2018-07-11 / Front Page

Eminent Domain for Highway Garage Fraught with Problems

Hamden Supervisor Dubs Move a Strategic Grab for Delhi’s McFarland Property
By Lillian Browne

County highway equipment and trucks will be stored under cover in this shelter, which has been outfitted with electric to plug the trucks in during the winter months. 
Lillian Browne/The Reporter County highway equipment and trucks will be stored under cover in this shelter, which has been outfitted with electric to plug the trucks in during the winter months. Lillian Browne/The Reporter DELHI -On the heels of Walton Supervisor and Department of Public Works Committee member Charlie Gregory’s death on June 25, a non-prefiled resolution to authorize eminent domain proceedings to force Joyce and Robert Bishop of Hamden into selling their property, for what Bishops say is a low-ball and unrealistic price, narrowly passed by a vote of 2175 to 2066 by the Delaware County Board of Supervisors on June 27.

Walton, not represented in the vote, would have cast an additional 558 votes, which could have resulted in a vote not to proceed with eminent domain.

Hamden Supervisor Wayne Marshfield said the vote, which he strongly opposed, is nothing more than another avenue to attempt to purchase the McFarland property on County Route 18 in Delhi, for the relocation of the county’s highway garage.

The legislative body has not actually filed eminent domain proceedings, but instead authorized the county’s attorney to do so.

If legal proceedings are undertaken, according to Department of Public Works Commissioner Wayne Reynolds, it is likely that the court will not favor Delaware County, for a variety of reasons.

Not only is a highway or maintenance garage not critical infrastructure - though Reynolds said the building is public infrastructure and it is necessary - there are other locations that the garage can be built; a written offer to purchase the property was never made by Delaware County; and an option to purchase the property was never negotiated or offered.

Reynolds said eminent domain proceedings can be stopped at any time, if the attorneys - Bishops’ and the county’s, can begin negotiations.

The problem, Joyce and Robert Bishop said, is that negotiations never officially began in the first place.

Though the county obtained an appraisal, it was never provided to Bishops - rather, the county verbally offered Bishops $400,000, followed by an increased offer of $600,000, presumably based on the unseen and undisclosed appraisal.

Bishops were told that they should obtain their own appraisal, but have so far been unable to find a licensed appraiser who is willing to make a fair appraisal of their property.

The Bishops dropped the sale price to a bottom line number - $1.2 million.

Likewise, Bishops said, they are not willing to subdivide their property - and why should they have to? they asked. The county was willing to purchase the entire McFarland property, Bishop said, and later subdivide it and sell the unneeded portions.

Regard eminent domain proceedings, Reynolds said, a judge will look to see if there was an attempt by the government to purchase the property prior to eminent domain proceedings. “If there was no attempt, that doesn’t look good,“ Reynolds said.

Likewise, Reynolds said, there was never an offer on an option for the purchase of the Bishop property. His preference, he said, would have been to enter into an option rather than hide behind eminent domain proceedings.

Reynolds further clarified that although an option price for the McFarland property was discussed - including the value of the option - a check was never given to the property owner or authorized by the Board of Supervisors.

Joyce Bishop took issue with the lack of an option offer. Unlike the McFarland property, which is used as a weekend or second home - there are three businesses that operate on her property and she and her husband live there full time, she said.

“We are not the ones who refused to negotiate,” Joyce Bishop said, “The county has refused.” She was also shocked at how she found out about eminent domain proceedings - via the newspaper. “The county is simply not communicating anything with us,” she said.

She characterized the county’s behavior as both rude and disrespectful. “We have been accommodating to Mr. Reynolds and his consultants since November and have gone above and beyond what most people would do. That he would blind-side us like this - I have no explanation.”

The law is clear with regard to eminent domain, Reynolds continued, the property owner is entitled to fair market value for any property that is taken for a public project. The law, Reynolds continued, is very specific that you can not take any more land than what is necessary for the project.

The first thing the county needs to do, he said, is to establish exactly how much property is needed to build a new garage.

A lot of investigative work is needed, Reynolds said, in determining whether the property is suitable for the project. Environmental studies need to be done and a storm water project has to be designed to accommodate regulations and facility size. In order to do either one of those things, he continued, the county needs access to the Bishops property.

Joyce Bishop was shocked at the suggestion that access was ever denied to begin with. She stated that Reynolds had called them at 4:30 p.m., one afternoon and told them he needed access to the property the following day. Robert Bishop was out of state on business and Joyce Bishop had a prescheduled appointment and was unable to accommodate the request.

Both Joyce Bishop and Wayne Reynolds have stated they are willing to negotiate, but it is up to their attorneys now.

Meanwhile, demolition of a section of the current garage building on Page Avenue in Delhi, continues. A portion of the building is expected to be torn down by early fall.

When asked why he would proceed with the demolition of a section of the building without having a new location to go to, Reynolds said that county hired consultants determined that the building was “unsafe.”

If the building was determined to be unsafe, Reynolds was asked, why hasn’t it been condemned or employee safety organizations demanding that employees no longer work inside the building?

The only person who can condemn a structure is the county code enforcement officer, Dale Downing, who said that he relied on the county consultants’ recommendations and has also found the building to be unsafe.

There are 24 employees located in the Page Avenue structure, not including engineering or administrative personnel, who are housed in other space. There are 11 employees working in the former Wickham building.

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