To accommodate the sale of a Brookhaven Town-owned building within Port Jefferson Village jurisdiction, the entities reached an intermunicipal agreement in 2015 to swap parking spaces. An informal opinion from the attorney general’s office dated Dec. 13, 2017 has left the deal in limbo.
Brookhaven sold the property on the corner of Main and East Main streets to private developer Agrino Holdings LLC. The developer has since turned the space into first floor retail with apartments above. The change of use of the building triggered a requirement within village code for additional parking, but downtown Port Jeff has a perennial parking problem, with a constant space shortage that can make it difficult for new developments to meet village code requirements. To offset the lack of spaces, the town reached an agreement with the village on a parking space swap — giving the village control of spots at the town-owned marina lot overlooking Port Jefferson Harbor in exchange for spots behind what was previously First National Bank of Port Jefferson and the town tax receiver’s office.
Upon hearing of the agreement at a village board meeting, Michael Mart, a longtime village resident and former member of Port Jeff’s parking committee, said he had some questions. Mart said he believed the deal created an alienation of parkland, as the town-owned spots were meant for boat trailer parking at the marina and boat launch. He took the issue to other interested Brookhaven Town residents who joined up for his cause, and after some back-and-forth in a series of letters to the editor in The Port Times Record by both Mart and Village Mayor Margot Garant, in April 2016, the town attorney’s office requested an informal legal opinion from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking, “Must the Town of Brookhaven seek legislative approval for the alienation of parkland for an intermunicipal agreement with the Village of Port Jefferson to maintain and control 30 vehicular stalls at a Town marina?”
In Kathryn Sheingold’s response for Scheniderman in December, the New York state assistant solicitor general in charge of opinions vindicated Mart’s contention.
“We are of the opinion that because land currently dedicated to park purposes — parking for the marina — would be made available for parking for other than park purposes, that is, general municipal parking, the change would constitute a diversion of park property that must be authorized by the Legislature before it can occur,” she wrote.
Englebright said in an interview last week he would not support legislation that results in the alienation of parkland.
“I’m open to a conversation if someone can persuade me that the precedent being set is good, but at the moment, from what I see, this is [not a good outcome], despite everyone being of good intent,” he said if he were to receive legislation for the swap as initially crafted. “My door is always open, but I’m very cautious about messing around with parkland.”
Port Jeff Village Attorney Brian Egan said the village has been in touch with the town attorney’s office and the sides are evaluating options, though he does expect an agreement will be reached to rectify the situation, and the sale of the building will not be voided.
““The fact of the matter is that this informal opinion is only an opinion,” Egan said. “The town attorney and village attorney respectfully disagree with this non-binding opinion on the attorney general’s opinion of the facts and the law. [The document] is not the pinnacle of clarity if this transfer of parking for parking constitutes alienation … I’m confident with the creativity of the town and the village we will come up with a solution.”
Village Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe said in a statement Egan is reviewing the opinion and the village will decide if any further action is necessary. Brookhaven Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto offered a statement on the matter through a town spokesperson.
“The town will not be seeking alienation,” she said.
A legal battle could ensue should the municipalities fail to reach an agreement.
This post was updated Jan. 29 to correct Michael Mart’s course of action in 2016. This post was updated Jan. 30 to amend Brian Eagen’s quote and to include a statement from Annette Eaderesto.