Eminent domain debated: Waterbury (CT) Republican-American, 6/3/06

By Paul Singley

A Fairfield [Connecticut] developer who has proposed building a $729 million downtown revitalization project [in Naugatuck] said this week that taking land or businesses by eminent domain would be his last resort.

Alexius C. Conroy said if he and the town reach a development agreement for the four-phase project called Renaissance Place, he will negotiate "very fairly" with businesses and residents around the downtown area to acquire their property.

He met with the Board of Mayor and Burgesses on Tuesday to tell the board his intentions.

That night, the board also heard from its attorney for the project, Mike Bothelo of Updike, Kelly & Spellacy in Hartford, who told the board it has the final say over whether the town would try to take over a business or land through eminent domain.

He said the town has the option of drawing up an ordinance to say that the borough would not use eminent domain, under any circumstances, to acquire a piece of property. But the board has not done that.

Such an ordinance could be overturned by the board, or a future Board of Mayor and Burgesses, at any time, Bothelo said.

The board has not indicated whether it would pass such an ordinance. Mayor Ronald San Angelo said Friday that an ordinance to ban the use of eminent domain would be little more than a political statement since it could be overturned if the borough found a need to use eminent domain at a later date.

"Nobody wants to use eminent domain," he said.

He said it would have to be an absolute last option. He said if the board found itself in a predicament where it had to decide whether to impose eminent domain, it would take a majority vote of the 10-member Board of Mayor and Burgesses to either approve or deny the use of that procedure.

San Angelo, or the sitting mayor at the time, would have the final say if there is a tie vote.

Through eminent domain, the town would offer business owners or residents fair market value for their property.

Renaissance Place would be mostly funded through unnamed private brokers. The plan would bring condominiums, retail buildings, office space, a parking garage and a movie theater in and around the downtown area.

Conroy and town officials are negotiating to come up with a development agreement, which the Board of Mayor and Burgesses would have to approve.

The board said Tuesday it wanted to know more about where the negotiations stand, and San Angelo said he would meet with burgesses an hour before every Board of Mayor and Burgesses meeting to discuss the plan until an agreement is reached.

Waterbury Republican-American: http://www.rep-am.com