Boat club lease finally gets RTM approval

Boat club commodore William Ingraham urges the RTM to approve the lease. — John Ferris Robben photo

Boat club commodore William Ingraham urges the RTM to approve the lease.
— John Ferris Robben photo

After months of uncertainty, a lease renewal for the Mianus River Boat and Yacht Club was finally approved by the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) Monday night.

The lease request was for the standard 10-year agreement between the town and a private group and was enthusiastically supported by the Board of Selectmen last January. However, the RTM deferred a vote on it, with some members saying they wanted a formalized town lease policy first. First Selectman Peter Tesei insisted the town did have a policy, which was for the board to consider each lease of town property on a case by case basis, leading to months of back and forth between the selectmen and RTM members.

During this time frame, the Board of Selectmen formalized its policy and the RTM created a joint subcommittee from the Finance and Legislative and Rules Committees to come up with a policy of its own, keeping the yacht club in a state of flux as its lease did not receive a vote for months. Ultimately the full RTM failed to carry the subcommittee’s recommendations, leaving the lease to be considered just as it would have been originally.

And while the vote in favor of renewing the lease on Monday night was a 123-11 blowout with two abstentions, there was one more controversy first. According to Assistant Town Attorney Eugene McLaughlin, the lease could not be renewed in its original form because the town required that new provisions be added in order to protect the town, among them an updated insurance section.

The town’s requested changes, themselves, did not cause a dispute. Legislative and Rules Committee Vice Chair Kip Burgweger sparked controversy, however, when he proposed an amendment to the lease that would eliminate Section 14 of the document. Section 14 would give the boat club the option of renewing its lease for another 10 years after the proposed lease renewal, which would end on March 31, 2023, expired.

While some body members argued that the extra 10-year option was added by mistake when the town made its changes to the lease, Mianus River Boat and Yacht Club member Frank Mazza said that club members carried over exactly what the existing lease provided for, which included language that gave the club the option and the right to renew its lease for 10 years after its expiration in 2023, so long as members requested the renewal in writing at least six months prior to the expiration date.

Furthermore, Mr. Mazza said, it was not the club who wrote the lease, but the town, meaning the town had been the body that determined that the extra 10-year option should be included. The option has been the policy of all of the town’s $1 leases for several decades and it would not be consistent with that policy to deny the boat club the same opportunity, he said. Asking RTM members to oppose the amendment to the lease, Mr. Mazza asked how it would be possible to run an organization without knowing whether or not its lease would be renewed.

Town Administrator John Crary agreed with Mr. Mazza that the inclusion of Section 14 in the lease was no mistake. Mr. Crary worked with Mr. McLaughlin to negotiate the lease for the town with members of the boat club and it was clearly understood by all that the 10-year extension option would be included, he said. Mr. Crary further noted that he found the option appropriate given the boat club’s method of capital investment. The club does not invest its capital funds in one major improvement during its 10-year lease period. Instead, members make smaller improvements, such as dredging, grounds updates and carpentry, in approximately $25,000 increments over the course of the 10-year period.

Accordingly, the club would have no incentive to make capital improvements if the option of another lease was not ensured, Mr. Crary said. In addition, Mr. Crary said, the town has the option of eliminating any of the town’s nonprofit leases, with the RTM’s approval, if previously leased town property is needed for municipal purposes. Accordingly, he said, the 10-year option included in the lease renewal does not tie the town’s hands when it comes to use of the property during that period of time.

Bill Ingraham, commodore of the boat club, also asked the RTM do vote down the proposed amendment to eliminate Section 14 of the lease. The club’s intent from the beginning of the renewal process, he said, was to do exactly what it has always done with past leases in the organization’s 30-year history, which is to write a letter requesting a 10-year renewal, with the option of another 10 years after that.

The option for an additional renewal is vital to the club as far as capital projects are concerned but also in relation to member morale, Mr. Ingraham said. Those familiar with boating know that a boater keeps his or her boat in one place until another suitable spot worth taking is found, he said. If boat slips at the Mianus River Boat and Yacht Club open up towards the end of the club’s lease, potential new members would be unlikely to leave their boat’s current location without the assurance that the new location would be available for an extended period of time, he added.

As a life-long resident of Greenwich, Mr. Ingraham said he was hurt to hear that others would oppose the boat club’s option for an extension of its lease.

“It tells me that you’ve lost faith in our partnership, a partnership we take very serious every day,” Mr. Ingraham said.

Mr. Ingraham also described himself as “heartbroken” over the fact that the Greenwich Community Gardens, a fairly new organization in town, is proposing a 10-year lease with a 10-year renewal option without any trouble. Although he supports the garden lease, he said, the treatment of that lease versus the 30-year-old boat club, which has proven its worth in town, is unfair and inconsistent.

RTM member Margaret Freiberg, however, refuted Mr. Ingraham’s arguments. Noting that she did not believe the boat club was attempting to be sneaky in regards to its lease, she argued that it was “incorrect” to compare the Greenwich Community Gardens lease with that of the boat club. Whereas the boat club has been around for three decades, members of the Community Gardens haven’t even begun work on their proposed site, Ms. Freiberg said. Making a comparison between an organization that has already leased a property for many years versus one that is proposing a new town property lease is not a fair correlation, she said.

Furthermore, Ms. Freiberg said, the town still needs to develop an official town lease policy. This should be done within the next 10 years and the club’s renewal option should be reviewed after a standard policy has been established, she said.

When it was time for Carl Carlson to speak, the District 1 representative urged fellow body members not to stall the boat club’s lease any further. Whatever version of the lease is submitted, Dr. Carlson said, he would vote for it because the organization deserved its renewal.

“I think we should proceed right away,” Mr. Carlson said. “No more rhetoric, no more speeches. We know what’s going to happen, I think — the boat club is going to get its lease tonight.”

Dr. Carlson’s prediction was accurate. In a 49-95-4 vote, the body voted down the amendment of the lease that would eliminate Section 14. Shortly afterward, the body approved the boat club’s proposed lease in a 123-11-2 vote, finally allowing the organization to move forward after months of battling semantics.

After the approval of the boat club lease, the proposed Greenwich Community Gardens lease was up for discussion. The lease would provide the organization with a 10-year lease expiring Dec. 1, 2023, with a 10-year renewal, for a portion of the property at Montgomery Pinetum in Cos Cob in order to create 80 garden plots for resident use. Residents who used the plots would be required to reapply for them annually and commit a certain number of volunteer hours to the organization. With little debate, the lease was approved in a 114-0-1 vote, allowing for the second lease approval of the night.

 

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