Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Monday, March 12, 2012

First lawsuit filed to block Y-Gate land deal

Resident seeks injunction to block $475,000 payment from the town to the Charlestown Land Trust
By Will Collette

Before Boston lawyer Joanne D’Alcomo can be inaugurated as the first mayor of the Charlestown Village of Greater Sonquipaugia, she will have to deal with a potential legal hurdle.

She is named as a defendant in the first of what may be several legal actions to block the transfer of $475,000 in Charlestown taxpayers' money for the shady YMCA Camp deal I call “Y-Gate.” The other defendants include the other members of the ad hoc YMCA Camp Advisory group, members of the Town Council and the town itself. 

Charlestown resident John Donoghue filed suit last Friday, March 9, in state Superior Court to block the controversial “Y-Gate” land deal. 

Last month, despite opposition to the deal by Charlestown residents, the Town Council voted by 3-1 to pay the Charlestown Land Trust $475,000 to buy a “conservation easement” on the 27 acre derelict YMCA campground on Watchaug Pond.

The Charlestown Land Trust would then combine the town’s $475,000 with $367,000 it hopes to get from the state to pay the Westerly YMCA $730,000 for the land. The selling price for the land was based on an appraisal that the appraiser himself noted was based on assumptions “known to be false.” 

Besides the Land Trust and the Westerly YMCA, the only other real beneficiary is the Sonquipaug Association, a neighborhood of small vacation houses on tenth of an acre lots owned mostly by non-residents. The Y Camp’s 27 acres would become an extension of their backyards, as D’Alcomo even expressed it.

Joanne D'Alcomo's
inauguration as Mayor of
Greater Sonquipaugia
may have to wait
Donoghue’s suit names the Town Council and the ad hoc YMCA Land Advisory group as defendants and charges them with violations of the state Open Meetings Law. Due to these violations, Donoghue alleges, the transaction was not legal.

He asks the court to issue an injunction barring the town from completing the transaction and to fine the town $5000.

Read the lawsuit complaint by clicking here

Click here to read what the Open Meetings Act requires. 

The complaint details the peculiar way the ad hoc group was put together. At first, it was set up like most Charlestown ad hoc committees where full-time residents would apply and the Council would appoint them to serve. However, it turned out that several of the people chosen to represent interested groups (i.e., the ones who stood to benefit the most from the deal) – among them Joanne D’Alcomo of Greater Sonquipaugia – are non-residents.

So the Town Council restructured the group so it could accept non-residents as members.

But, alleges Donoghue, none of these machinations relieved this group of its duty to comply with the state Open Meetings Law by advertising its meeting dates, times and locations, its agendas and providing copies of its minutes.

Donoghue’s lawsuit also faults the Town Council for failing to properly notify the public in its February 13 meeting notice about the proposal from this advisory group to put $475,000 of town tax money into the deal. That would have been a nice detail to know.

And in his complaint, Donoghue shows that the two previous items on the agenda also involved town investments in land projects, but that these two items were completely and properly described. Clearly, Donoghue’s point is that if you are going to discuss spending taxpayers’ money, you must be open and transparent. The Open Meetings Law does not allow you to try to slip one by.

Progressive Charlestown has done extensive coverage of the YMCA camp deal. All of us who have written on this subject have presented more than a dozen specific reasons why the town is wrong to put taxpayer money into this project. 

Lead reasons include the terrible condition of the land, the fictional appraisal and the very limited value this land presents to the residents of Charlestown. I have to admit, we missed the Open Meetings violations – that would make it around 15 or 16 reasons why the Y-Gate deal was a bad idea.

The big winners in the Y-Gate scam are the Westerly YMCA, the Charlestown Land Trust and the non-resident vacation home owners in the adjacent Sonquipaug neighborhood. It's not surprising that they are also central figures in the secret and private dealings that are the target of Donoghue's lawsuit.

While Donaghue’s lawsuit is the first, it is not likely to be the last legal challenge to this deal. With all the flaws in the transaction we have documented here at Progressive Charlestown, expect more actions and protests to come.