ELDRED, NY — Frank Monteleone wants to know why the Town of Highland requested that his four properties at the four corners in Eldred be combined without telling him. He appeared at the …
ELDRED, NY — Frank Monteleone wants to know why the Town of Highland requested that his four properties at the four corners in Eldred be combined without telling him. He appeared at the Highland Town Board workshop meeting on April 5 to ask the question.
He didn’t get his answer. And it opened up a series of disputes that Monteleone has had with the town since he purchased the four parcels. Three of the parcels are unimproved lots, which together measure 1.22 acres. These got combined with a .89 acre-developed lot, which Monteleone had recently established a hydroponic greenhouse. Eagle Park, which is also located on Monteleone’s property, measures 22’ x 44’ and has historically been leased by the town.
On February 10, Highland’s sole assessor, Lorry King, filed a Request for Combining Parcels into One Parcel form with the Sullivan County Real Property Division to combine the four lots owned by Frank and Phyllis Monteleone into one. The lots in question run along Route 55 and Proctor Road, with Peck’s as a neighbor on Proctor Road. The land surrounds the home of former supervisor and UDC chairman Andrew Boyar on Route 55. Monteleone and his wife Phyllis recently built and opened the greenhouse on the parcel closest to Peck’s.
On February 26, by chance, Frank Monteleone was in the county tax office on a separate matter as part of his day job, and was told by a clerk that she had just finished combining his Eldred properties. “What?” he said. “Why?” She handed him a copy of the completed and executed paperwork requested by King.
The combining, which is a permanent action that needs to be undone with a subdivision request, was rescinded on February 28, just one day before the tax rolls closed on March 1. The town rescinded its request to the county in an email sent by the assessor.
“You could have asked me. It might make sense to combine the three undeveloped properties, which total just over an acre together. But to include the development property! Why?”
“What would have happened if I wouldn’t have caught it?” Monteleone asked the board. He said it would have been detrimental to his development plans and his investment in the property would be cut by half.
“Your answer has to come from Lorry. It’s been rectified,” Haas told Monteleone. “We don’t review what she does. We don’t know what she does every step of the way. She has to explain herself to the county is what she told me.”
“What would drive this?” Frank asked.
“We didn’t start driving the issue,” Haas said.
Is this legal?
According to Chris Knapp, Sullivan County Real Property Director, an assessor has the right to combine property and the county office takes its direction from the town. “If an assessor asks me to combine a property, we’ll gladly do it as long as the taxes are paid, the ownership is correct, the property is not part of a filed subdivision and is contiguous.”
Property can be combined “so that the assessment is easier,” or if the property owner requests it because it’s more convenient to get one tax bill. An example of this is usually that a property owner has purchased an adjacent lot and wants to combine it into one. “It’s just a taxing unit,” Knapp said.
However, combining lots is not generally done without the property owner's approval or notification and has great consequences. Once a property is combined, an owner would be required to subdivide the now combined lot if they wanted to develop any portion of it. This would involve appearing before the planning board to get an subdivision, a public hearing and ultimate approval.
“It’s a 50-50 shot whether you can re-divide them,” Frank Monteleone said, in a subsequent interview. In this particular case, three undeveloped lots were combined with a lot where Monteleone has erected a hydroponic greenhouse. This would have reduced his investment and been detrimental to his development plans and cut his investment in the property by half, he told the board.
Editor’s note: This is an over-simplified explanation. For more information visit https://www.tax.ny.gov/pubs_and_bulls/orpts/legal_opinions/v10/02.htm
What may be driving the issue is Eagle Park, a community park that is situated at the corner of Proctor Road and Route 55, across the street from the town hall, on what is now the Monteleones’ property. The site of a 2002 Sullivan Renaissance project, it was first developed by a group of volunteers when the property was owned by Peter and Helen DeCumber. According to Haas, at the time the town paid the insurance on the parcel and indemnified it. Monteleone and the town have been sparring over who has the right to do what on the property since Monteleone was in contract in buy it. There were disputes as the town removed a line of bushes while Monteleone was in contract to buy the property “as is.” Haas said at the workshop that he had talked with Lou, Monteleone’s brother. (Lou Monteleone does not own the property.) Additionally, said Frank Monteleone, the boundaries of the park had been expanded with a back entrance and other encroachments. He took issue with how it was maintained by the town. Monteleone pays an insurance rider on the property that costs $172 a month. Attempts to get the town to cover that cost were not successful, he said.
May and June 2020 town board minutes indicate efforts to work out an agreement between the two parties. A resolution authorizing the supervisor to sign the indemnity agreement, dated June 9, 2020, was made, and the town agreed to work toward providing Monteleone the documentation that he requested in preparation of a new lease, including written certification that the work done by the town conforms with all applicable building and electrical codes. This documentation, according to Monteleone, has not been received.
“We thought we would have a meeting and talk about our intentions for our property. We attended the town board meeting–and thought we would work out what we wanted to do and see how that meshed with the park,” Monteleone told the board at the workshop. Instead, he was handed a lease by the attorney of the town, Michael Davidoff Esq., with the instructions, “Sign it.”
An attached map indicated a 4,100-square-foot area to be leased, which included the park and the frontage on Proctor Road, a property that has nine parking spaces.
“I can’t believe it,” Haas said at the workshop in response to being told that the lease had expanded from 968 square feet to 4,100 square feet.
“I have it here. I can show you,” Monteleone said.
From there, the conversation went south. Monteleone complained that no one from the town board had ever stopped by while he was building the greenhouse and Haas replied that he, Frank, had never taken a step into his shop, the Yulan Service Station.
Getting no satisfaction or answers, Monteleone then demanded that the town remove all of their items from the park by Thursday, April 7. The heated exchange was halted by councilwoman Kaitlin Haas. “We heard you. We’re not doing this here,” she said.
Jeff Haas then called an executive session to discuss “possible litigation.”
Monteleone received a letter from the town’s attorney dated April 6, indicating that under the terms of the lease, Monteleone had to give written notice for the removal of the items to the town and that the town would take every action to protect its interest.
Monteleone followed with his own cease-and-desist letter on April 7 indicating that there was no lease and the town had to make arrangements to remove its items immediately.
“I want people to know that I will maintain a park on that property,” he said. “I will do it myself; it will be beautiful but not with this town board.”
And he still wants to know why there was an attempt to combine his property without his knowledge.
This is a developing story.
This story was updated on April 12 to correct the acreage of the undeveloped property and to indicate that the request for the signing of the lease was made by the attorney to the town.
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