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City Council favors using eminent domain for Stateway Plaza connector road

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City Council members all agreed Tuesday night that the city should use eminent domain if the owners of Stateway Plaza do not agree to terms for selling land that would be used for a connector road through the strip mall.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham and the members of the Watertown City Council informally agreed that the connector road — to be called Western Boulevard — is important for developing the adjacent City Center Plaza to accommodate a national big-box chain.

For months, the city has been negotiating behind the scenes with plaza owners Ben Wygodny and Martin Wenger, both of Montreal, to acquire the land. But, so far, they have not budged, city officials said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Graham said the plaza owners may not have much incentive.

“I think we should push the matter and acquire what we have to acquire,” Mr. Graham said.

Developer Patrick M. Donegan has said he has interest from a potential “big” tenant for City Center Plaza, which also includes a series of hotels, restaurants and retail shops he owns off Arsenal Street adjacent to Stateway Plaza.

The Alexandria Bay developer said he believes he can attract the unidentified big-box retailer to the 18-acre site if the connector road is built from Arsenal Street through the Stateway Plaza parking lot to Gaffney Drive at the northern end. Plans would call for a 100,000-square-foot store.

Council members concurred on Tuesday that the city should do what it can to help Mr. Donegan since he has generated so many jobs at the plaza. Two years ago, Mr. Donegan approached the city about a potential prospect for the land. The topic of the connector road first surfaced in 2008.

“Mr. Donegan has done everything he’s ever promised. We discussed it on and off for six years,” said Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns. “The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost the city.”

The city would build the public road and maintain it. Motorists now use the Stateway Plaza parking lot as a short cut.

Council members instructed city staff to find out exactly what Mr. Donegan needs to develop land for a tenant. To keep costs down, council members surmised that the city could possibly build just enough of the road for use by the tenant and no more than that.

After the meeting, City Attorney Robert J. Slye said a judge would probably not go along with that strategy, since the city would need to prove the road “is for the public good,” not just for the developer.

Until now, the biggest drawback for the city has been the cost. The most recent projection came in at $1.75 million. But that price could increase if the project is changed.

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