Wednesday night’s special meeting the Rye City Council was brief; the meeting was adjourned and the discussion taken into executive session in less than fifteen minutes. Residents expecting to hear more details about a “memorandum of understanding” under negotiation with owners of Lester’s retail store were left with frustration and unanswered questions.
“Is the council aware of the children’s game ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey?” asked Rye resident Ted Carroll. Carroll reminded the council members the public had been told a draft of the real estate agreement would be made available by now. “We expected to see a document.”
“We’re not going to vote on anything tonight, are we?” asked Councilmember Joe Sack. After some discussion, the council agreed the meeting would not re-open following the public session and, consequently, it would not be timely to vote on the agreement.
“If people are here [at the meeting], they should be able to comment and ask questions,” said Councilmember Laura Brett. “If we’re going to enter into this agreement, I would like to give public more notice [than twenty-four hours].”
Brett’s perspective prevailed and the possibility of another special meeting Thursday night was scuttled. Other councilmembers including Peter Jovanovich agreed any document drafted in executive session should be reviewed by the public and discussed before a formal vote.
"We're experiencing the opportunity to be very transparent," said Councilmember Susanna Keith after noting the sale was a unique situation in which the city was involved and that public participation was important.
Mayor Doug French explained that once the council members had come to a consensus, the terms of the agreement would be made public with sufficient opportunity for the public to review before public discussion was held at another council meeting.
That decision has probably slowed the pace of negotiations between the city and the owners of Lester’s retail store, a timeline development that Counsel Kristin Wilson and City Manager Scott Pickup tried to discourage.
“The lease expires in February 2013,” Wilson explained to the council. “So the city is running against a deadline: in 10 months, we’ll no longer have a tenant. We need to act so we [city] will not have an empty building.”
Councilmember Catherine Parker was not persuaded that was a compelling argument for urgency. “It’s April 2012, February 2013 is ten months away.” Parker said. “That seems like a good window to me.”
In response, city manager Scott Pickup explained that a vacancy at the property could impact the upcoming fiscal year’s budget projections and that Lester’s owners were assured they would receive one year’s notice to vacate.
Neither Councilmember Parker nor Councilmember Joe Sack were swayed by those reasons to pick up the pace of the agreement. “The notice is for his [the owner of Lester’s] business purposes?” asked Parker, pressing Pickup. Sack then added that Lester’s was already motivated to stay in the property.
The proposed "right of refusal" instrument will allow the current tenants of 1037 Boston Post Road- Lester’s of Rye, LLC- an opportunity to negotiate and purchase the city-owned property before other potential buyers.
Corporation counsel Kristen Wilson told the council that the negotiation has more accurately evolved into a “purchase and sale with right of first refusal in it.”