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Pathway to growth

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If Watertown city officials play their cards right, they could in a position to develop a road to greater prosperity.

Patrick M. Donegan, a developer from Alexandria Bay, said a big-box tenant is interested in opening a site at his City Center Plaza near Arsenal Street. Mr. Donegan said this would require “the city of Watertown and the owners of nearby Stateway Plaza to agree to build a connector road leading to the nearly 18 undeveloped acres just north of the Hilton Garden Inn,” according to a Jan. 29 story in the Watertown Daily Times.

“In recent months, the city and Stateway Plaza owners have been involved in behind-the-scene negotiations to work out a deal to acquire some land at the strip mall that would be used for a connector road,” the story reported. “The Alexandria Bay developer said he believes he can attract the unidentified big-box national retailer to the site if the connector road is built from Arsenal Street through the Stateway Plaza parking lot to Gaffney Drive at the other end. Plans would call for a 100,000-square-foot store.

“City Attorney James A. Burrows said he talked to the attorney for plaza owners Ben Wygodny and Martin Wenger, both of Montreal, about the situation ‘just a week or two ago.’ The city will have to negotiate a price to acquire some land in the parking lot for it to proceed,” according to the story.

It would be ideal if the city could come to terms with the owners of the Stateway Plaza on a reasonable price for the necessary land. Plans could then proceed to construct the road and entice the mystery tenant to Watertown.

If the city cannot negotiate a mutually acceptable deal, it could then consider eminent domain. It would eventually get the land; the only thing left for a court to decide is what would be fair compensation.

Obviously, the preferable route is for the two sides to come up with a plan of their own. Eminent domain could take years to hash out in court, and this could lead the big-box tenant to question if it’s worth the effort.

In addition, using eminent domain to benefit private developers is a murky proposal. Granted, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled several years ago that it was constitutional for municipalities to use this authority to obtain land for the benefit of developers. The argument that new development serves the public good appealed to the justices.

But this still doesn’t make eminent domain a comfortable option in such situations. For a governmental entity to use eminent domain to acquire property so a public building, park or highway can be constructed is one thing.

However, municipal officials should be careful about taking private land away from one owner for the benefit of another. This is what the free market is for, and it’s best left to this mechanism.

The city of Watertown certainly has a role to play in negotiating for this land so the new big-box retailer can open a store here. We hope the two sides can reach an agreement and avoid the need for eminent domain.

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