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The Madison Board of Selectmen (BOS) is forging ahead with eminent domain proceedings to try to complete the first phase of the Downtown Center Project. At a recent board meeting, selectmen voted to call a special town meeting to authorize the action, allowing the town to take private land for public use without the property owners’ consent, to address one property owner’s refusal to allow access to remove utility poles. The special town meeting is set for Monday, April 22.
Phase I of the Downtown Center project, which began in fall 2015, included renovations of the sidewalks and the center median. Additionally, new light poles, tree grates, and bike racks were installed above new underground utilities and irrigation. The town cut a ribbon announcing the completion of this phase in June 2016.
However the project still has a few items left to go, including taking down the old telephone poles in the downtown area and burying all of the associated electrical lines. The holdup has to do with getting easements from two property owners in the downtown area to facilitate pole removal. An easement grants the legal right to use the property, though the legal title to the land itself remains with the owner of the land. Commonly, easements are granted to utility companies to run power lines and cable lines.
The electrical infrastructure was put in at the beginning of the project, but for Eversource to pull the wires and take down the old poles, it needs the property owner easements in place.
First Selectman Tom Banisch had previously told selectmen that negotiations with the property owners had broken down, forcing the town to look at more drastic action.
“We have been trying to get these easements for over two years now,” he said previously. “We have all of the infrastructure embedded in the street and in the driveways and everything else, so this wasn’t the right way to do things. This is why the property owners have been able to basically hold us hostage.”
The properties at issue are 703 Boston Post Road owned by Roton Associates, LLC, and 725 Boston Post Road owned by the Obrien Marsillio Family Trust. According to Banisch, negotiations for a 725 Boston Post Road easements are proceeding, which is why the town is currently focusing on just the 703 Boston Post Road parcel for eminent domain.
The town is looking to take a series of small easements going up the driveway and around the back of the building located at 703 Boston Post Road (which is currently leased to a dress shop). Property owner Tony Astmann gave a conflicting report on the need for eminent domain.
“We do not believe the negotiations with the town and Eversource have broken down,” he said. “We are continuing to work with the town and Eversource to reach an acceptable resolution.”
However, Banisch said that eminent domain is the next logical step because the town has been trying to negotiate for this land over several years.
“We have gone though several iterations of what we are willing to do to make this acceptable to them and they have refused everything,” he said.
Banisch also said if the town doesn’t go for eminent domain, the only other way to pull the wires will be costly and counterproductive.
“The alternative we have is to bypass all of the infrastructure that has been put into the ground there and go out into the [Boston] Post Road, digging through the sidewalks that we have already put in, and go out to the street and dig a trench up the street at a cost that we have not been able to calculate at this point,” he said. “It’s going to be extremely expensive and the state is going to come through at some point in the spring/summer to repave Route 1, so we would have to do this at some point before the state came in to repave Route 1.”
All selectmen voted to support going ahead with eminent domain proceedings. Selectman Al Goldberg asked what happens next if the public approves the proceedings at town meeting.
“We would have to get an appraisal on the property or the easement and we would have to pay the owner that appraised cost,” Banisch said.
The special town meeting is Monday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. at Polson Middle School.
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