To the editor: As the owner of 31 Easy Street, I would like to respond to the recent opinion regarding Articles 102 and 103.
To this day, the only communication with the town regarding 31 Easy Street was the telephone conversation my co-trustee and Attorney, Kenneth Gullicksen, initiated in response to a media call. The next day, January 14, 2022, he called the Select Board office and, after being transferred to their real estate specialist, offered a showing of the property and to discuss a sale. The specialist said he would inform the Select Board, but anticipated a 2022 town meeting article to take 31 Easy Street by eminent domain, which is what happened when the Select Board adopted warrant article 91, which was soundly defeated. There has been no further discussion since. In short, the town has never made any effort to purchase the property.
The Select Board has made zero effort to negotiate. At last year’s town meeting, the town’s representative stated, “based on the information as to his perception of value and the town’s perception of value...we would be going forward with an order to take the property by eminent domain...“ In other words, the Select Board decided to proceed with eminent domain, as a first resort, because they thought I valued the property too highly. In fact, a fair market value appraisal (in which the appraiser will utilize expected new data from Nantucket Data Platform) is underway to determine the asking price in response to the expressed interest of the Land Bank, whose Commissioners reportedly voted to make an offer for the purchase of 31 Easy Street.
A few years ago, I sold 27 Easy Street to the Land Bank for the mutually intended public purpose of the Easy Street Park. I financed the sale interest free. Obviously, I have no issue with public purpose interest in the purchase of 31 Easy Street.
The Select Board, in no way, requires Article 102, or any article, to negotiate a mutually agreed price, contingent on voter approved funding. The Select Board could have proceeded with 31 Easy Street as it did with the bus station at 10 and 12 Washington Street, i.e. reach an agreement then go to town meeting for approval of the established price and funding. Or the town could allow the Land Bank and/or Steamship Authority to proceed on their own.
The Select Board adopted Article 102 without offering voters a price, allowing the Select Board to eminent domain 31 Easy Street not contingent on voter/taxpayer approved funding. Article 102 asks the voter to approve a taxpayer funded blank check.
In eminent domain, the price of 31 Easy Street is unknown to the taxpayer and unknown to the Select Board as it is outside its control. The total lack of communication and lack of a price, not even an estimated price, correlates with the town’s stated intent to take 31 Easy Street by eminent domain.
A jury, not the Select Board, will decide the price according to the court definition of fair market value. The jury will determine the highest price considering all potential uses, not just restaurant use.
Payment of the jury determined price is not subject to town meeting approval or the passage of an override. The taking can not be undone, and the full judgment must be paid, regardless of the jury determined amount.
My attorney’s firm did hours of research and did not find any case where the town used eminent domain to take valuable parcels from known owners without their consent, only odd lots here and there of questionable title.
An eminent domain taking of 31 Easy Street would be an unprecedented abuse of authority by the Select Board. A precedent would be established to pay unknown millions of dollars to use eminent domain to take commercial properties, not only at Steamboat Wharf, but at Straight Wharf as well.
The issue isn’t whether this is an appropriate property for the town to acquire. The question is: how should the Select Board go about it? Eminent domain is an extreme exercise of the raw power of government, literally the seizing of private property from an individual. It should only be exercised after any hope of a negotiated purchase is exhausted. The Select Board hasn’t even initiated that process.
The town is not acknowledging the vote or sentiment at last year’s town meeting, and continues to attempt to use a manufactured “perception of value” to justify the taking of my property without even reaching out to discuss a purchase on mutually acceptable terms. That sentiment was very well voiced at last year’s town meeting by a resident chosen by the Moderator:
“To me, eminent domain is this, is just, raw power that should only be used in the last expediency of a democracy. I want, I would like to hear that there is good faith negotiation going on. What I do hear is that based on what the town has heard, they don’t think it’s worthwhile to have the negotiation. Again, eminent domain should be the last thing you do in a democracy unless there’s no possible chance to avoid it.”
Please attend Town meeting this Saturday. Article 102 has been scheduled last to be heard. Please stay to let your voice be heard.
Joseph Vincent Arno