The trustees have restarted the process needed to force a private property owner to sell his land to the village after their attorney found the municipality may have failed to notify the necessary parties.
The realization came as the village prepared to defend itself against a lawsuit from Bill Kalanges, who has challenged the trustees’ attempt to condemn part of his land to make way for the Crescent Connector road.
That process requires at least two public hearings, and state law says interested parties must be notified of those hearings ahead of time.
The village sent a heads up to Kalanges. But it never notified the company that owns his mortgage, which, one could argue, also has an interest in whether the trustees force Kalanges to sell a portion of his land, said municipal manager Evan Teich. And so, out of an “abundance of caution,” the trustees revoked their order condemning Kalanges land, Teich said.
“We did not want to go forward and have that objection be part of a legal proceeding,” Teich said. The move delays the process at least a month and likely more as the village must now properly notify the parties, hold another public hearing on the project’s necessity and then hold a final hearing to determine damages.
Kalanges filed a lawsuit against the village last month alleging it has repeatedly failed to inform him of what the Crescent Connector road will look like when it’s finished, curbing his ability to challenge whether its necessary to take his land.
Kalanges was one of four property owners whom the village needed to secure a permanent right-of-way prior to finishing the Connector. The municipality reached agreements to purchase land from three other property owners, but Kalanges demurred, prompting the village to pursue eminent domain after he declined an offer of $82,595.
Under eminent domain, municipalities must determine projects are in the public’s best interest and whether inconveniences placed on property owners warrants changing plans.
Elected officials have strongly emphasized the project’s importance by touting its expected impact on traffic congestion and pedestrian safety. And they say not finishing the project means the village will have to repay the more than $1.8 million in state and federal funds dispensed on the project to date.
But Kalanges has argued the project will negatively impact one of his tenants by removing parking spaces and making it difficult to navigate for tractor trailers; the road will swing through a part of a parking lot on his property. And while Kalanges was among those in support of the road when the idea first hit the scene in 2011, the long-time business owner now says the current design is different than what he had expected, and he never would have backed the project knowing its impact on his property.
With the trustees’ revoking their order, Kalanges’ lawsuit is effectively moot, Teich said. Eliza van Lennep, an attorney representing Kalanges, has not returned calls for comment.
But the village will continue to discuss the project with Kalanges and his attorneys, and may hold off a bit to see how these “unofficial negotiations” play out, Teich said.
“By the time we go back to do this, he may have a signed agreement, he may not,” Teich said.
Either way, the village has some time, Teich said. The project’s first phase — raising track levels and installing new signals along existing railroad crossings — will begin sometime this fall and have no impact on Kalanges’ property, while actual construction of the road expected to begin at least a year later.
Meanwhile, the village’s most pressing concern has been addressed: Teich said the village wanted to make sure it reached a deal with Genessee & Wyoming, the rail company that owned the tracks that cut through the village, prior to its $8.4 billion sale to Brookfield Asset Management.
Brookfield, the majority owner in Burlington’s controversial CityPlace project, recently finalized an agreement to purchase the rail company pending approval from federal regulators.
“We needed our deal in place before that, so that the new owners didn’t come in and say, ‘Wait, what are you doing?’” Teich said.