Sherman’s plans to be presented to public June 17

Board deadlocked over action against Abdella

CAROGA — The town board Wednesday night agreed to hold a special Saturday morning meeting on June 17 to listen to public presentations from two entities proposing to lease the former Sherman’s amusement park. But the board remained deadlocked, 2-2, over whether or not to take the park’s former owner to court.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd, the board discussed the fate of Sherman’s, a controversial 8.6-acre property located at Route 10 and Route 29A that was donated to the town by Gloversville-based attorney George Abdella in 2015. But along with the donation came a donation agreement that may restrict what the town can do with the property.

Town Supervisor Beth Morris began the meeting by reading the section of the town law manual that governs the public comment period and explaining that the board would no longer respond to public comments during meetings and would restrict speakers’ time to three minutes. Recent Caroga meetings about the Sherman’s issue have included much verbal sparring between members of the public and the board, some of which have boiled over into profanities and threats of violence.

Morris said she understands that the Sherman’s issue brings out passion in the public, but said neither she nor the board will tolerate disorderly conduct during meetings.

“I’ve talked to my fellow board members about this. These meetings are going to be civil and respectful,” she said. “We are not happy we have to do it this way, but the meetings over the last couple of months have been out of control, and we are no longer going to allow that to happen.”

After the new public-speaking rules were discussed, several members of the public grumbled, one saying “well, what’s the point?” Only two public speakers spoke, one of them being Joe Capparella.

“Sherman’s, since we got it, has done nothing for this community except divide it. I don’t want to spend any tax money on it. I wish we could give it back,” Capparella said.

Town Attorney Sal Ferlazzo has advised the town board to take Abdella to court to seek what’s called a “declaratory judgement”, which would be the court telling the town if Abdella has the right to sue them under the donation agreement. Ferlazzo said he believes Abdella only had an 18-month window in which to sue the town after giving them the property, and is now time-barred from doing so by state statute governing the rules for suing towns. Ferlazzo has explained that the other time limit that the court might use to limit Abdella’s ability to sue the town would be a fraud statute, which has a six-year window. But Ferlazzo has said he doubts that standard would be applied to this case.

Ferlazzo did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, but his proposal to take Abdella to court was discussed by the public and the board.

Town resident James Long said he doesn’t believe there is really a legal cloud over Sherman’s, but the property has many problems, including flooding and maintenance concerns.

“Sal has told [us] over and over, we own it free and clear and for that reason, I see no reason to embark on a declaratory judgement, which is in effect a lawsuit against [Abdella]. It’s poking him in the eye, we’ve already won,” Long said.

Town council members Anthony Sturchio and Jeremy Manning said they recently met with Abdella and came away from the meeting with the impression that he would allow some things to be done with the property, including leasing it, and possibly allowing alterations like tearing down the pavilion, if necessary, but he would attempt to sue the town under some circumstances.

“He said if we tried to sell it, he would come after us with everything he’s got,” Sturchio said.

Although they did not take a vote on the issue, the apparent divide on the board places Morris and town councilman John Glenn on the side of taking Abdella to court in an effort to remove the legal cloud over the property and free up the option to sell it, and Manning and Sturchio, who don’t want to engage Abdella in a legal battle, and also appear inclined to consider leasing it in the short term.

“The sole assumption behind bringing him to court would be selling the property, and in my mind, I’m willing to explore options that would not require that,” Manning said. “Part of the disagreement is over the role of public development, and what’s best for the town.”

Sturchio said Abdella indicated he would be willing to take back the property, if the town compensated him in some way, which drew audible groans from some people in the crowd. Sturchio said Abdella told him he was concerned about the potential of a private developer coming in, failing in an attempt to operate the property, and then leaving a failed enterprise in the heart of downtown Caroga. He said Abdella is also concerned about the fate of a nearby property he still owns under his Balboa corporation.

The two proposals for Sherman’s that the board is set to review June 17 are from a nonprofit entity called the Caroga Arts Collective and a private company, called LLP Management. Both entities have proposed leasing the facility for different purposes. The two proposals have been vetted by the town of Caroga Sherman’s Advisory Committee and have been posted to the town’s website

Manning and Morris served on the advisory committee. Morris said she hasn’t decided yet whether she’ll ultimately support either proposal vetted by the committee. She said she believes the town would have gotten more potential suitors for the location had it been able to market the property, which she doesn’t think they could responsibly do, not knowing for certain whether Abdella could sue them.

“I’ve said this for the last two and a half years. What I’ve heard from people is sell it, or give it back because we can’t afford it, and that’s what I’ve had to listen to,” she said. “My personal feelings don’t matter. I have my own personal feelings, but my vote has to be what the majority of the town seems to want.”

Morris wouldn’t comment on the possibility of compensating Abdella as part of any agreement to return to him ownership of the property.

The town council has remained stalemated over the Sherman’s issue ever since Morris was elected to fill the remainder of former Caroga Supevisor Robert Sullivan’s term and vacated her own seat on the council, which no one ran to fill. Sullivan resigned in August of 2016.

The town board split may be resolved after elections in November when a full two-year term for the town’s supervisor will be on the ballot, as well as an election to fill out the remaining time in the town council seat previously held by Morris as well as two full four-year town council members.