Council to authorize eminent domain: Downingtown (PA) Ledger, 4/29/05

By Bryan G. Robinson

By a vote of 4-0, Downingtown Borough Council passed a motion last week to advertise the intent to adopt an ordinance that would allow the borough to condemn 9.8 acres on the Alcoa property at 520 Lincoln Ave., if need be.

Voting for the ordinance were council president Brenda Brinton, and councilors Heather Bruno, Anthony "Chip" Gazzerro and David Proctor.

Absent from the meeting were council vice president Jamie Bruton, who was out of town, and Tom Roderer, who was ill.

The ordinance reads that the acquisition "is necessary for the reduction in the perils caused by flooding, because the borough may, after acquisition, construct thereon a stormwater detention basin for the accumulation and dissipation of stormwater." In other words, the borough wants to build a basin to catch stormwater from Parke Run before it gets farther downstream, thus flooding properties in the borough, specifically along Green Street and Jefferson Avenue.

Downingtown Borough Manager Steve Sullins said that especially when one considers the health, safety and welfare of borough residents, the borough is well within its rights to enact such an ordinance, if necessary.

"We have to do something," said Gazzerro after the meeting. "It's been going on for years and years. We're trying to handle everybody's water coming in."

In 2001, the borough had an appraisal done with Alcoa for 9.8 acres, for $480,000, but no agreement had been reached.

Since then, according to Sullins, the borough has not been able to reach anyone with the company with the authority to authorize a transaction. He said he has had numerous talks with Alcoa officials at the local level and did talk with a representative from the real estate office several months ago. However, since 2001, there have been some changes in upper management at the company and the borough has had no formal offer, he said — up until last week.

At last Wednesday night's meeting, borough council president Brenda Brinton announced that she had received a formal offer from Alcoa, which after the meeting, she called "preposterous."

She said the offer came to borough hall on Monday and she was only able to receive the offer on Tuesday. She said that since council did not have an executive session before its meeting last Wednesday night, she only felt right to inform them of the offer at the meeting.

After she made her announcement, the meeting was recessed into executive session. "I didn't know of an official offer," said Gazzerro. "That's why we recessed into the executive session."

Brinton said now negotiations can run concurrently with the ordinance.

(Interestingly, the ordinance as it reads now has a blank line for a "drop-dead" date if negotiations for the acquisition fail to result in an agreement. Sullins said the borough wanted the option to continue negotiations, at this point.)

Sullins said Brinton had been attempting to make contact with Alcoa representatives for several months. "She knows some people in Alcoa," he said. "All of council knew she had been working on it."

As for the offer being "preposterous," he said that the offer was "much more than anticipated." However, he said he thought that with the eminent domain ordinance now on the table, it would give the borough better leverage in negotiations with Alcoa. He said that it would now be up to council whether or not it would adopt the ordinance. His own opinion, though, is that it will happen, he said.

Council, he said, has to advertise no less than seven days from the time that it would adopt the ordinance and that the advertisement for the intent to adopt would be in the newspaper shortly.

The next meeting for borough council is Wednesday, May 18.

On Monday, he said that since the formal offer, borough officials have not been in contact with Alcoa representatives. "We're still reviewing the offer," he said.

Roderer's comment

In a telephone conversation with Roderer last week, he said that personally he would have voted against the motion. "It's not a solution to our problems and sets a bad precedent for taking property," he said. "It's a Band-Aid on a bullet wound."
He said he thinks a basin will do little good. "It will make a little bit of a difference," he said.

Downingtown Ledger: www.zwire.com