Editorial: At this point, firehouse sale doesn’t add up

07/05/2014 12:00 PM |
After opting not to sell the Second Street Firehouse earlier this year to Sufolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi, Town Board members decided on Tuesday to sell it to him for $500,000. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

After opting not to sell the Second Street Firehouse earlier this year to Sufolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi, Town Board members decided on Tuesday to sell it to him for $500,000. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

In February, amid concern about the high cost of finding a new home for the town’s Justice Court, a majority of Town Board members backed out of a deal to sell the Second Street firehouse to Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi. 

While the price tag for moving the court to the Route 58 Armory remains high — and, in fact, has gone up since then — the board reversed course Tuesday, opting to sell the building to the developer after all.

Mr. Castaldi agreed to a $500,000 purchase price — $125,000 more than he offered just months ago — indicating his strong desire to acquire the property. It also indicates that those favoring the February sale clearly jumped the gun, unaware of how much the town could really get for it.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio cast the lone dissenting vote against the sale. She rightly pointed out that the town should get an independent appraisal on the property and put it up for a public bid once again. Both suggestions make sense, particularly if the town will change the zoning on the property from the last time it was put out to bid — a caveat as part of the deal that will only make the property more valuable to potential investors.

Riverhead leaders still have to figure out where to place the town’s justice court, a problem that — while likely not as dangerous as some might say — isn’t going away. Selling off what excess real estate it has left will only reduce the limited options Riverhead taxpayers have for a new courthouse.

But if the town is going to sell off property, there’s no reason it shouldn’t pull out all the stops to make sure its assets are being sold for what they are worth.

The deal with Mr. Castaldi is still subject to a permissive referendum, meaning that if a timely petition protesting the agreement is submitted, the transaction would ultimately need voter approval.

Residents should take this action. Based on the information the town has released publicly, there is not enough evidence to support the sale of the firehouse for $500,000.

Mr. Castaldi has demonstrated that he can do great work renovating an old building downtown and, considering the Town Board’s rocky history when it comes to agreeing to things, selling the property doesn’t sound like the worst idea. But residents deserve a more open process before selling public property to anyone.