Ansonia Aldermen voted Tuesday to take a downtown property by eminent domain as a new location for the police department.
The Valley Indy left a message seeking comment Wednesday morning with Vasilios Lefkaditis, the managing partner of Shaw Growth Ventures, the current owner of the property.
The eminent domain vote came after the city and Shaw were unable to strike a deal for the sale of the property despite months of negotiations.
City officials see moving the police station from an antiquated former school building at 2 Elm St. to Main Street as a key step in downtown redevelopment plans that could see hundreds of new residents moving to the area.
In unveiling the plans last year, Mayor David Cassetti predicted the police department would be moved downtown by the end of 2017.
The optimism turned out to be unfounded, as the city and Shaw were unable to agree on the specifics of a sale.
The city said Shaw wanted the city to forgive a blight lien on an adjoining property it owns.
Ansonia officials see the blight lien as a crucial bargaining chip they can use to spur development on the property.
Then, city officials say, Shaw told the city they were going to sell the property to another buyer.
That prompted Ansonia officials to decide further negotiations wouldn’t close the deal, so forcing Shaw’s hand through eminent domain is the only option left.
Officials now say the police department could be moved into the building — 65 Main St. — within the year.
Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
The city will pay $1,850,000, the average of two recent appraisals it received for the 2.65-acre property with two connected office buildings totaling roughly 72,500 square feet, a parking lot, and a warehouse of about 60,000 square feet.
After the Aldermen’s vote Tuesday Police Chief Kevin Hale called it “a big step” to move the department from its current home — a very old converted school house.
“We’re ready to go. We’re aching to go here,” Hale said. “We appreciate the board’s support. It’s unfortunate it came to this but here we are. The city took a positive action and we’re looking forward to the process now.”
Mayor David Cassetti said if all goes well the move could be under way by spring.
“I’m hoping by May, June to at least start some things rolling there,” Cassetti said.
Cassetti said the city would have preferred to come to a voluntary agreement with Shaw for the property.
The resolution passed by the Aldermen holds out the possibility that the two sides will agree on a purchase price.
But that seems doubtful.
“It looks as if any serious, meaningful negotiation from this point on would be fruitless and honestly just a waste of time,” John Marini, the city’s corporation counsel, said.
City officials have also discussed moving the senior center and other municipal offices to the building, but no plans have been finalized yet.
Article continues after Google Earth photo showing the property from above.
The board discussed the matter for about a half-hour behind closed doors at their monthly meeting Tuesday before unanimously approving the eminent domain filing.
The private discussion is allowed under state Freedom of Information law because the Aldermen were discussing a possible land deal.
There was no discussion of the matter in public before the Aldermen’s vote to approve the eminent domain resolution.
Marini said the paperwork for the city to take the property would be filed in court Wednesday, along with a check for $1,850,000, representing the property’s fair market value.
Once the paperwork is filed in court, Marini said the city would then have to wait 35 days for the title for the property to be transferred.
According to state law, a judge will have to sign off on the city’s valuation of the property, with Shaw given up to six months to dispute the figure.
If Shaw tries to sell the property the city will still be able to take it, Marini said.
“It doesn’t matter who the owner is, the city has the right to take the property for a legitimate public purpose, and we have articulated a very clear and obvious public purpose here — the police station, public parking, and space for municipal services,” he said.
Will The Parking Lot Stay Open To The Public?
As negotiations between the city and Shaw unraveled last year, Shaw threatened to close the large parking lot on the property.
Marini said the company recently reiterated the threat.
“(They) stated that the building was under contract to a new owner who requested the public remove their vehicles (from the parking lot),” he said.
The lot is vital to downtown businesses on the opposite side of Main Street.
A temporary deal to keep the lot open to public use expired in December.
According to a post on the city’s Facebook page Wednesday night, Shaw once again closed the lot to the public.
The post said “Vehicles parked in the lot may be towed without notice. Residents and downtown patrons are asked to utilize the nearby West Main Street lot as the city proceeds with a legal action to permanently acquire 65 Main Street. The lot is projected to reopen to the public in February.”
Marini said called the closure a “temporary inconvenience for definitely a longterm gain.”