MAHOPAC, N.Y. - It took five and a half years for the Town Board to raise the specter of litigation, but it looks as though the Mahopac American Legion Post 1080 will finally have its sewer service restored.
It’s a long, complicated and somewhat sordid tale, but town officials and the Legion’s neighbor, Dave Nicholas, a local developer and landlord who owns Lake Mahopac Properties, reached an agreement on Friday to resolve the issue. The agreement will allow the Highway Department to enter the parking lot next to Putnam Music Center at 609 Route 6 (for which Nicholas is the landlord) so it can access a town-owned stormwater pipe and make repairs. While there, the town would also replace a broken sewer lateral that leads to the Legion hall, which would restore its sewer service.
The Legion hall is located on Buckshollow Road and the roots of this story date back more than 60 years, to a time when that building and neighboring parcels were located on property owned by the now-defunct New York and Putnam Railroad (Old Put). The railroad subdivided that land and sold off the individual parcels. American Legion Post 1080 bought the building that is now the Legion Hall in the 1960s, not realizing that the sewer pipe that goes from Route 6 to its bathrooms also runs under the neighboring property, now owned by Nicholas
The sewer main’s lateral broke in 2013 and needed to be replaced, but Nicholas was reluctant to allow the work to take place because he said it would disturb his parking lot and have a negative impact on the businesses that rent from him. In 2018, Nicholas told Mahopac News he would prefer that the Legion get its own septic system and abandon the town sewer system.
For the past five-plus years, town officials have said their hands were tied because it was a dispute between two private property owners, although Supervisor Ken Schmitt, town attorney Greg Folchetti, and other Town Board members tried on a number of occasions to broker a deal between the two parties without success.
But at the Town Board’s Aug. 21 meeting, Schmitt said the board had had enough and said they would take Nicholas to court, condemning the property and taking it over via eminent domain.
“The town decided we would put in a sewer main,” Schmitt told Mahopac News at the Aug. 21 meeting. “But in order for us to install the main and bring litigation for eminent domain against the property owner, it would have to be for public benefit. The public would have to benefit from the taking of the property through a condemnation proceeding. Right now, the only party that would hook up to the main is the American Legion. But other properties within the sewer district would have the ability to hook up to that main down the road. And that’s the public benefit part.”
Schmitt said that Nicholas and his attorney left the town with no alternative other than to take the eminent domain route.
“We got to a point of no return. It’s been going on for multiple years and the Legion has been using port-a-potties all this time,” he said. “It seemed like all efforts on our part and the Legion’s part were failing. Every time we felt we were making progress and there was an agreement, they would want to change the language to something that was not acceptable to town council. It was ridiculous.”
Nicholas approached the board at last week’s meeting and asked it to delay the eminent domain litigation, saying he felt an agreement was near. The board, noting that even after court papers were filed it would be months before the case came before a judge, decided to give Nicholas one last opportunity to strike a deal. Schmitt, Highway Superintendent Mike Simone, and Councilman Mike Barile met at Town Hall with Nicholas and, by phone, his attorney, on Friday morning.
“It went extremely well,” Schmitt said. “We left the table with an agreement.”
Schmitt said he wasn’t concerned about Nicholas reneging this time around because the threat of the eminent domain litigation still looms.
“The authorization to file that suit is still active, but it’s on hold for now and we’ve agreed not to move forward,” Schmitt said. “I wouldn’t have walked away without 100 percent assurance this would get done.”
Schmitt said the agreement has two parts. The first, a maintenance easement, will give the town access to repair the new stormwater pipe, which it plans to install this fall. When the town digs the trench to install that pipe, it will also fix the broken lateral, restoring the Legion’s sewer service. The second part is a temporary easement for the initial construction.
Schmitt said the Legion will also need a sewer easement with Nicholas for the sewer lateral.
“That’s in the works right now,” Schmitt said. “The Legion’s attorney will be in touch with Nicholas’ attorney. From what I understand, it’s a fairly simple easement.”
Schmitt said the work would likely take less than a week and the agreement calls for it to be completed no later than Nov. 1. He said he was elated that a deal has finally been struck to ease the burden on the veterans, calling it a “feel-good story.”
“This is great news,” he said. “I want to thank Mr. Nicholas for coming back to the table and getting this done.”
But it has been a difficult five years for the legionnaires who have been forced to use port-a-potties on the front porch of the legion hall during freezing temperatures in the winter. They’ve also lost thousands of dollars in revenue because they have not been able to rent out the hall for parties.
“We’ve spent more than $22,000 on [port-a-potties] since this thing started—forget about the money we lost on rentals of the hall,” Legion treasurer Fred Wennberg told the Town Board at a meeting last year. “And instead of washing glasses in the dishwasher, which saves money, it’s plastic cups, forks, spoons, knives. This has really been a burden on us.”
John Tegeder, third vice commander for the Sons of the American Legion, who served as the Legion’s point man on the sewer issue because he is the town of Yorktown’s director of planning, said he was glad the issue might be over but will reserve any celebration until that first toilet is officially flushed.
“We are not dancing yet, but I am happy and optimistic,” he said. “We are grateful to Mr. Nicholas for finally making it happen. It looks like it’s finally done.”
Reached for comment, Nicholas told Mahopac News, “I’m just happy it’s over. That’s about all I want to say about it right now.”