NAUGATUCK — The owner of a house slated to be razed to make way for improvements to the intersection of Cross Street and Cotton Hollow Road said he will appeal the state’s determination of “fair market value” for his property.
“We feel that there is insufficient housing to meet our needs and the price that the state has provided is insufficient to purchase anything,” Frank Finkle said June 2, which was his deadline to appeal.
Frank and Anita Finkle’s home at 10 Cotton Hollow Road is one of two buildings the borough plans to tear down as part of the project. The borough will also take portions of yards belonging to two cemeteries, three homeowners and Cross Street School. There also would be permanent easements on 11 properties.
The project will widen the road and realign the intersection from a Y to a T shape, providing better sight distance, and making it safer, Naugatuck Department of Public Works Director Jim Stewart said. The project will also add sidewalks, eliminate a retaining wall and relocate utilities.
The state says there are about 11 accidents a year on Cross Street in Naugatuck. More than 20,000 people travel the road daily, according to engineering studies.
Stewart said the project is in the semi-final stages of engineering and he expects construction to begin next year. The state and federal governments would split 90 percent of the $6.6 million cost, leaving Naugatuck to pay for $660,000.
Finkle said the state appraised his property at $141,000 and his appraiser valued it at $151,000. The state has offered the Finkles $159,000.
Finkle said he’s viewed at least 75 homes in the past three weeks and can’t find anything comparable in terms of square footage, room size, condition and location for that price.
His two-story 1,568-square-foot Old Style home on 0.19 acres has four bedrooms and one bathroom.
Finkle said the options the state has sent him are either in non-desirable neighborhoods or need rehabilitation to make them habitable.
Although he could take out a mortgage, Finkle said that at 54, he was hoping to retire in 10 years and doesn’t want to push that date out.
Finkle’s wife has lived in the home, which her parents bought in 1964, for 38 years and the couple raised their children there. Anita Finkle inherited the home from her mother and never had a mortgage.
“It’s been traumatic. It’s been difficult. It’s been overwhelming. It’s been frustrating to say the least,” Finkle said. “It’s almost as if we’re being forced to do this with really no consideration with the disruption to the family. The sentimental value doesn’t get calculated into that.”
The state has the right to take private property for public use, such as road improvements, as long as it provides “just compensation” the property owner, according to Attorney Dwight Merriam, an expert on eminent domain.
If negotiations don’t lead to a voluntary sale, the state can take the property involuntarily, record a deed for that property, and then the property owner has six months to take action to superior court, Merriam said.
The state will deposit a check for the amount it considers fair with the courts and take title of the house in a process known as condemnation. A judge will likely refer the two parties to mediation to work out their differences. If they don’t settle, the case could go to trial, Merriam said. Finkle said last week he hadn’t retained an attorney’s services yet.
Mark Ferrari, who owns the duplex to be torn down at 16 Cotton Hollow Road with his wife, Donna, said he is still in negotiations with the state. He said he is waiting for the state’s response to his counteroffer and hasn’t had his own appraisal done yet.
“I’m trying to get a fair price and I’m hoping they’re going to stick by that,” Ferrari said.
The property is the newest of several rental properties the Ferraris own and is occupied, Ferrari said.
Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said property acquisitions for road projects are fairly common.
“None of the infrastructure you’re on today would be here if it wasn’t for eminent domain,” Nursick said. “It is a necessary tool for governments, but it’s also one that needs to be used delicately and in a sensitive fashion.”
He said the DOT is careful about how it uses its ability to take properties, trying to design projects to have the least effect on property owners.
“Sometimes you just can’t get around major impacts,” Nursick said.
He said the state has to pay fair market value for the property it takes and there’s not much room for negotiation because it is using taxpayer dollars.
“We can’t subjectively decide who gets more or less,” Nurskick said.
If the state makes an offer above the appraised value, the state properties review board needs to be involved for an approval, Nursick said.
Property owners are also entitled to relocation benefits, including a replacement housing payment based on the price differential between the property being sold and similar properties available on the market. The state will also pay for closing costs and moving expenses. Renters receive similar benefits including the price differential for 42 months of rent.
The state bases its payments on at least three comparable properties.
Nursick said most offers are accepted as opposed to condemnation.
“More often than not, it’s a friendly process,” Nursick said.
Eminent domain laws don’t protect homeowners at all, Finkle said.
“It’s almost like a legalized eviction or stealing,” he said. “The state has said this is what we’re going to give you and that’s it. There doesn’t seem to be any leeway.”
Finkle said he doesn’t have any issues with the project itself.
“We just want to be treated fairly and compensated fairly and we don’t believe we’re getting that from the state.”
Sometimes, Merriam said, the state gets it exactly right and comes up with fair, just value. More often, he said, a careful review and investigation will reveal a substantially higher value than what DOT would place on it initially.
He said it’s the property owner’s job to prove the “highest and best use” value for a property, including its possible value under future development.