By Nathan Mayberg
WURTSBORO September 13, 2005 Roseann Barone Balow, executrix of the estate of Theresa Barone (which owns the Wurtsboro Airport), recently spoke for the first time about her attempt to sell the property to developer Shalom Lamm and Town of Mamakating Supervisor Charles Pennas efforts to take the land by eminent domain.
The Town of Mamakating has begun public hearings to gauge popular opinion on the matter.
Balow said she was upset with the amount of rumors and half-truths circulating around town.
This airport, this piece of land, is not about the town. Its not even about kids. This is about my parents, she said.
Her father Anthony and mother Theresa worked 24/7 to make a business, a profit . . . so their children would have a better life than them.
She decried those who wanted the town to take over the airport in the interest of the public when half of them never helped us.
Its not about them, she stated. All of these people are trying to tell us what to do with our land.
In particular, Balow objected to a misconception over the way the property was taxed. For years, she said, her family was overassessed. After a 5-year court battle with the town that ended 2 years ago, her family received a credit on past taxes, which they still are receiving for the next three years.
According to Balow, the town assessed the 100 acres of non-developable wetlands on the 400-acre property at the same rate as the airport and the developable land.
Penna claimed the town wanted to preserve the airport and protect it from being lost to a developer as property values increased. However, Penna admitted he wasnt a part of the government at the time and wasnt involved with the negotiations.
FAA Sends Mixed Signals
Balow also took issue with the alleged commitment of the Federal Aviation Administration to the acquisition of the land. Penna has said he has a firm agreement with the FAA, in which they will cover 95 percent of the cost for acquiring the airport.
He has produced several letters from Philip Brito, the FAAs New York Airports District Office Manager, which detail the commitment of the FAA to protecting the future of the airport.
In a letter dated April 6, Brito pledged the FAA would provide 95 percent of the funding towards the acquisition of the airport by the town.
But in August, when he received word of Lamms offer, Brito met with Lamm and said he believed Lamm was dedicated to the continuation of the airport, according to letters acquired from the town. Therefore, if Lamm was successful in gaining the land, the FAA would work with him on the planning and development of the airport. However, if the town chose to condemn the property, the FAA would fund the towns purchase of the land.
Lamm signed a contract of sale, for which he has an option to close. Balow said that Lamm has shown that he will prevent the airport itself from being developed by pledging to sign deed restrictions and follow the towns own zoning laws.
Lamm made a contract offer of $4.5 million, while the town made an oral offer of $4.7 million.
In addition, Balow believed that Lamms plans and the towns are quite similar. Lamm has outlined a conceptual plan which would include building two lakes and placing homes around the lakes. In addition, he may build a 30-room bed and breakfast with horseback riding, drag racing, log cabins and retail outlets.
His plans would eliminate one of the grass runways used primarily by the gliders. That has drawn criticism from several glider pilots.
In contrast, the towns plan, though also not a final work, would protect the airport itself, while building a shovel-ready business park nearby, as well as recreational facilities, while preserving some open space.
Balow contended that the FAA, if it did come through with the funds, could only cover the purchase of the airport not the construction of recreational facilities, equipment for the airport, or maintenance.
Consequences of Speaking Out
Balow addressed some of the turmoil surrounding the eviction of Wurtsboro Airport Preservation Society President and FAA Flight Examiner Gregory Squires, his wife, and other pilots, including Phyllis and Todd Pattist, by airport manager Joe Bennis.
Balow echoed the reasons Bennis gave for evicting the pilots. Like Bennis, she admitted to kicking the Squireses off outright, while only asking the Pattists to remove their mobile home from the premises. The Pattists contend they were evicted entirely, along with their planes.
Balow alleged that Gregory Squires was harassing customers to support the plan to take the property by eminent domain. Balow said that Squires had previously attempted to buy the land for $800,000 several years ago.
In regards to the Pattists, she said they bit the hand that fed [them] when they spoke in favor of eminent domain, while receiving free electricity for their mobile home parked on the property of Balow.
Penna stated his displeasure with the move by Balow and Bennis when the actions occurred two weeks ago. But his words were slightly more conservative yesterday.
Mistakes have been made, he said. We all make mistakes. . . . It is not necessarily the right thing to have done.
He said he was hopeful the Squireses and Pattists would be allowed to return to the airport.
Ideas Arent Actions
Penna commented that, though Balow has a right to sell her property to whomever she chooses, the airport is partially funded by the FAA. In addition, he believes that only a municipality can protect the airport in perpetuity.
He could not comment on the specifics of Lamms offer to place deed restrictions on the property to protect the airport.
It seems he wants to do good and work with the townspeople more closely, admitted Penna. We all have ideas. Ideas arent actions.
Penna said eminent domain is still an option for the town, but he is not as sure about that possibility now. The rest of the board is also considering the issue and has not made any clear statements on it.
Its a learning curve. Were all learning, said Penna.
Town of Mamakating Councilwoman Judith Young said she was hopeful a solution could be reached to save the airport without expending taxpayer dollars. As for eminent domain, Young said the town is still in the public hearing stage.
The public hearing over whether the town should condemn the property and take it by eminent domain will continue October 6 at 5:30 p.m., although Penna advised interested parties to arrive early.