Queach Road property battle sparks special RTM meeting: Branford (CT) Review-News, 5/4/05

By John Rook

The battle over the controversial Queach Road property has spilled into the political arena as town Democratic officials have called for a special meeting of the [Branford CT] Representative Town Meeting [RTM] to discuss the issue.

Democratic Town Chairman Michael Milici last week called on RTM moderator Raymond Dunbar to include an item on the meeting's next agenda to establish a special meeting where all RTM members would have a chance to voice their opinions on the possible acquisition of the property.

"We need to act on this right away," said Milici. "We need a special meeting devoted to this one issue to examine all possibilities and alternatives to place this property in the control of the Town of Branford."

At issue is 160 acres off Queach Road currently owned by developer Alex Vigliotti. The town is interested in purchasing the parcel for open space, but has run into problems revolving around the asking price of the property.

According to town officials, the property has been assessed, for tax purposes, at approximately $900,000 and the town has offered $1 million to purchase the land. That, according to officials, is an adequate offer for the parcel.

Vigliotti, however, has evidently refused that original offer. According to officials, depending on whether all of the property were sold for open space, or only a portion of it, Vigliotti has been asking for anywhere between $4 million and $20 million for the property. Any property not sold for open space would be subject to extensive development, officials stated.

Those asking prices have forced the town to examine possibly acquiring the property via eminent domain for public purposes.

But town Democrats have criticized the handling of the property purchase by First Selectman John Opie and his administration, suggesting that Opie has "dragged (his) feet" on the issue.

"The town should have negotiated with (the former owner) in title, then the town would have gotten Vigliotti's price for the land of $1 million," said Cheryl Morris, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for First Selectman. "Instead, we are forced into the current position of paying a more exorbitant amount of money or facing potential litigation for exercising the right of eminent domain. Town Hall was asleep at the switch on this issue."

Milici and other Democratic officials are hopeful that a full meeting of the RTM could open the door for other options in securing the property.

Opie on Tuesday responded to the allegations that he, and his administration, had dragged its feet on the issue, stating that there was, in his mind, no time in which the town could have purchased the land.

According to Opie, he contacted the former owners of the land, Queach Corp., to see about possibly purchasing the land late last year and was told, at that time, that a tentative agreement with Vigliotti had already been reached. Before that time, according to Opie, no one was sure as to the exact value of the property.

Queach Corp. sold their portion of the land to Vigliotti in December of last year.
Opie stated that he immediately began discussing the issue with Vigliotti but came to the conclusion over the last few weeks that a negotiated price would be hard to come by.

"We have been going back and forth for a few months now," said Opie. As far as a possible agreement in the future, Opie stated that, while he remained optimistic something could be negotiated, there was no evidence that would happen.

"The important factor is that the property is open for sale for some price," said Opie. "Obviously the Board of Finance is aware that the property is worth $1 million so if you walked in and said that you wanted to pay $4 million for it, they would probably balk at that notion. However, could something be worked out, would the BOF be willing to pay a little more if it avoided going down the road of eminent domain? That is a possibility."

Eminent domain, described by Opie as the town's last resort, would allow the town to take the land for the price it felt was reasonable. The act would most certainly prompt legal action on the part of Vigliotti.

Because of that Opie stated that he wanted to give Vigliotti every chance to negotiate a deal.

"If things keep going as they are, I could see us filing our paper work (for eminent domain) by July 1," said Opie. "I would like to give Mr. Vigliotti at least a couple of weeks to come in and chat before that happened, however."

Branford Review-News: www.zwire.com