Derby businesses fear eminent domain: Derby Valley Gazette (Derby CT), 7/13/06

By Kenneth Hoffman

As Derby [CT] begins its downtown revitalization in earnest, the specter of eminent domain has soured the process for some business owners in that area.

Carl Yacobacci and Brian Calvert are leading a group of six Main Street business owners in a push for the Board of Aldermen to pass new restrictions on the city's use of its eminent domain powers.

The proposed ordinance calls for a variety of controls over the city's ability to use eminent domain in obtaining privately owned property.

The crux of the matter is in paragraph E: "The city shall not sell, lease, transfer, or in any other way convey any private premises taken by it to a private individual or business entity."

In other words, the business owners want to prohibit city officials from taking property through eminent domain and turning it over to private developers.

Several other states have passed such restrictions in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling on the matter, but Connecticut has not.

The issue of eminent domain is on the agenda for the July 27 Board of Aldermen meeting, and the fate of the ordinance is still in doubt.

Board of Aldermen President Kenneth Hughes said the aldermen "don't feel confident passing the ordinance while in negotiations" with property owners over the project.

A representative of Ceruzzi Derby Redevelopment LLC, the developer for the downtown project, was unavailable for comment. However, Mayor Anthony Staffieri, who co-owned a downtown restaurant until recently, said city officials and the developer "are looking to deal [with the business owners] in a fair and equitable way."

The redevelopment plan entails demolishing many of the buildings along Main Street and replacing them with multi-use structures.

These new buildings would house shops, restaurants and living spaces. There would also be a parking garage and grassy town square.

Being heard
The coalition led by Calvert and Yacobacci have been making themselves heard lately.

They handed out literature at Derby Day with copies of the proposed ordinance, information sheets on eminent domain, and a petition they asked Derby residents to sign in support of the ordinance.

They plan to attend the July 27 Board of Aldermen meeting to ask the board to pass the ordinance.

"To take one's private property to give to a private company ... it's just really wrong," said Yacobacci, who owns a cabinet shop.

Though they are not willing to give up the fight for their businesses, Calvert said they do support the redevelopment project.

"We have a big stake in this," he said. "We want to see Derby progress. We need some action, and we want to be part of it."

Calvert, who owns Calvert Safe and Lock Ltd., said he just wants the right to "sit at the table" and negotiate with Ceruzzi Derby Redevelopment.

He said the only offer he has received for the site that houses his business was more than a year ago, for $235,000.

"We don't want money," Calvert said. "We want a building." He said the business owners are willing to move and they want to stay in Derby.

"We've got our bags packed," he said. "Just tell us where to go."

Calvert's fear is that he and the other five hold-outs will be cut out of negotiations and will be forced to accept too little for their property.

He likened it to selling a car, but being told by the manufacturer what the price should be.

"It's just wrong," he said. "Absolutely un-American."

Calvert said he is torn by his support for the redevelopment and his personal worry about being forced out through eminent domain.

"I don't want to be sacrificed on the altar of redevelopment," he said.

"Instead of being the joyous, wonderful project that it is," Calvert sighed, "there is this cloud."

Where to go?
Calvert said he is willing to move his business to the so-called Department of Transportation (DOT) property near BJ's Wholesale Club, off Pershing Drive.

This is one site the city may consider for relocating the downtown businesses.

Hughes said the city has hired relocation expert Phil Michalowski to examine the options.

Joseph Orazietti, who is a member of the Derby Redevelopment Agency, chairman of the Derby Democratic Town Committee and former president of the Board of Aldermen, said he is in favor of moving the downtown businesses to the DOT property.

"I think it is something the city should look at very seriously," he said.

Orazietti also said he does not think eminent domain is a wise course for Derby officials to take.

"I don't think it is a good thing, because everyone involved is unhappy," he said.

The mayor and the Board of Aldermen are enthusiastic about the redevelopment project, and everyone seems to be anxious for work to begin.

"Everything is going in the right direction," Staffieri said. "It's going very well."

Matthew DeBarbieri, Republican First Ward alderman, said, "It's really moving along well. It is reasonable to assume that in five years, we could have buildings up."

Ronald Sill, the lone Democratic alderman, was also optimistic.

"I'm all for pushing this through," he said. "It's a shame that it's taken this long."

They both seemed loath to consider the use of eminent domain in Derby.

"We haven't even discussed it as a possibility," DeBarbieri said.

As a last resort to protect the businesses, Sill said he would support the proposed ordinance.

Staffieri was even stronger in voicing his opinion on it. "Derby has no intention of using eminent domain," he said.

Derby Valley Gazette: http://www.zwire.com