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Threat of eminent domain has New Rochelle, landowner at odds over site’s worth

City Yard is in urgent need of replacement and the City of New Rochelle says it has found the ideal location for the Public Works facility.

But to get it, it will have to use the eminent domain process against an owner who is preparing for a fight.

On March 21, the City Council unanimously approved a recommendation, without questions or comments, to hold an April 11 public hearing on taking 54 Nardozzi Place.

That’s the home of Auto Sunroof of Larchmont, a family-owned car customization shop that has operated there since 1985. The site — across the street from Home Depot, near Ashley HomeStore and Costco — is a popular, traffic-congested weekend destination.

CEO Paul Spadaccini is not opposed to selling his property. In fact, he put it on the market two years ago. His business has downsized from 60 employees to 15 and he is looking for another location farther north.

But Spadaccini is angry about how officials have handled the matter and he doubts that the city is willing to pay what he thinks his property is worth.

He learned of the city’s interest in his property when Luiz C. Aragon, the commissioner of development, notified him by letter on Jan. 11.

“The city is interested in negotiating the acquisition of your property through a fair and just purchase agreement,” he wrote. If negotiations are unsuccessful, “it may be necessary for the city to acquire your property through eminent domain.”

Auto Sunroof CEO Paul Spadaccini and his son, Dino. Photo by Bill Heltzel

Eminent domain laws allow a government to take private property for a public purpose. A hearing must be held to present the project and within 90 days of the hearing the government must publish its findings of fact.

The property owner can appeal the decision based on whether the acquisition will serve a public use or benefit.

City Yard, the public works operation at 224 Main St., is an eyesore. It was built in 1916 and comprises sprawling garages and repair shops, salt piles and recycling areas.

After as century of hard use, the soil is contaminated. City trucks and equipment are exposed to the elements and require more repairs. Employees are exposed to unacceptable conditions, Aragon explained when asked about the move.

Is moving City Yard urgent?

“Absolutely,” Aragon said.

“We’ve been looking for a location for public works for a number of years. Our conclusion is that this is the best location.”

The city has already made a deal with Simone Development Cos. to lease one floor of a proposed building at 70 Nardozzi Place, catty-corner to Auto Sunroof.

Public Works needs more space for operations. Previously, the city considered property near the Beechwood Avenue leaf disposal site. Now it prefers 54 Nardozzi Place.

Once a property is taken, the issue becomes price. The law requires the government to compensate the owner fairly, and if they cannot agree on a fair value the issue can end up in litigation.

So far, Spadaccini said, the city has not named a price. But when he quoted $6 million a city official replied, “We don’t pay that much.”

The nominal value of the 1.37 acres and 20,000-square-foot facility is $2.3 million, on the city assessment roll.

Spadaccini said it is more valuable because New Rochelle has a moratorium on self-storage facilities. But the Planning Board has already approved a site plan for a four-story, 121,000-square-foot self-storage facility on his property. Nearly 12,000 square feet was to be dedicated to the city for a community arts center, but the developer got into financial trouble and the deal never closed.

Another self-storage developer offered $6 million for the property.

Then Spadaccini got the letter. He and his prospective buyer met with Aragon and other city officials.

Spadaccini said Aragon told his buyer that the city would take the property “from me or from him. He said it’s a done deal. He’d have my deed in 30 days.”

He said Aragon also offered another property to his buyer, and the buyer has walked away from their deal.

“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Aragon responded when asked if he said he could get the property in a month.

There is no moratorium on self-storage facilities. The situation is delicate, he said, but the meeting was friendly and never combative, and he and others officials tried to accommodate him. He said it was Spadaccini’s prospective buyer who asked if other locations were available.

The city is having the property appraised and the ultimate price, Aragon said, will be fair.

Spadaccini said a third self-storage developer has stepped up and offered $6.4 million. He knows about the eminent domain issue and “he is not afraid.”

Spadaccini thinks it makes no sense for the city to take such valuable land and block a deal that would generate significant sales tax revenue.

“The city pays that $6.4 million,” he said, “either up front or in litigation with legal fees. I’m not rolling over.”

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