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City Council sets deadline for acquiring Stateway Plaza land for connector road

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WATERTOWN — The City Council has set a 45-day deadline for the owners of Stateway Plaza to accept a $345,000 offer for land needed for a connector road through the strip mall, or the city will proceed with eminent domain.

During Monday’s meeting, a majority of the Watertown City Council agreed that plaza owners Ben Wygodny and Martin Wenger, both of Montreal, should let the city know by June 6 whether they will sell about 2½acres for the connector road. If the city does not have an answer after that, eminent domain proceedings would commence, council members said.

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

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham was joined by council members Roxanne M. Burns and Stephen A. Jennings in trying to move the issue along with the plaza owners.

“They can drag this out forever,” Mr. Graham said before the informal vote.

For years, the city has wanted to construct the road — which would be known as Western Boulevard — 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 believes he can attract an unidentified big-box retailer to an adjacent 18-acre site if the public road is built to provide access.

While wanting to acquire the property, Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso said she does not want the city to end up spending a lot of money for a court fight and then appropriate more than $1 million to build the road.

Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. said that if the owners don’t want to take the $345,000 offer and have their property enhanced, it’s their problem. Any other commercial property owner would want to help tenants and improve the plaza, he said.

The subject came up at Monday’s meeting after Mr. Donegan recently asked the mayor what was going on with negotiations with the plaza owners. Monday night was the first time the $345,000 offer was disclosed publicly.

For months, the city has been negotiating behind the scenes to acquire the land. But City Attorney James A. Burrows said Monday night that the plaza owners’ attorney indicated a few months ago that the $345,000 offer was way too low. The owners planned to complete an appraisal of the needed property. Since then, Mr. Burrows has been waiting to get more information from the lawyer, but he hasn’t heard anything for weeks, he said.

Mr. Donegan has said he has interest from a potential big-box tenant for City Center Plaza, which also includes hotels, restaurants and retail shops he owns off Arsenal Street adjacent to Stateway Plaza. Plans would call for a 100,000-square-foot store.

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.

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