Acquiring land for open space preservation is usually straightforward, but that wasn’t the case for a piece of property adjacent to Cordwood Landing County Park in Miller Place.
What started as a simple purchase of the land and a quest to preserve it, ended with bad blood between a legislator and those involved with the property, after Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) accused developer Mark Baisch and Friends of Cordwood Landing of colluding together to defraud the county. The accusation, which Baisch and Tom Cramer, president of Friends of Cordwood, said is not true, was enough to discourage Baisch from following through with his initial plan to sell the property for open space preservation.
“I’m not interested in selling the property … not after I’ve been accused with stuff like this,” Baisch said. “Who in their right mind would go ahead and keep negotiating further?”
Baisch acquired the property in September 2014 for $750,000 from the original owner. When asked why Anker accused him and Friends of Cordwood Landing of conspiring together, Baisch was unsure where the accusation came from.
Anker said she thought Baisch and Friends of Cordwood Landing were conspiring together after receiving an email from Cramer that criticized Anker’s efforts regarding the property, and added he thought Baisch’s asking price was reasonable.
The accusations did not stop there. According to a previous interview with Cramer, Anker did not do what she could to help purchase and preserve the land — a statement Anker refutes. The resolution for this property was Anker’s first piece of legislation when she was elected in 2011. According to Anker and Jon Schneider, deputy Suffolk County executive, Anker did what she could within the law to acquire the property. In 2011, before the original owner sold the property to Baisch, Anker said the land was appraised for $783,000 — the owner refused to sell the land to the county for an unknown reason.
After Baisch purchased the property from this owner, Cramer approached Baisch about selling the property for open space preservation. According to Baisch, once he agreed, Cramer put the steps in motion to get the land reappraised and encourage the county to purchase and preserve the land. Baisch said he would sell the eight parcels for $1.25 million. He said he offered the property for 24 percent more than the purchase price, knowing what he could get out of the 5.5-acre property.
According to Schneider, based upon as-of-right laws, the property yielded five one-acre parcels plus an additional parcel using Pine Barrens credits, which allows a developer to add parcels to the land according to their individual credits. Baisch explained that he had several Pine Barrens credits, which increased the number of possible parcels to eight.
After Anker issued another appraisal of the property, the county offered $930,000, despite Baisch’s selling price — they did this with the understanding that six parcels were permitted on the property, as Baisch must get approval to add the two additional parcels to his plan. While Baisch claims to have said “no” to the offer, Schneider said he did not respond to the offer, and it expired.
“We can only make an offer based on land as it sits,” Schneider said. “We can’t make an offer today as though he has eight lots. He doesn’t have eight lots he has six.”
While Cramer said Anker didn’t work hard enough to acquire the property, Schneider said there is little else the legislator could have done.
“All a legislator can do is set the process in motion,” he said, “Then we make an offer based on fair market value. At the end of the day, the goal is … we want to make the best use of taxpayer dollars.”
Anker said she can’t “break the law” and get involved in the negotiations regarding the property, and added the issue, including the rally Friends of Cordwood Landing organized on Oct. 15, was political. Steve Tricarico, who ran against Anker for Legislator of the 6th District, attended the rally, according to Anker. Anker was not invited to the event.
Although Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) attended the rally and promised to pay 30 to 35 percent of the property’s cost, Baisch is currently in the process of approving his eight-parcel plan for the property with the Town of Brookhaven.
He intends to build seven homes and one Workforce home. According to Baisch, the law states that if a developer intends to establish more than five parcels, they must provide at least one Workforce house, otherwise known as affordable housing. Baisch plans to market the affordable home to a returning veteran.
According to Cramer, the property is the last remaining tract adjacent to Cordwood Landing County Park. Despite the controversy surrounding the property, officials like Anker would like to see the property preserved.
“This parcel would make an excellent addition to Cordwood Landing County Park and the nearly 65 acres already preserved by Suffolk County,” Anker said. “I know Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilwoman Bonner share my desire to preserve this parcel, and I look forward to working with them in preserving this important piece of land.”