The Village of Plandome Heights is looking for its forever home and Mayor Ken Riscica believes he has found it. An offer for 975 Plandome Rd. was accepted by the homeowners on Saturday, March 13, with the village hoping it will be their permanent Village Hall. The timing of the offer and notice has left residents questioning the project without any guidance from its resident beforehand.
The residential home is listed at $1.25 million. Riscica would not disclose what the accepted offer was, but stated the total project would cost the village $1.4 million. This includes a six-figure sum of renovations to the home.
“It’s a solid house with quality inside, beautiful wood floors,” Riscica said. “It just needs an enormous amount of work because it hasn’t been touched in many years.”
The village currently rents out a small office space in Manhasset. It’s by far the smallest Village Hall out of the five Manhasset villages. The village is currently in year three of a seven-year lease, that has an opt-out clause for the lessee at the end of the fourth year in July 2022.
“It provides us additional space that we could use, and it provides us room for growth,” Riscica said. “Instead of paying rent, we’re paying ourselves. The interest on any scenario we have as of last week is less than a thousand dollars a year. Almost all the money we’re paying in debt service is going to create an asset for the village instead of an expense. It’s really a well thought out and a plan that is supported by many people and it took a lot of people by surprise, and it’s a big project.”
Riscica still needs the board of trustees to approve the deal in order to go into contract, stating that the village lawyer advised him he could put in a non-binding offer without the board’s approval. Residents were caught off-guard by the announcement of the accepted offer for a new village hall on Monday, March 15, a day before the village election. A town hall over Zoom with Riscica and residents to discuss the project was held days later, around 45 residents tuned in. However, not all residents knew of the project, and subsequent town hall, as the village has only 220 resident emails on file.
As word spread, residents have called and emailed the village asking questions about the deal and without any guidance from their behalf.
“It’s a very partial (email) list,” Dan Frisa, Former U.S. Congressman, State Assemblyman and Plandome Heights resident for the last six years, said. “It’s not a way to communicate with the entire village. It’s the way the village went about it. They weren’t as forthcoming as I think they probably should be. I could see an argument for wanting (a new village hall), but this kind of rush without really giving full notice to everyone. I hate the way that looks and feels.”
Frisa was the only resident that was willing to speak on the record about the issue.
If the village were to complete the deal, they would have to incorporate it within their budget. A tentative budget without the purchase of the home has a tax increase of 2.8 percent with a tax cap of 3.2 percent. If the village were to complete the deal, they would have to incorporate it within their budget and most likely pierce the tax cap. The village’s budget hearing is scheduled for April 5.
The village recently had a Special Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, March 26, but immediately went into executive session to discuss the issue.
“Our transparency included, ‘Hey, you elected us. We represent you. Tell us what you want us to do in this situation.’,” Riscica said. “In this situation that we’re facing here, we have presented an opportunity to the village, non-binding, to create a permanent home, we never have to move again, inside the village which is very hard to do and in a unique situation in a fairly remote corner next to a commercial property on Plandome Road, a busy road.”
Riscica has been looking for a permanent home for village hall for quite some time now. In the past few months, board meeting minutes state that the board was discussing real estate opportunities. Riscica also put in his January winter newsletter to residents about the possibility of finding a permanent home.
Risica states he currently has a slight majority of residents in favor of the project. The Plandome Heights Civics Association did its own poll via SurveyMonkey to gauge support of the project with residents. The results were 41 in favor, 127 opposed and 30 unsure. The civic association also said that 23 “in favor” votes were found to come from the same IP address and were removed.
The Plandome Heights Civic Association chose not to comment for this story.
Riscica told the Manhasset Press that if he only has a slim majority among residents, he will not go forward with the project. However, residents will not be voting on the project, the board of trustees will be the ones with authorization to approve or disapprove.
“That’s why you don’t do a 51-49 deal here,” Riscica said. “The majority is going to turn to the minority position as soon as there’s a problem. That’s no way for a village to operate.”