In the tiny Southern Adirondack town of Caroga, residents are at odds over the donation of a former amusement park. While the town leadership is satisfied with the donation, others have taken issue with the agreement.
On an early April day thick with fog, the former Sherman’s Amusement park sleeps on the shore of Caroga Lake, about 15 minutes northwest of Gloversville on the edge of the Adirondack Park.
The small park of about 8-and-a-half acres was a summer destination for decades after opening in the 1920s.
However, the summer crowds began thinning during hard economic times of the 70s and 80s. In 1987, the park was reopened under new ownership as “Xeroids” but couldn’t keep up with competition from Great Escape in Lake George and other regional attractions.
Since 1989, the park had been under the ownership of George Abdella. In recent years, as camp owners and tourists came to the beaches of Caroga Lake, the amusement park mostly remained dark, as residents recalled busier times.
Late last year, Abdella donated the historic property to the town of Caroga, a move finalized by the town board on March 11.
Town supervisor Ralph Ottuso…
“We plan on holding events there to kind of lease certain parts of it out to certain entities. Maybe for weddings, a possible restaurant…”
But for the last several months, several residents have voiced opposition to the agreement.
Jeremy Manning, a local builder, was part of the committee formed in February to review the original donation agreement signed by Ottuso on December 29th.
“This is something that can be a huge benefit to the town, the area, and make it a really unique place not just for our town, but also for the Southern Adirondacks. And I personally don’t want to lose that. However, I look at these conditions and I think this really, really limits our ability to do what we want with the property and realize our full rights as property owners and use it to benefit our town and townspeople.”
Under the original agreement, the town must operate a public beach at the lakefront property and preserve the buildings in place. It must also allow the former property owner, who retains acreage across the street, access to the property’s sewer system for any future development.
The citizen committee says the portion of land donated to the town by the former owner was unlawfully subdivided. It also called the initial transfer invalid, saying Ottuso did not have the legal authority to accept the donation in December without first bringing it to the town board.
Ottuso disputes this.
“The town board was fully aware. They’ve been fully aware of this whole transaction for the last year and a half. So that’s a blatant lie. It wasn’t done without the town board’s knowledge at all.”
The citizens committee submitted its concerns in a report to the town board at the March 11th meeting, but the board voted to accept the original agreement.
Manning said that vote angered many in attendance at the meeting.
“What came out of that was a lot of people saying, ‘We need to have a petition, we need to have a referendum on this.’”
Manning led the charge and with others helped gather 101 signatures in the seasonal town of 1,200 asking for a referendum on the deal. It would not reject the donation but would force a “do-over” on the original agreement.
The petition was filed on Thursday.
During an interview Friday, Ottuso said he had not yet seen the petition but questioned its validity. He also accused those opposed to the original agreement of trying to slow the process down.
“You don’t see those people when we’re out doing the town-wide cleanups, picking up the streets and doing that stuff. These people don’t show up. They just don’t show up for any of the events or do any volunteering. It’s easy to get together as a group and just be complainers, but you know what? It’s a 50/50 thing. It’s all right to complain if you’re participating and doing the good things, too, and helping out the town.”
Inside “The Coffee Shop,” a restaurant beside the Sherman’s property, Tony Toskas and his wife Mary had just finished their lunch. Originally from Queens, they both came to Caroga to retire.
“When I’ve said that the people have said, ‘Is Sherman’s still there?’ So a lot of people know about Sherman’s and know what it was.”
Toskas, who said he signed the petition, was also in attendance at the March 11th meeting.
“I think it’s become an adversarial thing and it’s really not. It isn’t the people who want Sherman’s as opposed to the people who don’t want it. Because I think almost everyone does want it. But somehow one way or another that has become the focal point. Whereas the focul point should be, ‘Is everyone happy with the agreement as it stands.’”
If approved by the town clerk, the petition will be brought to the town board. At that point, the board will have 30 days to set a referendum.