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Fight over public funds for Fresh Pond property

JULIE LANE PHOTO Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board Chairman Gordon Gooding making the case opposing purchasing Vincent Novak’s property before the Town Board Tuesday.
Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board Chairman Gordon Gooding making the case opposing purchasing Vincent Novak’s property before the Town Board Tuesday.

Those in favor and opposed to the acquisition of a half-acre property to preserve along Fresh Pond using Community Preservation Fund (CPF) money brought some new arguments to the Town Board Tuesday.

Judging from comments by board members, there’s no clear indication which way the vote will go on the possible acquisition of 48 Lake Drive owned by Vincent Novak.

The CPF is funded by a 2 percent tax that buyers pay when purchasing East End properties and is in turn used to purchase open space for preservation and fund water protection programs.

The town’s CPF Advisory Board, which reviews possible purchases and makes recommendations to the Town Board, unanimously voted to turn down an offer to buy Mr. Novak’s site because there is a house on the property and custom has dictated that land purchased with CPF money should be vacant, plus, the CPF chairman said, the price is too steep.

Mr. Novak offered the property to the town at the price it set, an assessed value of $819,000. If accepted, it will be paid to Mr. Novak as $719,000 cash and acknowledge a $100,000 donation of property value to the town. This donation will offset his capital gains tax, netting the seller approximately the same amount as if he was paid $819,000.

The town might fail to pull the trigger on the deal because of a race against the clock. Mr. Novak has announced that if an agreement isn’t reached by Labor Day, September 3, he would withdraw the “bargain sale” price. A public hearing on the issue won’t be scheduled until September 7. The town could stillpurchase the property after Labor Day but at full cash value, he said.

Water quality improvement is one of the main arguments by those calling for the town to buy and preserve the parcel. They maintain that with the purchase, the house would be removed from the property, reducing the impact of effluent flowing into the pond from a septic system and it would provide access for treatment of water in Fresh Pond.

In addition, there would be an open, public space on the pond. Mr. Novak had changes made to his system and has not been guilty of adding to the problem at Fresh Pond, but other houses with aged cesspools have contributed to the water problems there.

Gordon Gooding, chairman of the town’s CPF Advisory Committee, raised the question of why those seeking CPF money for this purchase didn’t go to the town’s Water Quality Improvement Projects Advisory Board (WQIPAB).

That board receives up to 20 percent of the total CPF money raised and so far has used its allocation primarily to pay up to $15,000 each toward the purchase and installation of state-of-the-art nitrogen-reducing septic systems.

A member of the Fresh Pond Neighborhood Association said an effort by the association to support the purchase started with the WQIPAB, but it needed an extensive application that became a hurdle.

Mr. Gooding appealed to the Town Board Tuesday to weigh the value of the Novak property versus other properties that could be purchased with CPF money, which currently has $9 million in its coffers. He explained that his committee has never recommended spending the amount Mr. Novak is asking, even for the acquisition of much larger plots.

If a deal is struck, he added, it would set a precedent for negotiations to acquire other properties.
Peter Grand, co-chairman of the Fresh Pond Neighborhood association, said residents around Fresh Pond are dedicated to improving the quality of the water and making the pond accessible to others who don’t live in the area.

John D’Amato, another Fresh Pond resident, called the acquisition “an opportunity the town shouldn’t miss.” Several others — some Fresh Pond residents and some from other neighborhoods — encouraged the acquisition.

Councilman Albert Dickson seemed the most hesitant of his colleagues Tuesday about buying the property, reiterating that the CPF Advisory Board had unanimously turned it down. As for providing clean water for the pond, he said he would like to see all Fresh Pond residents installing nitrogen-reducing septic systems. Only four have received grants to do so to date. Others residents have said they are waiting for more information to determine how much the new systems would improve water quality.

Councilmen Paul Shepherd and Jim Colligan expressed concerns, but seemed inclined to support the acquisition, while Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams said she usually approaches decisions analytically, but this time was going with her gut.

“My gut is saying this is an opportunity,” the councilwoman said. “I don’t think we should pass it up.”

Supervisor Gary Gerth said he is always looking for an opportunity to save the environment, but wants to ensure a plan is in place for use of the parcel.