Main Street is losing a busy parking lot — at least temporarily — as negotiations between the property owner and city hall break down.
The 81-space lot, at 65 Main St. across from Massimino’s Pizzeria, is used by tenants who live in new apartments on Main Street, and by people visiting the stores and restaurants across the street, such as Copper City Bar & Grill, Bangkok Room, and the pizzeria.
But the city announced Wednesday that the owner is barring the public from using the parking lot, effective immediately. Any cars parked there without permission will be towed, the City of Ansonia announced in a Facebook post.
Greg Martin, the city’s director of constituent services, was out on Main Street Wednesday afternoon breaking the news to merchants.
Tom Carney, the owner of Copper City Bar & Grill, estimated 70 to 80 percent of his customers use the lot when patronizing his business.
“I really rely on that lot,” Carney said Wednesday. “If that lot closes it’s going to hurt me bigtime.”
The Board of Aldermen, though, are scheduled to hold a meeting Thursday to talk about how the public can keep using the lot.
The city had planned to buy 65 Main St. for $3 million as part of a downtown redevelopment project.
“The original deal was for the city to purchase the office building for $3 million, with a provision to hold an easement on the outdoor parking lot for public use,” Marini said in an email.
The address includes a building, an indoor parking garage, and the parking lot. It also includes a section of a building referred to as 501 E Main St.
Shaw Growth Ventures owns 65 Main St., and the city wants to use the land for a new police station/senior center — and to continue to use the 81-space parking lot as a public parking lot.
But Shaw Growth Ventures has not been negotiating in good faith, Ansonia Corporation Counsel John Marini said Wednesday.
Shaw wanted Ansonia to forgive about $2 million in blight liens connected to the deal, Marini said. And Shaw was “refusing to make certain warranties” in connection to the sale, including putting the fact they were owners in writing, Marini said.
“During these negotiations it became clear they were not dealing in good faith with the city. We were not able to secure terms that were in the best interest of Ansonia,” Marini said.
So last month the Board of Aldermen voted to “explore the option” of acquiring the property through eminent domain.
That vote, Marini said, happened after Shaw had previously threatened to close the lot.
How much the city will pay for the property through eminent domain remains to be seen. The city is having 65 Main St. — all of it — appraised. A dollar amount could be ready by the October Board of Aldermen meeting, Marini said.
Meanwhile, Shaw is apparently frustrated, and is exercising its right as a private owner to prevent the parking lot from being used by the public.
Marini called it a “bullying” tactic.
Marini said getting the property through eminent domain is now the best way to go since negotiations have gone nowhere.
The government may take private property for public use with just compensation.
In this case, Marni said a police department, a senior center, and public parking is “textbook public use.”
The parking lot is “extremely important” to the Main Street businesses, Marini said.
“That’s why our ultimate goal is to own the lot, to acquire it,” he said.
Marini also said the Aldermen will meet Thursday to discuss a “temporary condemnation action.”
The legal maneuver could keep the lot open to the public for three months, with the city paying a price to use it.
An appraiser is working on the dollar amount, which could be revealed at Thursday’s meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Valley Indy left a message at Shaw’s offices Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Ansonia Main Street redevelopment project is an issue in this year’s mayoral race.
Election Day is Nov. 7.
Tarek Raslan, the Democratic candidate for mayor, pointed out the new police station was supposed to be on Olson Drive. Then the Cassetti administration suddenly switched gears, announcing they wanted to put it on Main Street.
The city’s approach to negotiating has given Shaw the upper hand, Raslan said, and how the company is angry.
“Cassetti et al showed their cards way too early on this and now residents, the police department, and downtown restaurants will be left paying the price for lost use of the parking lot.”
Raslan said the police department should be relocated to 75 Liberty St., at a property that could be taken through foreclosure.
Marini said Ansonia is on the right track.
“While it is unfortunate that a voluntary deal could not be worked out with the property owner, the City of Ansonia has the ultimate power to secure 65 Main St. at fair market value,” he said. “This includes the office building, parking lot and space to create additional public parking. The end result will be optimal for our taxpayers, downtown business owners and the Ansonia police department.”
Marini said 75 Liberty St. is too expensive because of “high remediation costs” connected to contamination.
“It also lacks many of the advantages of 65 Main Street parcel, including the potential for expanded public parking in the heart of our expanding downtown,” he said.