Town to sell one building, lease out another for free

The East Lawn building on  East Main Street. (file photo)
The East Lawn building on East Main Street. (file photo)

The Riverhead Town Board has decided to sell one historic but dilapidated building it owns on East Main Street and lease, rent-free, another building it acquired but has never used on East Avenue.

At its work session on Thursday, the board decided to sell the 165-year-old East Lawn building on East Main Street to Isabelle and Mary Gonzalez, after an earlier plan to sell it to Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi fell through.

Of the two bids that were submitted by the deadline for submissions, Mr. Castaldi’s was slightly lower, but a majority of Town Board members liked his experience in historic restoration, and chose to sell him the building at $125,000.

The highest bidder was I’m a Ruralpolitan, a marketing group headed by Isabelle Gonzalez, a member of the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association, and her sister Mary, at $130,000.

The Gonzalez sisters actually offered $250,000 initially, but lowered their offer when they discovered it would cost more than $200,000 to renovate and restore the building.

A third bid was submitted after the deadline for bids. It came from Greg Fisher of Calverton, who offered $140,000 in a hand written letter submitted to the Town Clerk.

Mr. Castaldi, who planned to build office space at the East Lawn site,  said one of the reasons he backed out of the purchase was because the building only has three parking spaces.

The Gonzalez sisters are still interested and plan to use half the building as an office for I’m a Ruralpolitan, and the other half as a townhouse that Mary Gonzalez will live in.

At it’s work session on Thursday, Town Board members discussed whether they wanted to sell the building to the Gonzalezes or list it with a real estate agent.

Supervisor Sean Walter said he preferred listing it with a real estate agent in hopes of finding someone who could restore the building to what it once was.

The other four board members disagreed.

“We did an RFP (request for proposals) and people responded to the RFP,” Councilman John Dunleavy said. “If we say the RFP didn’t mean anything, we’re going to put it out for sale again, then why should people respond to RFPs?”

Councilman George Gabrielsen said he doesn’t think the town will get any more money by putting the building out to bid again, especially since Mr. Castaldi just rescinded his offer for it.

The town was given the East Lawn building in 1984 by the developer of the office complex behind it. Since then, it has been home, rent free, to the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, the town historian, Riverhead Community Awareness Program and the Riverhead Housing Development Corporation for many years.

The Chamber and CAP already have found new homes, but the town still must decide what to do about the historian and the RHDC, which oversees the federal Section 8 rental assistance program.

One idea the board is now considering for the RHDC is a building the town acquired in 2009 on 209 East Avenue, adjacent to the eastern entrance of the Woolworth parking lot.

The town bought that property from architect Martin Sendlewski in 2009 for $315,000 with the idea of knocking it down for parking.

Mr. Sendlewski had just received town approval to build a five-story building at the site prior to selling it to the town.

The building ended up vacant and fell into disrepair after the town bought it, but now the town, with help from donated work and materials from John Parker Construction and the owners of the John Wesley Village on Middle Road, has now fixed up the building and put in alarms.

Mr. Walter said the RHDC will have to pay utilities on the building but it would be rent free.