A Mystery on Hollis Lane

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Does any reader have a Brownells core brush to sell? A digital scale? A stadiometer? How about some diatomaceous earth? If you do, get yourself online and go to BidNet, which bills itself as the place to “Win More Government Contracts.”

BidNet is a restricted site, but if you are a vendor you can register and see local and state bids and Requests for Proposal. It is a bit difficult to navigate, which is why they offer paid assistance to vendors. So everyone out there who isn’t using their Brownells core brush, take heart—BidNet is the place for you.

It is a bit of a Croton hobby to look on Zillow or Redfin, and to window shop at River Towns Realty. I like to flip thru the glossy Houlihan Lawrence books while grabbing a snack at Franki’s. We all know where to look for information about our property values, and we know where to go if we want to buy or sell real estate in Croton.

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I don’t pretend to have the real estate expertise of Brian Pugh, but I have bought, sold, and leased property: residential, office, and retail. And in all that time, I have never thought to look on BidNet. I do pretend to have some opinion as to the lack of transparency at our Municipal Building, particularly when it comes to real estate matters.

For 24 years, the Village of Croton has owned a 4.15 acre plot of land on Hollis Lane in Cortlandt, near the Brinton Brook Sanctuary. Then some urgent need arose, and the Village of Croton got in a panic and needed to unload the property in 25 days, 1 hour, and 38 minutes.

For 24 years, the Village of Croton has owned a 4.15 acre plot of land on Hollis Lane in Cortlandt, near the Brinton Brook Sanctuary. Then some urgent need arose, and the Village of Croton got in a panic and needed to unload the property in 25 days, 1 hour, and 38 minutes.

So at 2:22 p.m. on June 17, the village quietly posted the land for sale on BidNet. It said that sealed bids are due by 4p.m. on July 12. After that time, “The village will evaluate the offers and then proceed to enter into a Purchase Agreement with the chosen buyer, who will be chosen based upon an evaluation and comparison of all terms of the offers submitted.”

I wonder if the last time Mr. Pugh sold his house, he went to his realtor and said: “You’ve got 25 days, 1 hour and 38 minutes to bring me offers. Not a minute more. And be sure to list this on an obscure website where people are selling diatomaceous earth and Brownells core brushes. I am not necessarily looking for the best price. Nor will I tell you what I am looking for or what weightings I am assigning to the criteria which I refuse to disclose.”

Is there any homeowner reading this who does not think this is a peculiar way to sell a property in Cortlandt? If so, I have some Brownells core brushes to sell you.

The secretive nature and social hierarchy of information dissemination is a feature of Croton government, particularly when it comes to real property matters. Our Board of Trustees goes into secret “Executive Session” and tells us it is because they are going “to discuss the proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property.”

Of course, Mr. Pugh himself is an attorney, and there is a Village Attorney present at board meetings. So the Board of Trustees knows that New York law states that the discussion can be in secret “only when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.” If the Board of Trustees has been unaware of this, I urge them to Google “pub off law 105” and read the actual law which they are supposed to be following. I understand that this is Croton, where the New York Open Meetings Law is regarded as a non-binding suggestion, but they might want to read it anyway.

Did you ever wonder why, when our Board of Trustees goes into “Executive Session,” it only recites the first part of the exception to the Open Meetings Law, and never the second part? An open discussion of the fact that Croton is going to sell the Hollis Lane property after 24 years would not have substantially affected the value of the property.

Since 1996 when the Village of Croton acquired the property, I doubt the Board of Trustees has ever had a public discussion about Hollis Lane. All of a sudden this is a super-secret crisis and Hollis Lane must be sold on a website where you have to register as a government vendor in order to get access.

Presumably there will be another “Executive Session” after the July 12 deadline, and we will never know what the true story is about this odd real estate transaction. In fact if Hollis Lane is sold to one of the infamously opaque New York real estate LLCs, the taxpayers of Croton may never find out who the buyer is. Sen. Brad Holyman (D-Manhattan) has been trying for years to change the LLC law because of its abuse in real estate purchases and also in campaign financing.

If the Croton Board of Trustees approves sale of Hollis Lane to an LLC purchaser, I hope they will require transparency as to beneficial ownership. In fact, it should be required that all bidders for Hollis Lane disclose beneficial ownership to avoid even the appearance of non-transparency. I for one am curious as to who is shopping for a vacant Cortlandt home plot on a government contractor website.

I am sure there is a good reason why the Board of Trustees operated in secret with regard to Hollis Lane. No doubt there are machinations and moving parts hidden from us regular folk which account for this sale of village land being conducted in a manner seemingly calculated to minimize the number of bidders and sale price. Frankly it really doesn’t matter, because the Board of Trustees doesn’t care: they behave the way they choose, and tell us what they want us to know when they want to tell us.

On the off chance that the Board of Trustees will change its mind with regard to future sales of village real estate, they might consider using one of the many fine real estate agents in Croton. They might consider having the property listed on the MLS and other public websites. They might consider abiding by the Open Meetings Law.

Oh, one final tip for Mr. Pugh: If your realtor lists your property on a website where the other listings are for Brownells core brushes and diatomaceous earth, then you should switch agents.

Paul Steinberg