Council set to seize Main Street property: New Britain CT Herald, 9/20/07

By Rick Guinness

[New Britain] Council members are gearing up to seize Main Street property for a new police station.

At a meeting next week, the Common Council will set a price on 121-131 Main St. in preparation for taking it, Mayor Timothy Stewart said Wednesday.

With a recent change in state law on eminent domain, the city's price could hit $1.27million.

Stewart had hoped to reach an accommodation with the owner, but after a third attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement with Garden Main Street LLC. failed last week, he said, eminent domain is the next step.

"The prospect for a compromise has been lost," Stewart said.

The council voted in May to authorize an eminent domain takeover of the property Garden Main Street, meaning the company would lose its property in exchange for a price set by the city and state, rather than negotiate with the city. LLC lawyer Michael O'Connell immediately filed for injunction to stop the takeover.

A judge tried to get the sides to reach an agreement, but three hearings later, the parties were still at an impasse. The city had a $1 million appraisal for the property, while Garden Main Street had an appraisal of nearly $2.3 million.
O'Connell could not be reached for comment.

He had said his experience with eminent-domain law would keep the city tied up in court for a long time. Nevertheless, he indicated the company was willing to work with the city on its long-range plans.

No way, Stewart said. He is going to take over the property, knock the building to the ground, and build a police station - with bipartisan support. The action will oust a check-cashing office and a Subway sandwich shop, the only businesses in the sprawling plaza.

It will cost $30 million, he said.

"But that doesn't mean we are going to have to spend it," he added, referring to the possibility that the master planner for the city, The Arete Group of New York - rather than Garden Main Street - might very well build it to gain commercial space and lease the police station space to the city.

Alderman Lou Salvio said the city would also be able to get state grant funding to offset the cost of the project.

Alderwoman and council president pro tempore Suzanne Bielinski said she is in favor of the plan, which is needed because the old police station is riddled with asbestos and therefore beyond repair.

Police officers could not even be in the building during renovations.

"Having a police station downtown would facilitate a sense of a safe downtown," she said. "This would be a visible police presence."

The garage at the D'Amato senior apartments could be used for police vehicles as well as for seniors because it is so "vacant and underutilized," she said.

Next week's meeting would likely involved a closed-door session before a price is set. Bielinski and alderwoman Shirley Black said they agreed the mayor and corporation counsel would handle the matter.

Alderman Paul Catanzaro had previously said the Main Street property takeover and construction of a police station would be expensive.

He wasn't alone in his assumption.

But Bielinski and Stewart said that the company's appraisal was much too high.

"That $2.3 million was for a building that does not exist," Bieinski said. "It was for a possible use."

She was referring to the passage in the $2.3 million appraisal by R.F. Hagearty & Associates Inc. that read, "This report is predicated on the extraordinary assumption that the city will approve an adaptive reuse of the property, consisting of 57 apartment units and 15,800 square feet of retail space."

The judge in the case will see the absurdity of the $2.3 million figure, Stewart believes.

"We have a legitimate appraisal," Stewart added. "I am fairly confident."

Even though there are no more hearings in court scheduled, that doesn't preclude the company and city from privately working out a deal, Stewart said.

"We were going to try to settle it," he said.

New Britain CT Herald: http://www.newbritainherald.com