State joins effort to stop Mukai sale

The state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) has joined the Friends of Mukai’s effort to stop the sale of the Mukai house and garden, filing a motion in court last week supporting a halt of the pending transaction.

The Friends of Mukai, a group of island activists attempting to take control of Island Landmarks — the nonprofit that owns the historic property — learned of the nonprofit’s plan to sell the property to an unidentified buyer earlier this month. The friends group quickly filed an emergency motion to stop the sale until the state Court of Appeals rules on whether the group lawfully took control of Island Landmarks last year.

The state DAHP on Monday filed to join that motion. In a court document, the agency argued that the historic preservation easement it holds at the Mukai house — which requires, among other things, that owners to maintain the property and open it to the public — hasn’t been fully complied with and there’s no way to know whether the new buyer will comply with it.

“DAHP takes no position on the underlying lawsuit, but is concerned that its Easement rights will be adversely affected if the property is sold before the lawsuit is resolved,” attorneys for the state wrote.

Lynn Greiner, a Friends of Mukai board member and one of the attorneys for the group, said on Monday that the move by DAHP — which has expressed ongoing concerns about Island Landmarks’ management of the property — should carry some weight in court.

“They’re an important partner,” she said. “They want this property to be open and available to the public, and they’re concerned about its sale to a private party.”

In response to the group’s emergency motion, Bob Krinsky, the attorney for Island Landmarks, wrote in his own brief that the nonprofit — currently headed by Texas resident Mary Matthews — has good reason to sell the historic property. The organization’s board, he said, received an unsolicited offer to purchase the property from a “well-qualified buyer” who intends to abide by the terms of the historic preservation easement and plans to install a new roof as soon as possible.

Krinsky noted that the cost of maintaining the property, about $5,000 a month, has been hard for the organization to bear, as it has been provided with no funds for operations and maintenance and the pending lawsuit has hampered its fundraising efforts.

The board’s decision to accept the buyer’s offer, Krinsky wrote, was “not influenced by the pending appeal, but rather was solely based on its business judgement.”

In their own reply on Monday, Greiner and Dan Chasan, another attorney for the friends group, asked that the appeals court give an emergency ruling on the motion on Tuesday — after The Beachcomber’s press deadline — as they believe the transaction could close as soon Wednesday, Nov. 6.

“We’re pointing out to them that they need to act really quickly,” Greiner said.

Meanwhile, the appeals court recently denied an amicus, or “friend of the court” brief filed by four public agencies earlier this month in support of the Friends of Mukai and arguing that their takeover of Island Landmarks was legally valid.

Greiner said the court’s denial means the amicus brief technically won’t be considered in the appeals case, but she is glad the court at least saw the brief and is aware there is widespread interest in the case and support for their effort.

“While we’re disappointed, it was definitely worth the time and effort,” she said.

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