Nov '23

West Springfield mayor drops bid to take a Springfield Diocese property by eminent domain – MassLive.com

Meadow along Brush Hill Avenue in West Springfield, across from the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative and next to the Dominican Nun Monastery. (Don Treeger / The Republican) 11/13/2023The Republican
WEST SPRINGFIELD — Mayor William C. Reichelt will not go forward with a proposal to take a Springfield Diocese property by eminent domain for a new Department of Public Works complex.
Instead, he will take a wider look at locations, with help from a planned committee.
In a letter Monday to Town Council President Edward C. Sullivan, Reichelt wrote his decision to pull the Brush Hill Avenue proposal came after listening to feedback from councilors and members of the community.
“Thank you for your assistance in engaging the community to allow all voices to be heard,” Reichelt wrote.
A special public hearing scheduled for Monday was canceled due to the withdrawal.
Now, Reichelt is considering appointing a committee to examine available sites for both a new DPW complex and Police Department headquarters. The committee will be made up of councilors, city employees and interested members of the public, Reichelt said.
Reichelt said existing buildings need attention. “As I know you are aware, the physical infrastructure of many of our buildings that our first responders and public works employees use every day to protect and support our community are in disrepair, especially compared to state-of-the-art facilities in neighboring communities,” Reichelt wrote.
In the letter to Sullivan, Reichelt said the town faces many challenges.
“I believe we will jointly find a way forward that takes into consideration the needs of our staff to support the community,” Reichelt wrote. “I know both our public works staff and police officers are excited for new homes and appreciate your support in eventually making that a reality,.”
In an email to The Republican Monday, Councilors Daniel O’Brien and Brian Griffin praised Reichelt for listening to the community.
O’Brien said there are options to place a new DPW complex in an industrial area and Reichelt should be congratulated for listening and doing what the residents requested, O’Brien wrote.
“This is all that is great about West Springfield,” Griffin wrote. “We have a mayor that is actively looking to pursue the much-needed new infrastructure of a new DPW and Police Station, an active Council who invites input from residents, and a mayor that takes this feedback very seriously.”
Griffin cited “tangible” results.
“We need a new Police Department and DPW and I support looking at ways and locations outside of this proposal to get them built,” he wrote.
Reichelt’s decision to drop the land-taking comes after two delays on possible votes on the move.
In a 7-2 tally Nov. 6, the Town Council voted to delay the step until after a special public hearing was held.
The vote came after Sullivan read a statement from Bishop William D. Byrne, who said his office and the town were in talks about a “friendly taking” of the property.
According to Byrne, the diocese’s decision not to oppose the project stemmed from what he termed the town’s commitment to protecting the privacy and quality of life of the Dominican nuns who live next door.
O’Brien requested the second vote delay, citing opposition he’s heard about the project, including the opinion that a land-taking would be “bullying” behavior by the town. Other objections included concerns about cost and not wanting to disturb nuns.
In a meeting on Nov. 7, residents expressed those concerns, despite Byrne’s statement that an accord had been struck.
In October, Reichelt had asked the city to pay $1.2 million to obtain the site for a DPW facility and petitioned the Town Council to take the approximately 37-acre Brush Hill Avenue parcel owned by the diocese by eminent domain.
Eminent domain allows a government to take a specific property for public good at an appraised value, even if the owners refuse sale.
Reichelt previously said the diocese property was ideal for the DPW complex and was looking to expedite the move, in part to allow for a police department expansion. Reichelt said in last spring the city made an offer to the diocese, based on the $1.2 million appraisal, but received no counteroffer from the diocese — and no negotiations beyond that point.
The diocese commissioned its own appraisal in September 2021, which pegged the value at $2,550,000, the mayor said. “It was unwilling to negotiate lower than that figure,” Reichelt wrote in an Oct. 11 statement to Sullivan.
According to city records, the parcel — number 040-002-012 — carries an assessed land value of $127,500 and a total assessed parcel value of $279,000.
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