More questions were raised than answered about Branford's [CT] attempt to enforce eminent domain acquisition of the Queach property at the Board of Finance [BOF] last week. The BOF did not take any action in regards to the enforcement, instead deciding to put off a vote until its June meeting.
Through his lawyer Al Ippolito, developer Alex Vigliotti has maintained that if offered a fair price for the Queach land he would gladly sell it to the people of Branford. The town counters that it has already offered a reasonable price for the land and that a decision to enforce eminent domain is only a last resort. The actual value of the property is now at the heart of the issue.
A report prepared by the Select Committee on Open Space Acquisition (SCOSA) was given to the Board of Finance. The report attempts to resolve many of the questions regarding the parcel but most of those can't be determined without further analysis and appraisal. Town officials feel that the $1 million offer for the property is in line with previous appraisals and is commensurate with what Vigliotti paid for the land in December, 2004. Vigliotti through his lawyer contends that the actual value of the parcel is well over $4 million and possibly closer to $5 million. "The number [$1 million] is supported by past appraisals," Opie said. "The $5 million figure was based on the entire 205-acre parcel, including the 43.4 acre piece owned by Mr. Vigliotti that is not part of this matter. That price is also with the proviso of 115 building lots on the property. But that number of lots has never been approved by zoning and it is not realistic. "A lot of things point to the $1 million price," First Selectman John Opie continued.
Looking at Other Options
According to Ippolito (a Branford resident and former member of the Board of Assessment Appeals), Branford officials haven't been negotiating in true good faith with his client. He stated that he has a number of different proposals that would satisfy the town's need for open space and balance his client's development prospects but have not been considered.
"The assessment price of large parcels has very little to do with the actual property value. I personally don't know the value and they [the town] don't know the value. We believe there is still room for negotiations. At a minimum we need an appraisal," said Ippolito.
When asked directly by BOF Chair Joseph Mooney if enforcement of the statute was the only option for the town, Opie responded, "As much as I dislike the words eminent domain, it may be the only vehicle left for an amicable agreement. No one wants to talk about eminent domain. It has a bad connotation but I'm not sure how much further we can move the process without this leverage."
Ippolito countered that negotiations should still be taking place and that there was room for a mutually agreeable solution, "This could be a win-win situation for the town and a win-win situation for my client. I feel it is premature to be here [before the BOF]. There are more options they ended negotiations, we didn't end negotiations."
Cheryl Morris, Democratic candidate for first selectman, raised financial concerns about the enforcement. "Is the $1 million a realistic figure or a pipe dream? Eminent domain sounds like an easy way to go but appeals could potentially costs the town millions," Morris stated. "Are there any other alternatives?" Mooney stated, "We don't take lightly the use of eminent domain. We need to study the information [the SCOSA report] we have here."
he BOF has postponed any action on the matter until its June meeting. The next step, whether the BOF approves the measure in June or not, will be an objective third party appraisal of the property.
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