April 07, 2020

St. George debates land acquisition plan

ST. GEORGE – Buying a 72-acre parcel with 450 feet of shoreline on the St. George River for public access had a pleasant ring to some residents’ ears but hit a sour note for others Tuesday at a public hearing on the proposal.

The 71.73-acre private subdivision has 10 lots with deep-water access, a new two-story clubhouse and an extensive dock. Located on Waymouth Road off Glenmere Road, the land, owned by Glenmere LLC, has an assessed value of $1.4 million.

The town proposes paying $1.2 million cash, plus having a portion donated by the owner. The owner would have an appraisal done, and the difference between the cash price and the appraisal would be donated to the town. The owner benefits from a tax write-off.

But the deal has hit a snag. One of the 10 lots has been sold and the owner, Capt. Francis Reil of Staten Island, N.Y., apparently doesn’t want to sell.

“[Reil] doesn’t want to sell this land,” Kate Jackson, a Camden real estate agent, said. Jackson represented Reil, a Staten Island harbor master for 35 years.

“It’s his dream,” Jackson said. “He will do everything he can so this doesn’t happen.”

Alan Lord, a local boat captain, read some comments he said Reil posed to him, including the impact from increased traffic on Glenmere Road, whether land would be open to the entire public or just town residents, the effect of the land coming off the tax rolls, and insurance and maintenance costs.

“[Reil] is sick in his heart,” Lord said. “[Reil] has been wronged by this. He is the kindest man I’ve ever known.”

The word “eminent domain” got mentioned a few times during the meeting.

A comprehensive planning board member said the town avoids taking land by eminent domain. Later Selectmen Chairman Steve Miller said eminent domain could not be ruled out.

More than 100 residents attended the hearing. The main use of the property would be for waterfront access to the St. George River for boating and clamming.

Harbor Master Dave Schmanska said the deep-water mooring field could accommodate at least 100 moorings. The depth of water at low tide at the end of the dock is about 12 feet.

Future uses could include walking trails or ball fields and tennis courts, affordable housing, town facilities, and wetland and forest conservation. Selectmen pitched the idea of selling some of the land to help pay for the purchase.

The town has $250,000 in its land acquisition account and suggested seeking various grants.

After figuring in roughly $300,000 for capital improvements – a boat launch ramp, access road and parking lot – the tax effect on a home assessed at $100,000 would be $22 per year based on a 20-year bond for the purchase.

Many people argued that opportunities to buy large parcels of waterfront property are fast disappearing.

One man asked if 10 people “from away” should have the benefit of waterfront access or thousands of residents?

“If the town decides to buy it, my grandchildren and your grandchildren will thank you,” resident Les Hyde told selectmen.

Residents asked if selectmen had calculated the loss of tax revenue from a 10-lot subdivision with 10 upscale houses, if they estimated future maintenance and operation costs or the cost of adding other facilities. Many of their questions could not be answered.

Bill Reinhardt, a former planning board member, said there were too many unanswered questions for people to make an intelligent decision. Reil has land rights to be considered, too, he said.

Reinhardt urged selectmen to gather information for another public hearing.

The answers to some questions “might change people’s votes,” he said.

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