Town officials say they’re open to negotiations with Brinkmanns

Last month, the owners of a parcel in Mattituck where a controversial hardware store has been proposed were open to negotiating a sale with the town under certain conditions. But that was before discussions fell apart, according to documents exchanged between attorneys for both parties. 

Hank and Ben Brinkmann confirmed in an interview this week that they remain open to negotiations — if the town is willing to secure a comparable spot for them in the Main Road Business District. They reiterated, though, that the family is not actively entertaining settlement discussions.

“I don’t believe the town was ever sincere in their attempt to negotiate,” Ben Brinkmann said.

Town attorney Bill Duffy said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session that a meeting took place at the end of September between the town’s attorneys and the Brinkmanns’ attorney. He said the town followed up with a letter regarding the purchase of the property and settlement negotiations.

“They did respond that they’d be willing to enter into a voluntary sale based on appraisals with certain conditions,” Mr. Duffy said. “We are negotiating those. We’re willing to discuss and we are trying to still pursue the voluntary purchase of the property.”

The 1.8-acre parcel has long been under scrutiny by the town and residents, some of whom have expressed unhappiness with the proposed hardware and paint store, arguing the land should become a community park. The Brinkmann family filed suit against the town in May after a moratorium went into effect that they argued was directed solely at their plans. The Town Board voted Sept. 10 to begin the process of eminent domain to take control of the property.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said during a debate last Thursday hosted by The Suffolk Times that the eminent domain proceeding hasn’t started yet. He added that the property owner was “willing to discuss with the town the prospect of a sale.”

He said the discussions were ongoing.

At first, the Brinkmanns denied any negotiations were in progress.

“We have never considered selling our property and we will fight the eminent domain action to the end,” Hank Brinkmann said Friday. “I’ve tried several times to sit down with the town and to talk about how we may be able to work with them while still developing our piece and building a hardware store there, but they’ve never been open to discussing anything with us as far as that’s concerned.”

The negotiations, the Brinkmanns later claimed, were supposed to remain confidential. Hank and Ben Brinkmann said Monday that Mr. Russell and Mr. Duffy breached a confidentiality agreement in discussing negotiations. For that reason, the Brinkmanns agreed to speak further about how the negotiations unfolded.

Mr. Duffy said Tuesday night that no information released by himself or the supervisor violated that confidentiality clause.

“I didn’t disclose anything about what happened in those meetings,” Mr. Duffy said. “The letter is subject to FOIL. Regardless, somebody can write ‘confidential’ on a letter, but under New York State law, it can be [obtained under the Freedom of Information Law].”

A Sept. 16 letter from the Brinkmanns’ attorney, Thomas McKevitt, to the town’s outside counsel at Arnold and Porter Kaye Scholer, says: “My clients are willing to entertain settlement negotiations with the Town of Southold.” The condition listed would require the town to identify a corner property in the Mattituck Main Road Business District that would enable them to build a 20,000-square-foot hardware store.

Ben Brinkmann said the town wasn’t open to that and that they were asking too much.

“They shut down the settlement and in [Arnold and Porter Kaye Scholer’s] letter, they said, ‘If you would like to move into settlement discussion, please send correspondence,’ which we didn’t, and that was over a month ago,” he said.

Mr. Duffy confirmed Tuesday night that the town offered to help the Brinkmanns find another property, but not necessarily one in Mattituck or, more specifically, in the Mattituck Main Road Business District. When asked if a comparable parcel in an HB-zoned district exists, Mr. Duffy acknowledged it didn’t. Hank Brinkmann said the same in a phone call Tuesday afternoon, but he also noted that the town had made the suggestion in the first place.

“We said we’d help; we didn’t say we’d go and find it for them,” Mr. Duffy said. “We’re not going to be their real estate broker … They were a little too specific that it has to be a corner lot in Mattituck right there.”

He said the town is still “happy to assist” the Brinkmanns in locating a viable parcel and/or help them negotiate with a property owner, but added that in their correspondences, “we proposed several options and they decided they want them all … Maybe they’re not negotiating in good faith, but we certainly are.”

Hank Brinkmann criticized the town for hiring “one of the most expensive and biggest law firms in the world.”

“This is what we believe to be an intimidation tactic on their part,” he said.

Brinkmann Hardware Corp. currently owns stores in Sayville, Blue Point, Holbrook and Miller Place and operates VanKemenade Paint in Jamesport. They first submitted an application for the Mattituck property in 2017, making a legally binding deal with Bridgehampton National Bank in the amount of $700,000 and investing an additional $250,000 in development costs.

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