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City may move forward with eminent domain for Stateway Plaza connector road

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WATERTOWN — Not yet hearing from the strip mall’s owners, the city may now initiate eminent domain proceedings to obtain the land needed for a connector road that would go through the parking lot of Stateway Plaza.

City Attorney James A. Burrows said a June 6 deadline passed without hearing from plaza owners Ben Wygodny and Martin Wenger, both of Montreal, so the city may pursue legal action to obtain about 2½ acres for the connector road.

“They never got back to me,” Mr. Burrows said this week.

The City Council set a 45-day deadline for the plaza owners to accept a $345,000 offer for land needed for a connector road through the strip mall, or the city would proceed with court action.

Mr. Burrows said he is preparing to start the proceedings, but the City Council has been divided on the issue. It will be up to council members to decide how and when to proceed.

In April, a majority of City Council members agreed the city should commence with condemnation, leading to eminent domain, once the June 6 deadline passed.

“There’s been trepidation or whatever you want to call it,” said Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, who supported legal action. “I think there was a split decision.”

Critics expressed concern about the cost of going through the process and the monetary value that a judge might place on the property. Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso had reservations about going that route because she was worried about its potential exorbitant costs.

Now that the owners have not gotten back to Mr. Burrows, Ms. Macaluso said that it is time for the city to pursue eminent domain. She also has confidence in the way Mr. Burrows will handle the matter for the city.

“This has been going on for so long,” she said. “We have to do something one way or the other.”

Condemnation allows government to take private property through eminent domain provided that it is for a public purpose and just compensation is paid.

The process would be lengthy, and the city would need to show that the land is needed for a public project.

For years, the city has wanted to construct the road connecting Arsenal Street through the Stateway Plaza parking lot to Gaffney Drive at the northern end.

As another incentive, Alexandria Bay developer Patrick M. Donegan has said he has interest from a potential big-box tenant for the adjacent City Center Plaza, if the public road is built to provide access. Plans would call for a 100,000-square-foot store in the 18-acre plaza, which also includes hotels, restaurants and retail shops he owns off Arsenal Street adjacent to Stateway Plaza.

Mr. Donegan could not be reached for further comment.

For months, the city negotiated behind the scenes to acquire the land. Mr. Burrows has told council members that the plaza owners’ attorney has indicated that the $345,000 offer was way too low.

The city would build the public road and maintain it. Motorists now use the Stateway Plaza parking lot as a shortcut; city officials have said the situation is not safe for motorists.

Until now, the biggest drawback for the city has been the cost. The most recent projection came in at $1.75 million. But that price could increase if the project is changed.

The mayor said, however, the city could proceed with the project in increments to keep costs down.

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