The lease between the borough of Avon and the owners of the Avon Pavilion was illegal, and Hurricane Sandy provided the town the impetus it needed to finally terminate it, Avon Mayor Robert Mahon said Monday.
At an afternoon workshop session of the Avon Board of Commissioners attended by an audience of about 70 mainly supporters of Rob Fishman, Avon Pavilion owner, Mahon interjected into a public comment period his reasons for making the controversial move a week ago.
In a surprise move, the commissioners on Jan. 28 voted 2-1 to revoke the Pavilion’s lease, claiming state law mandated voiding lease agreements on structures destroyed by an act of nature, such as Hurricane Sandy.
But at Monday’s meeting, Mahon provided a different explanation on why the lease was terminated: It was simply illegal to have what he called a 25-year lease. State law, he said, allowed only 10 years.
“My problem with the lease is that it’s illegal,’’ he said. “We have been advised by more than one attorney that you can’t have a 25-year lease.”
Commissioner Frank Gorman emphatically agreed.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Gorman said. “I am in lock-step with you sir.’’
The lease between the borough and Fishman has a term of five years, with two 10-year options thereafter. Fishman had three years left in his first option when the commissioners revoked it.
Numerous audience members — both Pavilion supporters and employees — called out the mayor and Gorman for revoking the Pavilion’s lease. Commissioner Robert McGovern cast the lone vote against.
“I am stunned by your remarks Mr. Mayor,’’ said Roger Domal, of Woodland Avenue. “I have no idea why you are terminating this lease, at this time. If you do not reverse this decision I’m pounding a ‘For Sale’ sign right out front and I’m getting out of town. This is terribly wrong.’’
About a dozen people spoke at the meeting during the public comment portion. Only one supported the Mahon and Gorman votes.
While some audience members questioned the timing of the lease termination, Mahon said the timing was “opportune, since the business cannot operate this summer.’’
Earlier in the meeting, the Commissioners discussed what, if any, amenities would be available on the boardwalk for the summertime crowds come Memorial Day. There was some lengthy discussion, but no clear direction, on what would be available, especially on the north end of the boardwalk where the Pavilion once stood.
Dennis Collins, Wall Township-based attorney for Fishman, said Mahon’s comments comprised “intellectually dishonest” discussion.
“And to stand here today, after superstorm Sandy and suggest that this is a good time for someone to tell you whether the lease is good or not – that ship sailed quite some time ago,’’ Collins said.
Collins last week notified the borough of his intent to sue if the commissioners did not reverse their decision to revoke the lease in a strongly worded letter. He reiterated that threat at Monday’s meeting.
The termination of the lease prompted swift action from legions of Pavilion supporters. An online petition was set up aimed at urging the Commissioners to reverse their decision. One week after setting up, the petition had more than 1,600 signatures.
Fishman, who attended Monday’s meeting, said he was still reeling from the Commissoners’ decision.
“I’m stunned,’’ Fishman said. “Just stunned.’’