N. Adams Council OKs Land Taking
Land owner Robert Foley cried foul, saying the $3,600 in compensation offered him didn't come close to the value.
"You're stealing people's property under the guise of a public purpose. We never got a legitimate offer," said Foley. "I object to it."
Foley said the approximately 124-foot-by-320-foot piece of land was worth up to $18,000 a year in rail siding fees and carries a $260,000 mortgage.
"Like beauty, it's in the eye of the beholder," Mayor John Barrett III said of Foley's claims. "Arch Street [Development] offered $20,000 and then $10,000; the city offered $4,200 based on the valuation of the land."
Foley had declined all offers, said Barrett, leading to the request for taking the land based on the assessor's land valuation; it's first offer was 25 percent higher as allowed by law.
The landlocked plot is one of two Ashland Street parcels purchased for $97,600 by the Interfaith Church of Cosmogony in 1997; the late William Foley, Robert Foley's father, was the church patriarch. Foley said he is treasurer of the church.
William Foley, who died in 2003, had headquartered the church on the property in the H.W. Clark Biscuit Co. building but lost it in 2004 when the city was awarded it in lieu of $24,000 in back taxes.
But the strip of land by the railroad line was not included in the taking for some reason.
The city sold the massive mill to Arch Street Development for $167,000 last month. The Needham firm specializes in rehabilitating old buildings and plans to invest $12 million to transform the mill into 43 affordable-housing units.
Critical to Success
The plot in the rear is critical to making the project a success, said the mayor. "In order for them to do work in this particular area, they need to get on the property, that means maintenance work as well as construction."
<L2>Foley said Arch Street had a "right of trespass" to access the rear of the building so the land didn't need to be taken. Barrett countered that when Arch Street had been doing work there, Foley had called the police.
Foley said he was worried about "hazardous waste" being dumped over his property. He also objected to claims that the parcel was landlocked, saying it could accessed through the back of the North Adams Transcript property and by rail.
"We were never made a legitimate offer for the property," he said.
Councilor Clark Billings said he could support the taking because "the public use purpose is to provide affordable housing. I can vote for this order."
Both he and Councilor Richard Alcombright wanted assurances that the city would not be held accountable for any mortgage on the property if it were to end up in court.
"I'm concerned about us taking this and having to pay that amount of money. Then that becomes a deal-breaker with Arch Street and we wind up with that debt," said Billings.
"Is this absolutely critical to the development?" asked Alcombright.
Barrett said the deal with Arch Street included either purchasing or taking the rear parcel and that Arch Street would be responsible for any judgements based on the land. "I think the city's been fair. We made every attempt to buy the property and be fair about it."<R3>
A search of electronic records at the Northern Berkshire Registry of Deeds found a mortgage statement attached to the property.
It states that North Adams Real Equity Trust had provided a mortgage of $260,000 to the Church of Cosmogony in 2005, with the parcel as security. However, there is no address given for North Adams Real Equity Trust and is not listed in the state corporations database.
Foley said the mortgage was from a "private bank" and legally binding. A fair price would take that into account, he said.
Barrett said there didn't appear to a record of any payments made on the mortgage and it was unclear who had provided the money and who had received it. He added that there was no record of any leasing payments by a railroad for use of the so-called siding.
Foley said the siding use was a "potential value" that hadn't been included in the assessment.
"I think the housing project is a good idea," said Foley, "But we were never given a good offer."
Name Change for Barbour
The council also approved 8-1 to change the name of a section of Barbour Street from State Road to the end of the Brayton Hill housing project to Brayton Hill Terrace effective June 1.
The change was recommended by the Public Safety Committee because of confusion over where residences were situated on Barbour Street, which becomes a "paper road" at the end of the housing project and the reappears some distance away.
View Larger Map
The confusion was hampering response by fire and police departments.
Billings voted against the change, saying the dispatchers should know the layout of the city. It would be easier to train first-responders, he said, than force the people on that section of Barbour Street to change their addresses on everything from licenses to bills.