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Police Facility Task Force

Swan Street property's availability status prompts City Council to explore options

By Mike Pettinella

The Batavia City Council is scrambling to explore other options after receiving word that the owner of a five-acre parcel of land at 35 Swan St., which has been identified as the most viable site for a new City of Batavia Police headquarters, may not be willing to sell it.

In a memo to City Council presented at the board's meeting tonight, City Manager Jason Molino reported that Mancuso Business Development Group, with offices at 56 Harvester Ave., is "continuing to explore and evaluate a variety of scenarios in an effort to devise a redevelopment plan for the entire Harvester Campus," including the Swan Street location.

"We'll just have to work through it," Molino said following the Conference portion of the meeting that began with a short Business session.

"We've been talking about it (land acquisition requirements and procedures) for the past few months, and I understand their position," he continued. "It's not that we've been told that we can't build it because they don't want it there. If they're looking at redevelopment (which would generate tax revenue), that is a great reason not to build it there."

Just six months ago, Council went with a recommendation by the Police Facility Task Force that it commissioned to focus on 35 Swan St. as the place to build an approximately 18,000-square-foot structure that would cost upwards of $10 million. However, City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. did say at that time, "If the site doesn't pan out, we will move in a different direction."

And now, that seems to be the case.

Molino outlined three alternatives -- (1) wait six months to a year for the property owner to complete its redevelopment review, after which the owner may be interested in subdividing the land; (2) consider the possibility of eminent domain or condemnation, which allows a municipality to take private property for a public use, understanding that the eminent domain process entails public hearings and could lead to legal wrangling, and (3) take another look at alternate locations -- sites that were part of a lengthy study by the Task Force.

He then added a fourth option: "Or you could do nothing."

The current situation certainly was not welcome news to Council members.

"I'm upset about the development over there (on Swan Street)," said Rose Mary Christian (Sixth Ward), who represents residents in the area that includes Swan Street. "Eminent domain could cost us a fortune. It's mind-boggling that we went through all of this, and a couple of people say they don't know if they want to sell it."

She changed her tune toward the property's owners after Jankowski said the Task Force did its study without taking into account the availability of the various parcels, but added that "I'm still (peeved) about the whole thing."

Molino advised Council to include police department and city manager's office staff in any additional study, and also to "engage architects and engineers" -- bringing up the possibility of a budget amendment to appropriate funding for another review before the next City Council meeting on Sept. 12.

Jankowski suggested reenlisting the Task Force so that "they don't think their work was for nothing" and to include the public as much as possible in the process.

"Citizens should be involved," Jankowski said. "It's their money that will be paying for this."

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