The City of Utica took another step toward eminent domain Thursday, in their attempt to gain total ownership of the former Northland building, on Court Street, downtown. The city's Urban Renewal Agency held a public hearing regarding eminent domain and the property in question. The attorney for the developer, who owns about 20% of the building, spoke.
"The URA has not identified any proposed use, let alone a public use," said Attorney Kathleen Bennett, of the firm, Bond, Schoeneck & King. "It has also failed to identify how the taking will satisfy the urban renewal plan by improving a substandard or insanitary area. In fact, there does not appear to be an urban renewal plan for the area in which the property is located, so it's impossible to ascertain whether an unidentified proposed use is in compliance with it."
The city's Commissioner for Urban and Economic Development is looking at the same laws, but seeing something much different.
"The agency is confident it has followed the appropriate process to date. Every effort was made to acquire the property through negotiation and that was unsuccessful," said city Urban & Economic Development Commissioner, Brian Thomas. "The use of eminent domain really is a last resort at this point."
The city has also declined to sell its roughly 80% portion of the building in question to the developer who owns 20%. But the commissioner says that might not always be the case.
"The agency isn't necessarily unwilling to sell to him. The agency wants to put the entire building through its standard process, which is open competitive and transparent," said Thomas.
The developer questions the wisdom of such a move.
"They said that after they take it and market the parcel, that we can come back and buy it, but it doesn't make sense for us to buy property that we already own," said Vincent Bailey.
The city's Urban Renewal Agency has 90 days to issue findings in this case. It is ultimately that entity which will decide if the eminent domain proceedings will go forward.