Lowell eyes eminent-domain taking of building
Lowell (MA) Sun, 10/14/04

By Christopher Scott

Unable to come to an agreement with the property owner, the City Council this week unanimously gave City Manager John Cox authority to begin eminent-domain proceedings to acquire 65-87 Middlesex St., for a new city parking garage.

In a related development, councilors also voted to borrow more than $3 million to acquire another piece of property that would provide a crucial piece for an ambitious redevelopment plan.

City administrators haven't divulged numbers. But The Sun has learned that the city was leaning toward offering the owner of the Middlesex Street parcel, where Barney's Deli and several other small businesses are located, about $500,000. That number was based on real-estate appraisals.

But property owner Jim Gill, The Sun has learned, wasn't willing to go below about $1 million.

Gill is represented by James Masterman, a well-known Boston lawyer who is considered an expert in eminent-domain law.

Mayor Armand Mercier said the city has no choice but to pursue eminent domain.

"The project will not work with that strip there," Mercier said. "But you are not going to have a friendly taking."

There has been some talk of scaling back the $20 million garage and building it over "Barney's Block."

City officials, however, decided against that plan, instead favoring a blueprint that calls for new, street-level shops.

Meanwhile, councilors voted to borrow $3.6 million to buy the Freudenberg Nonwovens plant on Jackson Street.

At nearly six acres, Freudenberg's plant accounts for about a third of what city planners are calling the Hamilton Canal District, a 35-acre lot bounded roughly by the Lord Overpass, Middlesex and Central Streets and the Lower Pawtucket Canal.

If all goes as planned, within about a decade, the site will be home to 400,000 square feet of new, privately constructed commercial and retail space and as many as 1,000 new condominiums.

The vote was 8-1. Councilor Richard Howe, who believes the money would be better spent elsewhere, was the long vote against.

Lowell Sun: www.lowellsun.com