The Riverhead Town Board has been arguing for months about how best to manage and use its town-owned buildings.
What to do with the Second Street firehouse, given to the town by the Riverhead Fire District after they built a much bigger firehouse on Roanoke Avenue, has been among the most contentious of those debates.
Last Thursday, June 5, the board solved that debate.
Early on in Thursday’s work session, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who has spent the past several months urging the board to look into using the firehouse as a new town hall, hinted that she might be willing vote to sell the building. Ms. Giglio and Town Supervisor Sean Walter have been arguing relentlessly for months over the best way to handle the property.
The board had received an appraisal of $1.8 million for the firehouse in 2009, but, when the town put out a request for proposals to sell the firehouse several months ago, the highest bid was $375,000 from Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi, who had pitched a plan for a dinosaur dinner theater in the firehouse.
Some board members are now interested in seeing the building used as an agritourism center, which could house the indoor farmers market that was held in the old Swezey’s Department Store building on Main Street this past winter.
A gleeful Mr. Walter jumped at Ms. Giglio’s offer to vote on the sale and said several times that he’d call a special regular meeting on the spot to hold the vote.
When he finally got his wish to call a vote to sell the building to Mr. Castaldi for $500,000 — $125,000 more than Mr. Castaldi had offered, both Ms. Giglio and Councilman John Dunleavy voted against it, but the three other board members voted in favor.
But no one bothered to tell Mr. Castaldi about the vote. He later told reporters he would have to look into whether the new finances worked for him before agreeing to buy the building.
Ms. Giglio derided the whole proceeding in her vote against the sale.
“I think this is a haphazard way to sell a town asset. There’ve been ten changes to it in ten minutes,” she said. “I just don’t know if the price is right. The building is falling apart and we don’t have the money to fix it. We need current appraisals.”
Mr. Dunleavy, who said throughout the extensive bickering at the meeting that he wanted to leave as soon as possible to get to the Bronx, where his daughter-in-law was in the midst of giving birth to his grandchild, agreed with Ms. Giglio.
“I don’t know if it’s legal to offer it to one person without bidding,” he said. “We need an appraisal just for this building.”