of uncertain ownership.
Martha Baker, whose own Shore Road property abuts similar strips, joined the suit filed in Supreme Court of New York. A judge has yet to rule on the matter.
Elsewhere in the village, such lots — remnants of 50-foot-wide roads planned in the 1870s — were long ago conveyed to adjoining property owners. In some cases, the village may have retained ownership.
The dispute spilled over into Village elections, catching the attention of New York Magazine, where a recent article said the conflicts “cast a pall on another year of dinner parties and sunset strolls and summering on top of one’s enemies.”
At Saturday’s meeting, tension spiked when the mayor sought to go into executive session.
“Why did you try to buy that piece of land for $10?” Mr. Cary asked.
“There is no resolution to that effect,” Trustee John Colby said.
“Did you try to buy that piece of land for $10?” Mr. Cary repeated, joined by others saying, “Answer the question.”
“We can’t answer because we’re being sued,” Trustee Heather Brownlie said over the commotion.
Village Attorney Joe Prokop said the board should not discuss on-going litigation in public.
Mayor Tim Hogue said the Village had discovered possible heirs of a former owner, but would not comment on the report of a quitclaim offer.
“You told us, as residents, that the Village owned the property,” Karen Kelsey said.
“Right,” Mr. Hogue said.
“And that you had proof,” Betsy Morgan said.
“So now all of the sudden the village doesn’t own it?” Ms. Kelsey asked.
“This started out with a hedge,” Mr. Hogue said. “And, the Village does not have permission to give approval for a hedge on property that clearly was not …”
“A simple answer would’ve been, ‘Clear up the deed and come back to us,’” Mr. Goldfarb said to the mayor and board. “But you said you owned it and for two years we tried to clarify that with you and work out a negotiation.”
Prior to the suit, the mayor said, the board had discussed numerous possible solutions, including ‘evergreen’ agreement that might’ve enabled the couple to use the property until ownership could be established.
“Which would only be legal if you owned the property,” Mr. Goldfarb said.
“We were looking for ways to get them to be able to put in the hedge,” Mayor Hogue said.
“We are sick of this,” Betsy Morgan said.
Trustee Brandon Rose spoke at length about how the board had sincerely sought a way to allow the hedge. “I’m scratching my head wondering how we wind up doing a 180 where people now feel that … the village went out and tried to essentially get the property ahead of Brad and Alfredo,” he said.
“Wouldn’t it be great,” Ms. Kelsey said. “If the intent of getting the strip of land from this 80-year-old woman was so that the Village could convey it to Brad and Alfredo and put an end to this.”
“How do you know that’s not what they’re thinking,” Marian Brownlie asked.
“We don’t know what they’re thinking because they don’t tell us,” someone shouted.
If its own research shows the land does not belong to the village, why not drop the suit, residents asked.
Mr. Prokop said the village can’t drop a suit it didn’t initiate but did ask that it be dismissed. And, Mr. Hogue said, the village wants to be reimbursed the $13,000 it has spent on defense.
Robert Ruttenberg interrupted, “We love it here. But this has made us ‘you versus us.’ It has been divisive and it’s got to stop.”
A woman called out: “We’ve lost faith in our government because of lies.”
At that, the mayor and board exited to confer with their attorney. Some dissatisfied residents departing Village Hall slammed the old screen door.
“Tim, you need to resign,” someone shouted.
“This is shameful,” Robert Ferris said. “Everyone should tell the Reporter, we are embarrassed by this.”