REMINDER. The Dew Drop Inn is raising money for Relay for Life - Naugatuck Valley tonight.
Any story ideas for EMS week? Beyond photo ops, I mean.
The intimacy, in a way, of their work, plus over-zealous interpretations of HIPPA, has made EMS invisible in much reporting.
Is Eminent Domain The Answer To Ansonia’s Open Space Dilemma?
by Jodie Mozdzer Gil | Oct 10, 2011 1:22 am
Posted to: Ansonia
Should Ansonia use eminent domain to preserve 25-acres of open space on Pulaski Highway?
One city Alderman wants the city attorney to research that question. Republican John Marini has proposed a resolution to that extent, which the Board of Aldermen will discuss at its Oct. 11 meeting.
In the heat of election season, the resolution is the latest in land-use issues the city has been struggling with.
Facing several proposals for new housing developments, city residents and leaders have questioned whether Ansonia can save the few remaining open space parcels.
Article continues after proposed resolution.
The parcel on Pulaski Highway has been on the city’s radar. The city had looked at buying the land in 2010, but didn’t have enough money to pay the $2 million asking price.
In September 2011, facing public outrage over a separate housing proposal, Board of Aldermen president Stephen Blume and Seventh Ward Aldreman David Knapp issued a proposal to try to come up with the money to make another offer.
Article continues after document.
But then they didn’t realize a developer was already in negotiations to purchase the land.
Branford developer Michael Massimino wants to build 36 homes on the land. He floated his proposal by the Planning and Zoning Commission in June, but hasn’t submitted official plans yet. Massimino did not return a call for comment.
Blume said he still wants to try to gather up the money to buy the land, in case Massimino’s plans fall through.
Marini said the city should be doing its homework on eminent domain as well.
“We all realize that property is too important to slip by,” Marini said.
He has asked Blume and Knapp to sign on to the eminent domain resolution with him, but — as of Oct. 5 — hadn’t heard back from either.
“At the end of the day, we know we want to preserve that land,” Marini said. “That’s something we agree on.”
The use of eminent domain raises eyebrows when the purpose is to take private property to hand over to a private developer — such as the 2005 Supreme Court case Kelo v. New London.
But the Ansonia proposal appears to follow the intent of the law, according to Sara Bronin, an associate professor of law at UConn Law School who specializes in property and land-use law.
“The basic definition of eminent domain is the power of the government to take privately owned property for public use — subject to the just compensation clause,” Bronin said. “Basically, what that means is, government can’t take private property unless there’s a public use and unless they compensate the property owner for taking the property.”
Bronin said open space has been deemed by courts as a legitimate public use.
In September, Blume said he wanted the land to use for passive recreation. It could potentially be used down the road if the city needs space for a new school or police department.Blume didn’t return several calls for comment last week, but responded to an e-mail request.
“John and i have a very different approach to this problem,” Blume said “We will discuss it Tuesday night.”
The attorney for the Pulaski Highway property owners, Fred Ehrsam, was also unable to be reached for comment.
Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Bart Flaherty also did not return a call seeking comment.
The Best Route?
Bronin said eminent domain cases don’t come up often because they’re time consuming and costly.
“It’s not frequent because there are usually easier ways to take a property,” Bronin said. “Eminent domain often leads to litigation. From a town’s perspective, that’s very costly.”
Marini said his proposal is just seeking to evaluate Ansonia’s options.
“The proposal isn’t to use eminent domain,” Marini said. “It’s to explore it. To see if it’s something that might make sense here.”
Speaking with some experience on this subject generally, I would ask if the parcel been identified, previous to any news about a potential development, as important acquisition for public purposes? This would be done in an Open Space Plan, or at the least supported in the City’s Plan of Conservation & Development. That is key if challenged on the reasons for pursuing any eminent domain process. Simply saying you don’t want more houses to impact schools doesn’t cut it, that’s what zoning is supposed to do in limiting total/max impact of development for land parcels.
If property is acquired for passive recreation and open space, that’s one thing (and receiving grants from the DEP or others toward that comes with deed restrictions to ensure such protection in perpetuity), but if the need is for active recreation (sports fields) and/or other municipal infrastructure needs - that needs to be clearly stated at outset.
Eminent domain occurs after the government has exhausted all avenues of good-faith negotiation. It also requires that a fair market value amount of funds be immediately placed in escrow with the court for the action to be enacted toward municipal possession on the land records. It is by far the most impacting on the municipality’s cash-flow when acquiring land (and potentially costly if it leads to litigation). As comparison, a property owner might accept a purchase agreement with several payments staggered over time to help with their capital gains tax-impact and the City’s cash-flow outlay.
I am chairman of Shelton’s Conservation Commission, and well versed in aspects of Open Space acquisition. If Ansonia officials read this, feel free to contact me for some further insight.