A 2.28-acre parcel at the center of the Town of Oyster Bay corruption scandal seems poised to be sold. A company has bid for the property at 50 Engel St., just south of West John Street in Hicksville.
It was bought by the town in November 2013 for a reported $2.5 million, and recently appraised for $2.72 million. According to town spokesman Brian Nevin, two bids were received and the winning one for $3.151 million was submitted by Hicksville Bus Lot LLC. A call and email left with the parent company, First Student, were not returned.
The town board voted to declare the property surplus on Nov. 14 and authorized the town attorney to put out a request for proposals (RFP) with a minimum bid of $2.73 million.
Trustees Rebecca Alesia and Anthony Macagnone, at the Oct. 17 meeting, had asked for the resolution to be tabled for further study and discussion. Alesia argued that the property might be used by the town to move its public works and animal shelter, currently at 150 Miller Pl. in Syosset. The town sold that property in 2013 and has been using it rent-free, but beginning next September will incur monthly payments to the property owners estimated at $50-$60,000.
Macagnone quoted Mark Twain: “Invest in land. They’re not making it anymore.”
He noted that he and Councilman Joseph Muscarella “have been going through this a long time with the residents of Hicksville—Councilwoman Alesia, a little bit less—about the asphalt plant and the paint and the smell and the noise that they had to endure. We promised them a park. We promised them land that they could use. I, for one, I’m not ready to vote in the affirmative on this. I’d like to table this to get some more time…until we see what other uses we get out of it.”
At the same meeting, Joel Bearse, immediate past president of the Northwest Civic Association, stated, “I don’t think it should be sold. What was said at that time [when the town bought it] was if the town owns it and the community has an idea, that they would accept an idea and try to use the property in a good function.”
Bearse reminded Alesia he had also proposed moving the animal shelter to Engel Street and making the rest of the lot a dog park. Transfering the shelter would at least reduce the amount of rent which the town would pay the owners of 150 Miller Pl. beginning next year, he observed.
Thomas M. Sabellico, special counsel for the town, was involved in the sale of the Engel Street property.
“We thought that it might be used for redevelopment,” he told the town board. “It is apparent now, over the past couple of years, it’s not going to be used.”
He added, “If an RFP is issued, it’s not binding upon the town board to accept any offer…[and the RFP] would determine the true market value.”
Director of Finance Rob Darienzo explained that the Engel Street property was purchased with Save Environmental Assets (SEA) fund money, “and any amount in excess of what the original purchase price was would go into the general fund and could be used however is deemed necessary.”
DaRienzo said that voters gave their approval to three SEA fund authorizations last decade, totaling $120 million. “Part of that money was to be used for the acquisition of open space…and part of it was meant to be used for the improvement of existing park facilities and open space,” he noted, adding that they were overwhelmingly approved with at least 70 percent in favor for each issue.
DaRienzo stated that the $2.5 million realized from the sale of Engel Street would have to go back into the existing SEA Fund for use authorized by the fund—or be used to pay down the debt.
An asphalt plant had operated for decades at 50 Engel St. under a special use permit issued by the town to Carlo Lizza and Sons Paving, Inc., a politically-connected firm that had garnered town contracts worth tens of millions over the years.
The firm, along with principals Elia “Aly” Lizza, 69, and his wife, Marisa Lizza, 61, of Oyster Bay Cove, were indicted by Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas in June and charged with various felonies, including bribery. Several other officials, including former Supervisor John Venditto, were indicted and are awaiting trial.
According to Singas, the Lizzas had paid Oyster Bay Commissioner of Planning Frederick Ippolito more than $2 million, which led to a federal conviction for tax evasion in 2015. Ippoloto, who died in prison this past June, had been a consultant to the paving firm and allegedly used his influence as commissioner to seek to win contracts and make favorable zoning decisions to his former employees. Ippolito had faced 178 criminal counts in indictments from two grand juries. In September, State Supreme Court Justice Charles Wood dismissed the case against Ippolito.
The Engel Street property was essential to an ambitious housing complex the Lizzas were involved with, and to facilitate the project, they offered the lot to the town for free. Instead, according to a narrative from Singas in her indictment of several former Oyster Bay officials, the town bought the lot from VIM Construction Co. of Hicksville, connected to the Lizzas.
Sabellico, the attorney who closed the deal on the property, told the Hicksville News, “We purchased it for the appraisal price. The contract talked about all the environmental work that had to be done. The environmental work was done.”
He added that five underground tanks were removed and $100,000 was held aside for clean-up and removal costs.
“They were all removed and only two were found to be petroleum impacted,” Sabellico noted. “So it was cleaned and it remains clean to this day.”
Sabellico mentioned how residents hailed the town’s purchase as environmentally desirable, with many wanting the asphalt plant removed.
Supervisor Joseph Saladino told the News, “This is great news for the public. We have a property that we want to sell, that we have a right to sell, that is legal to sell and is ethical to sell. And the sale of this property accomplishes all these things.”
Nevin added, “And it gets the property back on the tax rolls. Right now it generates no economic activity. All the taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of it being public property. Now it will get back on the tax rolls.”
According to the Nassau County Office of Assessor website, the property, before earning exempt status, had the following tax liabilities for 2014: $41,595 in special district taxes; $17,158 in county taxes; $16,735 in town taxes; and $57,131 in school taxes (for the school year 2013-14).