The City has agreed to pay $1.55 million to take three properties by eminent domain from four owners, including one owner who works in the Mayor’s Office.
The takings – all on Fernwood Place and Fernwood Avenue – will accommodate a traffic plan for the new Hill School that turned out to be the preferred alternative for City and school officials, being touted highly by Supt. Paul Dakin, Fire Chief Gene Doherty and Mayor Dan Rizzo.
City officials inked the agreements in June, according to records provided by the City, and occupants of the two homes and two condos had to be out of the properties by Dec. 31.
One occupant, according to Mayor Rizzo, has not agreed to the terms and may end up fighting the City in court.
City officials did pay a good deal over and above the appraisals for the properties, but records indicated that the settlement agreement would not allow the owners to challenge the price in court – a process that can get messy and expensive in eminent domain takings.
The City paid $1.55 million for properties appraised at $805,000.
Mayor Rizzo said the City tried to be fair in the takings, cognizant that it was uprooting people from their homes. The City also, he said, wanted to go a little higher on the prices in order to avoid an expensive court process.
“The settlements indicated owners would take the offer and sign off not to sue the City,” Rizzo said. “We’re just fearful. Lot’s of municipalities are scared of getting sued these days. I’d rather deal with known figures and money we have budgeted already rather than leave it wide open for someone to come in and say the City has to pay for this, this and this. The market is pretty much on fire…When we got the appraisals, we knew we weren’t going to be able to settle for those numbers. We tried to work to work with the homeowners as much as we could keeping in mind that they were being kicked out of their homes.”
One of the takings was of a piece of property owned by an estate that includes Mayoral Aide David Krassnoff – a duplex where his parents live.
The Krassnoff estate, which owns a condo at 42 Fernwood Ave., had an appraisal of $130,000 and was paid $350,000 by the City. That was, however, in line with other payments to other individuals involved in the takings. It’s also the second time during the school building program that an employee in the Mayor’s Office has had his or her property bought by the City.
During construction of the Paul Revere School, a former executive secretary for former Mayor Tom Ambrosino had her home purchased by the City.
In that instance, and in the current instance, both properties were deemed essential for the proposed plan.
Rizzo said they have tried to remain up front about the situation throughout the process, noting that it just so happened they owned the property that the City needed.
“It wasn’t anything we were trying to do because it was his parents and we were going to do something crazy,” Rizzo said. “In fact, I had to have a very deliberate conversation with David about this being a business transaction and that we were going to be as fair as possible…It was a little difficult for me to have to do that to David’s parents. I felt we were more than fair to everyone. David’s parents were the one owners who were reasonable and satisfied. Everyone else there wasn’t too, too satisfied. One party is in court right now and not happy with the settlement.”
Other takings on Fernwood include:
•17 Fernwood Pl., two-family, Mario Lanza and Flor Restrepo – appraised at $270,000 and paid $420,000.
•9-11 Fernwood Pl., two-family, Carlos Burgos, appraised at $275,000 and paid $430,000.
•40 Fernwood Ave., condo/duplex, Frank and Diane Procopio, appraised at $130,000 and paid $350,000.
All in all, the takings added up to $1.55 million.
Land takings in school projects are particularly costly as they are not reimbursable by the state – which is picking up a significant amount of the construction costs for the Hill School. Such takings, however, fall entirely on the taxpayers.
In previous comments, City officials believe that the takings will pay for themselves in convenience. After carefully analyzing the traffic situation, most believed that a better flow could be accomplished by having cars exit onto Fernwood Avenue and having a small parking lot next to Fernwood Place. Without the takings, it was believed that parking and traffic flows on Park Avenue and Broadway would be unbearable.
The only other time the City has done eminent domain takings was during the Paul Revere School construction project in 2008. In those takings, the City spent $1.715 million to take three homes and two vacant lots.