Fears of eminent domain linger along West Avenue: Stamford (CT) Advocate, 7/15/06

By John Nickerson

A dozen [Norwalk CT] business and property owners within the West Avenue redevelopment area met with state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, yesterday to express concerns about proper compensation if their properties and businesses are acquired by eminent domain.

The midafternoon meeting at Wachovia Bank on West Avenue — a property within the core development area — lasted about an hour as Duff listened and talked about the state legislature's failed bid to create an eminent domain reform bill during the last session.

Keel Evans, owner of European Auto Center on West Avenue, said he purchased his repair shop three years ago for $750,000.

Now, Evans said, presumptive developer Stanley Seligson hasn't offered anything near the $2 million he figures it would cost to relocate to an area with comparable customer traffic in Norwalk.

"We are not being treated fairly. . . . We have to be protected," Evans told Duff. "We would like to know what the state's outlook is on this."

Doug Adams, director of development for Seligson Properties, the firm that has right of first refusal to build the redevelopment project, sought to allay concerns when reached after the meeting, which he was not invited to attend.

"We intend to treat everyone fairly," he said. "We are just beginning the process and want to work with every property owner to reach an agreement."

Adams said Seligson Properties hasn't been chosen by the Common Council and city Redevelopment Agency to develop the 19.8 acres bordered by West Avenue, Academy, Chapel and Orchard streets.

"If we are named the developer, we hope to work with each landowner privately to reach an agreement that both parties think is best," Adams said.

Duff said he was disappointed that the legislature could not agree on eminent domain reforms. He said lawmakers had a range of views on the topic, with some saying that eminent domain should never be used and others agreeing with the current law, which allows land to be taken for anything from a public school or project to private economic development.

Duff, who will face Republican challenger Fred Wilms in his re-election bid this fall, said he would work next term for laws offering better protection for property owners seeking fair compensation.

Tim Currie, who owns Currie Tire on West Avenue, said the idea of redeveloping the neighborhood has been floated since 1988, but no one from the city has ever visited his shop to talk to him about it.

Currie also said two possible development projects for his property fell through because of fears the city may take his land.

"The state should make sure people are taken care of the proper way. . . . People should be compensated for what they are giving up," Currie said, adding that his family business has been at the same location for 78 years.

Joe Tomas, who owns a three-family home and a large building for his electrical company, said he has not been offered enough to relocate his business.

Tomas, who has owned the property for 10 years, said Seligson's offer wouldn't come close to covering moving costs and lost business opportunities.

Duff told the group that it would be two to five years before any properties could be seized through eminent domain. Redevelopment Agency officials have said that it is far from certain whether the city will use eminent domain for any of about 40 properties within the core plan area.

Last month, the Common Council approved the West Avenue redevelopment plan, then amended it to stipulate that the decision to condemn any property would be made on a case-by-case basis.

Stamford Advocate: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com