OB Considers Eminent Domain

By Shoshanna McCollumSpeculation has already circulated for weeks before next Saturday’s March 4 public hearing scheduled is set to convene. The published notice that has hung in the Ocean Beach post office reads: “to consider the proposed acquisition of a certain real property located at 473-475 Bayberry Walk, Ocean Beach, NY 11770, pursuant to the NYS Eminent Domain Procedure Law, for the purpose of re-locating certain Village facilities, including, but not limited to, the Village Police Department.”473-475 Bayberry Walk is cited on the OB tax rolls as from the Estate of Eugene Clegg, properties managed by third-generation Fire Islander, Tyler Sterck.“I’m sick to my stomach on a daily basis,” said Sterck in a telephone interview. “I can’t believe I’m in this position.”Mr. Sterck is the grandson of the late Eugene Clegg, founder of Clegg’s Hotel located by the ferry terminal. The 70-year old establishment was featured on the Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible” last fall, airing Halloween. Like most reality television programing, there were both poignant and uncomfortable moments. Only three months later the Eminent Domain buzz erupted on social media, largely on the closed-group Facebook page called Ocean Beach Bulletin Board, which has fed much confusion on the subject – with most of the posts in question created by Sterck himself:Use that money to reduce your taxes! Or rebuild OBYG, it’s been over 5 years since the building was destroyed! How about returning to the people the Bay Beach of which the Village has taken away and has no plans to return. It might be nice for children to learn to swim in shallow water or a boater to launch his paddleboat on land. How about fixing the town from flooding, returning the community movie theater…ARE THESE FEW IDEAS NOT MORE IMPORTANT THEN MOVING THE POLICE STATION 50 FEET AND COSTING YOU MILLIONS?” reads an expert from one such post, dated February 8, 2017.Mr. Sterck clarified that the Eminent Domain proceeding does not impact Clegg’s Hotel or the adjoining grocery store, Ocean Beach Trading (OBT). However neighboring properties that are also part of Eugene Clegg’s estate – the offices of Murtha Construction, Island Contracting (Doug Meyer and Steve Mueller), as well as the Community Gardens Outdoor Living & Gift Center would be affected by this proposition.“I’m a little disheartened,” said Community Gardens Center proprietor Ian Levine. “I only obtained my Special Permit from the Ocean Beach Planning Board two years ago, and now I’m being told it is time to move?”Opened in the summer of 2015, Levine’s  open-air market with brightly colored kiosks on the lot between OBT and Flair House has allowed local crafts people like jewelry artisan Faith Brewster of East End Designs, and ceramicist Diane Montes to sell their handmade goods at operating expenses within their means as well as reasonable prices for the consumer.Also being Chief of the Ocean Beach Fire Department, Levine expressed concerns about the idea of moving the police station.“The numbers keep going through my head,” says Levine. “The cost first to acquire the land, and then to build on it – we are talking about millions of dollars. The Village already went to considerable expense to make the present police station location appealing. Now someone has a new vision for the Village.”As long as most Fire Islanders can remember, the Ocean Beach Police Station has stood on the southwest corner of the ferry basin. People balked when the modular structure was first brought to house OBPD headquarters to that location after Hurricane Sandy, but in time the structure slowly gained public acceptance. Up until recently, architectural renderings of the reconstructed ferry terminal available for viewing on the Ocean Beach Village government website had the police station incorporated into the design. Those renderings have been removed from the site, but according to Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott it was hoped that the change in plans would be a win/win for the Village.“We thought it would be cheaper and easier to move the police station,” said the Mayor. “The police are now well settled in that building, and we thought just moving it would just be better for everybody.”Mayor Mallott added that this matter was hardly sprung on Tyler Sterck: Village Administrator Steve Brauthigam along with the Mayor invited Sterck and his wife Jeannie to explore acquisition possibilities – including purchase and condemnation. According to Mallott, Sterck has a number of open permits on his properties. Furthermore the north side of Clegg’s Hotel presently encroaches 12 inches onto Village owned right of way, which has hindered Sterck’s ability to take out a bank loan in order to renovate the aging hotel. The Eminent Domain procedure would be set up in a way so he could at last own that parcel free and clear.Tyler Sterck declined to answer how much Ocean Beach Village has offered in compensation for the property, or what he believes it to be worth. However right next to the Eminent Domain proceeding announcement is a second a public notice in the OB post office, stating that the Clegg Estate owes $48,782.93 in Village property taxes – a matter Sterck told Fire Island News he plans take care of soon.“If my properties are acquired by [Ocean Beach], those parcels will be removed from the tax roll, it’s the residents who will end up absorbing that burden,” said Sterck. “And it’s not about the money – this is my family’s legacy.”The Public Hearing is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 4 at Fire Island School located at Surf Road & Midway Walk. All wishing to be heard on this matter will be given the opportunity to speak at that time.