Schenectady County

Schenectady obtains parcel for new center

The city won’t need eminent domain after all to seize property for a new home for the impoverished,
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The city won’t need eminent domain after all to seize property for a new home for the impoverished, homeless and mentally ill. Instead, the city has agreed to pay the owner’s price.

The city agreed to pay Fred Anderson $147,500 for the Anderson Blacktop property at 838 State St., which would be merged with three other parcels so Bethesda House could build a housing and drop-in center for the indigent.

City officials had begun eminent domain proceedings to take Anderson’s property for a court-approved price, but backed off after residents vehemently protested the move. They agreed instead to a price that is just $2,500 less than Anderson wanted. It’s $32,500 higher than the price city officials say he accepted before learning that the city was the buyer.

The deal, which will be voted on by the Schenectady City Council on Monday, clears the way for the Bethesda House project. The center would move from its downtown facility to 834-838 State St., where there is space for a larger building with 16 apartments for the chronically homeless. The hope is to house every long-term homeless person in the city.

Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said the project was so important that he agreed to raise the city’s price. But he said the deal left a bad taste in his mouth.

“It worked out all right in the end … but I don’t like people who accept one price and then raise it. I have a very bright line division of right and wrong,” he said. “But we didn’t want to run the risk of not having Bethesda House build that integrated facility. It is an important project for the community. The benefits of the program far outweigh my personal feelings about his price.”

Anderson said he wasn’t happy either. After running his blacktopping business at the State Street site for 22 years, he’s leaving the city for good.

“I don’t want any property in the city. I don’t want to pay taxes in the city. I’ll lease an office somewhere else,” he said.

Even though he got “very close” to his price, he said he wasn’t satisfied.

“What I wanted was $150,000 net,” he said. “But I just said the heck with it. I don’t want to fight with the city all the time. Go ahead and get it over with.”

Van Norden tried to pressure Anderson into a lower price by threatening eminent domain, which would have allowed a court to determine a fair price based on an independent appraisal. But residents packed the City Council chambers to oppose the move, saying it was unfair since the city could use an unoccupied, nearby location. Bethesda House officials, however, didn’t like that site.

They also noted that the businessman’s price wasn’t much higher than the city’s final offer and said they didn’t think his demand for $150,000 was unreasonable.

Later, Councilman Joseph Allen said he wouldn’t support using eminent domain to take the property.

On Monday, a week after the hearing, the council met with Van Norden behind closed doors to discuss options.

Van Norden said he told council members that Bethesda House wasn’t happy with any other viable locations.

“The discussion focused on where is the best location for the property,” he said.

“We had an alternate site. Bethesda House was not warm and fuzzy about that site. The advantage this property had is we’ll have some blighted properties removed and the city won’t have to pay for it.”

He went back to Anderson with the council’s approval and offered the higher price, which Anderson quickly accepted.

The only remaining issue is how soon Anderson can move out. He must relocate his business just before blacktop season begins.

Van Norden wants Anderson to turn over the property by March 1.

“I’m not sure if we can do that or not, but his attorney, Ken Litz, indicated he might be able to be out by March 1,” Van Norden said.

Anderson said he expects to quickly rent an office elsewhere. The relocation won’t hurt his business, which starts up in March, if he keeps his phone number, he said.

“Most of it’s by phone. Very few walk-in customers,” he said. “It won’t hurt my business.”

Bethesda House will reimburse the city for the cost of Anderson’s property. The council will also transfer ownership of three adjacent parcels, all of which are owned by the city, for $1.

Bethesda House would be responsible for demolishing Anderson’s building as well as a vacant building and a vacant garage on the sites.

Bethesda House Executive Director Margaret Anderton did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Categories: Schenectady County

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