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Sun., Oct. 4
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Jefferson County rejects Simao’s deal to end Route 196 litigation


Jefferson County has rejected a proposal from developer P.J. Simao that could have ended years of litigation over disputed parcels at the entrance to the county’s corporate park.

The county and one of Mr. Simao’s real estate companies, Onondaga Development LLC, entered into a June 29, 2007, contract that stipulated the county pay a $200,000 deposit to Mr. Simao to demolish the former Griff’s convenience store and the former SMX Transport Inc. building, remove three underground petroleum bulk storage tanks and remediate any soil contamination discovered. At closing, the county would pay the remaining purchase price of $445,000, obtain title to the 3-acre Griff’s and SMX parcel and transfer title to three other county-owned parcels to Onondaga Development.

The deal stalled when Mr. Simao did not remove the tanks, causing the county to withhold transferring the titles to the three county properties to him. The county sued Mr. Simao in January 2011, asking a judge to either order Mr. Simao to perform the cleanup work or rescind the sale agreement.

Mr. Simao has since completed the work and the county has transferred the three properties to him, but litigation has continued. Among Mr. Simao’s complaints in a $1.85 million countersuit is that the parcels he acquired are no longer developable because of work done when the county constructed County Route 196 across the parcel it acquired from Mr. Simao. The new road aligned the entrance of the corporate park with Salmon Run Mall Road, at a traffic light on Route 12F. In the process, Mr. Simao claims, changes to the grade of the land caused by the road work rendered some of the land unusable.

“Had I known the county was not going to live up to their agreement, and would leave me with two undevelopable sites at the industrial park entrance, I would have never in a million years done the deal,” he said.

Saying he has tired of the litigation, Mr. Simao said he offered to give the county what it sought in its 2011 suit: to “unwind” the whole deal, with each party ending up with what it started with.

“This is the only resolution that I believe makes sense,” Mr. Simao said. “I can never be made whole, but I’m willing to do this and take my lumps, walk away and chalk it up to experience.”

His proposal was to repay the $645,000 the county paid for his parcel in November 2007, reimburse the county $120,000 for costs it incurred for environmental remediation and return the parcels conveyed to Mr. Simao back to the county. In return, Mr. Simao asked that his original parcel be deeded back to him.

The rub? The completed and in-use County Route 196, which cost about $1 million to build, runs right through the property that would be returned to Mr. Simao. He asked in his proposal that the entrance be removed and the property returned to its original grade, leaving the county without a second access point to the corporate park and recreating traffic problems on Route 12F that the road was designed to alleviate.

“We don’t find it particularly practical or helpful in that it would require us to deconstruct the road we’ve built for the intersection,” County Attorney David J. Paulsen said. “It is not financially beneficial to taxpayers to do that and it would deprive the public of a safe, efficient, expeditious entrance to the industrial park, which is essentially why we did the whole project in the first place.”

Mr. Paulsen said the county remains open to further negotiation with Mr. Simao on the issue, but declined comment on the nature of those negotiations.

For Mr. Simao, the matter goes back to what he claims were unkept promises made by the county when he granted permission for County Route 202 to be built across land he owns behind Walmart and the Salmon Run Mall off Route 3. The road connects Route 3 with Route 12F, with its terminus on the south end at the entrances to Walmart and Sam’s Club and on the northern end at a second entrance to the corporate park.

“I have been on the record since early 2000 that I was not in favor of a north/south road going through my property,” Mr. Simao said. “But because there was such a benefit to the overall community and the north country, I acquiesced.”

He maintains the deal for the use of his land for the Route 202 project was tied to the sales of the property at the corporate park entrance, although no contract was ever drawn up to solidify the oral agreements. He claims he negotiated the deals primarily with County Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, and said Mr. Gray “gave me all kinds of public accolades” for making the projects possible, which also enabled Walmart to expand its store.

“It is clear to me now that Mr. Gray was political grandstanding and there wasn’t an ounce of sincerity in that praise,” Mr. Simao said.

Mr. Gray declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Mr. Simao claims the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, as owner of the corporate park, also has a stake in the negotiations as the results could affect entry into the park.

“After everything that’s gone on, it’s clear to me that the county and the IDA are not paying attention to this at all and are not interested in trying to resolve the situation,” he said.

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